Stooge's daughter remembers his smile

WESTMINSTER — WESTMINSTER -- Janie Hanky's father used to bark at people, spin around in circles on his shoulder and tell anyone who would listen that he was a "victim of soicumstances."

What's more, millions of people have watched him do this.


All of that, though, just adds to Mrs. Hanky's love and pride for her father, a clown whose work has kept generations belly-laughing and whose identity is part of 20th-century American culture.

She was born 43 years ago, the daughter of Valerie Newman and Jerome Lester "Curly" Howard. That's Curly, as in Moe and Larry.


Curly died at age 48, when Mrs. Hanky was almost 4, so she has only vague memories of life at home with the zaniest of the Three Stooges. But she treasures those times, which she said were pretty normal.

"No, he did not do shoulder spins on the floor," Mrs. Hanky said. "And we didn't throw the pies; we ate them."

Mrs. Hanky, who lives outside Westminster with her husband, Frank, and 14-year-old daughter, Kelly, said she recalled Curly as a loving, playful father.

"I have memories that a child would have," she said. "I remember that he used to sing to me, particularly one song, 'Oh, You Beautiful Doll, You Great Big Beautiful Doll.' He would also make a lot of funny faces for me. Some of the expressions he used in films bring back memories for me as a child."

For those uneducated in Stoogeology, the Three Stooges made 191 film shorts and 24 feature films, featuring a slapstick style of humor that was blunt and brutal but often hilarious. The origins of the Stooges date from shortly after World War I, when two of the Howard brothers, Moe and Shemp, formed a vaudeville act.

In 1923, the two brothers joined comedian Ted Healy for a comedy act. Larry Fine, a Philadelphia actor, joined the group in 1928 to form Ted Healy and his Stooges. They traveled around the country doing vaudeville shows and several film appearances, but eventually Shemp Howard left to make his own way and Curly Howard, the youngest of five brothers, joined the Stooges in 1933.

The Stooges decided to go out on their own, and they grew to be one of the most popular film comedy teams in Hollywood. Curly Howard suffered a stroke in 1946 that forced him to retire, and he died six years later. He was replaced in 1946 by Shemp Howard, who was with the Stooges until 1955, when he died. The Three Stooges continued with two other actors, Joe Besser and later Joe De Rita, playing the character Curly Joe. None of the Stooges is alive today, with Moe, the last one, dying in 1975.

The Stooges have been very popular among baby-boomers, thanks to the decision by Screen Gems to release 78 of the shorts for television distribution.


They were an immediate success, growing from 75 markets to 156 within a year. Eventually, all 191 of the shorts were released, and they can still be seen today in many areas.

Watching those films creates a mix of emotions for Mrs. Hanky.

"There is an ambivalent feeling for me when I see my father on television, very much so," she said. "The one question I remember asking my mother was, 'Did I cry when he died?' because that was very important to me that I cried when my father died. She said, 'Yes, you cried for many days.' "

"Now when I watch them, I have become a fan and think he is very funny, but it still makes me a little wistful wishing that I could have known him as an adult," she said. "So it still jerks some emotions within me."

Mrs. Hanky's round face and smile reveal traces of her father. Another trait they carry, she said, is an outlook on life. "I'm a light-hearted person, and he was, too," she said. "Based on what my mother told me, we look at life a lot alike."

The significance of being Curly's daughter was not that great for Mrs. Hanky until her daughter saw a Three Stooges short before a movie about seven years ago.


"When the short came on the screen, I said to Kelly, 'That's your grandfather.' She got real excited about it. She may have known about it before, but that's when it really sunk in for her."

Curly Howard had his share of personal problems -- he was married four times and had poor health for several years before he died -- but he always kept his sense of humor.

"My father, from what my mother told me and my memories, had a good sense of humor off the screen as well," she said.

"I think he made the best out of every situation, considering nTC different things had happened, like the strokes. He didn't get bitter about it."

Mrs. Hanky spent most of her childhood in Virginia. Her mother died when she was 14, and she then went to live for several years with her mother's sister. She never had an opportunity to see her Uncle Moe or Uncle Shemp, after her father died, or any of her cousins or other relatives from her father's side.

Finally, several years ago, she met her cousin Joan Howard Maurer, Moe's daughter, who had written a biography of Moe and later wrote a book about Curly, whom she called her favorite Stooge.


As a result of Ms. Maurer's research, Mrs. Hanky also met her half-sister Marilyn, Curly Howard's daughter from his second marriage.

The two women have since stayed in touch and appeared together on television programs and the annual Three Stooges Fan Club convention in Philadelphia.

As Curly's daughter, Mrs. Hanky enjoys celebrity status at the conventions, which attract almost 3,000 fans each year.

"It amazes me to see so many people loyal to the Three Stooges work," she said. "I'm enthusiastic about it because he is my father and I love him. But to see other people come and say, 'I want you to know how your father affected me in a positive way.' "

Fans besiege her with questions about her father and ask her for autographs. When she signs her name, she often adds something near to the hearts of Stooge fans:

"N-yuk, N-yuk, N-yuk, N-yuk."