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Research Methods and Writings (CJ 300) A Research Problem Involving Films of the Three Stooges. Western Carolina University January 27, 2009. Robert Davidson and Bob Gardner Department of Mathematics East Tennessee State University.

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Research Methods and Writings (CJ 300)

A Research Problem Involving Films of the Three Stooges

Western Carolina University January 27, 2009

Robert Davidson and Bob Gardner Department of Mathematics East Tennessee State University

Online at:


History of the Three Stooges

Some of the films have a “criminal justice” theme!


The Six Three Stooges

Curly Howard

Larry Fine

Moe Howard

Shemp Howard

Joe Besser

Joe DeRita


The Three Stooges

  • As a group, in show business for almost 50 years.
  • Made 190 “shorts” with Columbia Pictures.
  • Had their third short, Men in Black (1934), nominated for an Academy Award.
  • Had 4 different people in the role of “the third Stooge.”
  • Were the first to lampoon Adolph Hitler, in You Nazty Spy (1940).

Moe Howard

(June 19, 1897 – May 4, 1975)

  • The Alpha Stooge.
  • Was the dominant and aggressive Stooge in the shorts.
  • His character on screen was completely difference from his off-screen character
  • He was an excellent businessman and tried hard to treat everyone fairly.
  • He called Curly “Babe” and tried to help him keep his financial and health issues in order.



Larry Fine

(October 5, 1902 – January 24, 1975)

  • The most underrated Stooge.
  • Starred in the first Stooge short Woman Haters.
  • “The Stooge in the middle.”
  • He played a Marlon Brando caricature in Cuckoo on a Choo Choo.
  • One side of his face was calloused because of the constant barrage of slaps.



Opening slide for the early Three Stooges films

Larry, Moe and Curly: 97 shorts between 1934 and 1947.



Curly Howard

(October 22, 1903 – January 18, 1952)

  • The most popular Stooge.
  • Onstage persona was completely different from his offstage persona.
  • His life was a mess because of his marriages (four of them), drinking, and over eating.
  • Curly’s last short was “Hold that Lion.” It was a cameo with Shemp, Larry, and Moe.

Curly from:

Hold That Lion from:


Sock-a-Bye Baby

The 66th Three Stooges film, this was released in 1942. Moe, Larry, and Curly prepare a meal and a diaper change for a baby which has been left on their doorstep. (We watch from 3:45 to 8:54.)

Count the number of times Moe hits, pokes, slaps, or is otherwise violent to Curly.


Opening slide for the Three Stooges films from the Shemp era

Shemp, Larry, and Moe: 77 shorts between 1947 and 1956.



Shemp Howard

(March 17, 1895 – November 23, 1955)

  • Some Stooge experts claim that he was the first and best stooge.
  • He appeared in numerous motion pictures before his Stooge days.
  • He died of a heart attack in the back of a car in 1955. He was coming back from a boxing match.



Brideless Groom

The 101st Three Stooges film, this was released in 1947. Shemp has inherited money, but must get married to get it. He has proposed to a number of women and they all show up to marry him after they learn of the inheritance. (We watch from 13:36 to 16:36.)

Count the number of times someone treats Shemp in a violent way.


Opening slide for the Three Stooges films from the Joe Besser era

Larry, Moe, and Joe: 16 shorts between 1957 and 1959.

Opening slide used complements of Sony Pictures.


Joe Besser

(August 12, 1907 – March 1, 1988)

  • He was the second choice to replace Shemp.
  • Contrary to popular belief, Joe did get along with Moe and Larry.
  • He was invited to stay on as a Stooge, but decided to take care of his wife instead.

From: Wikipedia.


Space Ship Sappy

The 178th Three Stooges film, this was released in 1957. Moe, Larry, and Joe answer a job ad for “sailors,” but end up on a space ship bound for Venus. (We watch from 3:15 to 7:50.)

Count the number of times Moe hits, pokes, slaps, or is otherwise violent to Joe.


Are the Three Stooges Still Relevant?

In 1965 and 1966, The New Three Stooges cartoon series of 156 shows aired.


“…the Three Stooges, whose popularity has continued relatively unabated since the early days of television. …This popularity has undoubtedly been greatest among the Baby Boomer generation, the first children raised with television.”

Quote from the preface of Stoogeology: Essays on the Three Stooges, edited by Peter Seely and Gail Pieper. McFarland & Company, 2007.


Zogby International conducted a poll of 1,213 American adults by telephone in July 2006.

One question asked for the names of the Three Stooges and another asked for the names of the three branches of government.

Those able to name the Three Stooges: 73%

Those able to name the three branches of government: 42%



A 1998 survey by the National Constitution Center asked the same questions of American teenagers.

Those able to name the Three Stooges: 59%

Those able to name the three branches of government: 41%



Online “Folklore” Concerning Joe Besser


Unfortunately, Joe had it written into his contract that he couldn’t be hit, which forced Larry to take the brunt of Moe's aggression and totally threw off the team's comedic timing. Joe's man-child routine also didn't gel with the styles of Moe and Larry and it quickly became annoying. As a result, the 16 Stooge shorts that starred Joe are considered to be some of the worst in the lot and are generally hated by Stooge fans everywhere.


Online “Folklore” Concerning Joe Besser (continued)

From IMDB (Trivia):

“He is said to have ‘ruined’ The Three Stooges' comic timing by refusing to allow Moe Howard, the Stooge-in-Chief as it were, to slap him… The trouble was that he didn't like to be hit, so Larry told him that he would take the hits for him.”

From WikiPedia:

“Fans who had grown up enjoying the physical antics of Curly and Shemp will often have no use for delicate Joe. ‘Stooge-a-polooza’ TV host Rich Koz has even apologized on the air before showing a Besser short…”


1. Identify a Problem:

  • What is the research question?
  • What is the hypothesis?

Let’s use:

Question: Was Joe treated differently with respect to the amount of Stooge violence he received versus the other Stooges?

Hypothesis: Joe was treated more gently than the other Stooges.


2. Review Existing Literature

There are a number of reputable Stooges references in print. Several of them are written by family and friends of the Stooge members. Here’s what they say about our hypothesis…


Chapter Seventeen: “Okay, but Only If You Promise Not to Hit Me”

“But Joe made a couple of provisions before joining the team. He insisted that his contract include a clause preventing Moe or Larry from slapping, hitting, or in any way hurting him… Moe and Larry had no objection whatsoever to that request. In fact, Larry even told Joe that he was used to getting beaten up for a living, and would gladly take twice as much punishment to make up for Besser.” (page 103)

The Stooge’s Lost Episodes by Tom and Jeff Forrester (Contemporary Books, 1988).


“Joe’s Shtick was to deliver nothing harder than love taps, usually delivered to the shoulder and accompanied by a whiny ‘Craaaaazy.’ He did develop a mildly amusing belly bump, which could be coordinated to a bass drum sound effect.

‘Joe Besser had it in his contract that they couldn’t hit him, and Larry had to play the Curly role,’ said Moe’s daughter, Joan.

Larry assured Besser that he would happily take the blows, which meant that Fine would be taking punishment for two men.” (page 97)

The Three Stooges, An Illustrated History – From Amalgamated Morons to American Icons by Michael Fleming (Broadway Books, 1999).


“…he inserted a provision that withheld Moe or Larry from ‘slapping or causing him bodily harm.’ Besser's reason for this contract stipulation was, ‘I wasn't used to doing that wild kind of slapstick - and felt rather uncomfortable about it, since I usually played a kind of character who would hit others back.’ As a result, Jules White had Larry take all the hits and knocks in the head in Besser's place. Larry told Joe, ‘Don't worry. If you don't want Moe to hit you, I'll take all the belts.’ ” (page 86)

The Three Stooges Scrapbook by Jeff Lenburg, Joan Howard Maurer, and Greg Lenburg (Citadel, 2000).


“Joe now flatly refused to indulge in the Stooges' brand of comic mayhem, and insisted that a clause be added to his Columbia contract stating that he was not to be slapped, poked or tweaked while playing the Third Stooge role…” (page 155)

The Three Stooges: The Triumph and Tragedies of The Most Popular Comedy Team of All Time by Jeff and Tom Forrester (Donaldson Books, 2004).


“Besser said in 1983 … ‘I never liked to be hit with anything and Larry used to say to me, ‘Don't worry, Joe. I'll take it.’ That's the kind of guy he was.’ ” (page 72)

“Joe Besser refused to suffer the standard smacks that were part of being a Stooge, so Larry absorbed much more of the abuse during that era.‘” (page 73)

One Fine Stooge: Larry’s Frizzy Life in Pictures by Steve Cox and Jim Terry (Cumberland House, 2006).


“If anyone should dare strike him back - however lightly - he would wave his hands in the air and squeal, ‘Ow! That huuuuuuuuuuuuurts!’ This, in many ways, reflected the man's true nature, as Besser hated being hit… Fearing potential injury, he insisted that his contract stipulate that he not be struck or harmed in any way during the making of the shorts.” (page 25)

Stooges Among Us edited by Lon and Debra Davis (BearManor Media, 2008).


From Joe Besser’s Autobiography: Once a Stooge, Always a Stooge

“On film, I'd have to say we were more like ‘The Two Stooges, Plus Joe Besser’ at times, but that's because I wanted it that way. As part of my accepting the job, I had a special provision written into my contract that prevented Moe or Larry from causing me serious bodily harm in our scenes together. I let Moe give me an occasional poke in the eye or belt in the stomach, but otherwise serious stunts were out with me. I wasn't used to doing the Stooges' brand of slapstick…” (page 181)

“In Hoofs and Goofs, the script originally called for Birdie (Moe) to crown me on the head with a rolling pin. At my request, Jules change it to a casserole dish from which Birdie/Moe dumped the contents on my head!“ (page 182)


And now in his own voice…

“Moe and Larry – they were the best. I enjoyed every minute of it with them. In fact, to show you how wonderful they were, I never liked to be hit with anything. And Larry used to say to me ‘don’t worry Joe, I’ll take it.’ Now that’s the kind of guys they were.”

From Stooges: The Men Behind the Mayhem, (DVD) Mackinac Media, 2004.


But did Columbia Pictures honor the clause?

“Harry Cohn promises the skittish newcomer that he will never be hit or injured during the making of a Stooge comedy - but it's a promise that Cohn quickly reneges on, ordering Jules White to ‘treat Joe Besser no different than you would any other comic’.” (page 155)

The Three Stooges: The Triumph and Tragedies of The Most Popular Comedy Team of All Time by Jeff and Tom Forrester (Donaldson Books, 2004).


From Joe Besser’s Autobiography: Once a Stooge, Always a Stooge

“But even when Moe did hit me, it was a pleasure because he had such a feathery touch. He never really hit me; he always faked it. Sometimes he would miss his mark and I'd feel the force behind his blow, but most of the time he just made his hitting look real when it wasn't. And, combined with sound effects which were added later by Joe Henrie, the studio's sound effects expert, you'd think Moe was beating the bejeepers out of us everytime!” (page 182)


We will gather data from the Three Stooges films. In order to simplify the data gathering, we will concentrate on the behavior of Moe as the instigator of violence. Since Curly is widely held as the most popular Stooge, we will compare how Moe treats him versus how Moe treats Joe. This leads us to the explicit hypothesis:

“The average number of violent acts by Moe against Curly per film is greater than the average number of violent acts by Moe against Joe.”


4. Data Collection Process

There are 97 films with Curly as the third Stooge. This is too many films to watch in a reasonable amount of time. So we will take a random sample of 10 of the 97 films and watch these 10. Since there are only 16 films with Joe as the third Stooge, we simply watch all 16 of these. While watching the films, we will count each time Moe hits, pokes, slaps, bumps, etc. the third Stooge. These counts will form the data for a statistical test.


We find that the average number of times Moe is violent towards Joe is 2.9 times per film. In the sample we used, the average number of times which Moe is violent towards Curly is 14.3 times per film.


A statistical test (called a t-test) implies that this data gives us a level of confidence of 99.6% in the hypothesis:

“The average number of violent acts by Moe against Curly per episode is greater than the average number of violent acts by Moe against Joe.”


6. Reporting of the Results

The results of this study appear in the education-oriented publication “Hypothesis Testing Using the Films of the Three Stooges” which is to appear in Teaching Statistics. It can be found online at:

A less technical version is: Adding it Up: The Three Stooges in the College Classroom, The Three Stooges Journal, Volume 127, Fall 2008, pages 6-7. A version is online:


7. Conclusion and Limitation of Findings

We were interested in the overall violence that Joe endures, but we only counted the acts of violence by Moe (and ignored Larry and all of the non-Stooge characters).

We compared Joe to Curly, and perhaps should have compared the numbers for Joe to the numbers for Shemp (or maybe Curly and Shemp combined).

We counted number of acts of violence per film. Are all of the films the same length? (No!)

Are the films independent? (No!)

We have not clearly defined what an “act of violence” is. As you saw, this makes the data collection a bit imprecise.


Thank You!