Top Stooge learned craft on river

Published 10:59 am Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Moses Horwitz arrived in Vicksburg as an unknown — just another slim, short, Jewish performer from Brooklyn hoping to make a living.

But here on the Mississippi River, he honed the craft that shot him to stardom with his brothers Samuel and Jerome Horwitz and their friend Larry Fine as The Three Stooges, historian Jim Woodrick of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History told Vicksburg Kiwanis during their meeting Tuesday

Moses Horwitz

Moses Horwitz also known as Moe Howard

“Unable to make any headway in Brooklyn, Moses Horwitz headed south to that strange land called Mississippi. About 1916, he arrived by train in Jackson on his way to Vicksburg to join a performing troupe aboard a Mississippi River showboat for the next two summers,” Woodrick said.

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Most references list the name of the showboat as the Sunflower, but it’s more likely that he performed first aboard The Princess and later aboard Bryant’s New Showboat.

Horwitz dropped out of high school after just two months and began running errands for show business studios.

“As a result he would occasionally get bit parts in movies there,” Woodrick said.

He also sang in bars, but his Orthodox Jewish father strictly forbid it. The family also forbid him from heading south, but his brothers covered with a story that he had gone to perform in Philadelphia, Pa.

“For Christ’s sake, I can see you breaking rocks on a chain gang in that malaria-ridden country!” Horwitz’s brother, Samuel, also known as Shemp Howard, said of his brother’s trip to Vicksburg.

After spending several seasons on the river, Horwitz headed back to New York where he and his brothers joined Ted Healey in a vaudeville routine billed at Ted Healey and his Racketeers.

After filming “Soup to Nuts” in 1930, Fox decided to drop Healy but retain his slapstick trio known then as The Stooges.

By the end of their career, Moses, Samuel and Jerome Horwitz, better known as Moe, Shemp and Curly Howard, produced more than 230 films with their friend Larry Fine and rose to international stardom.

“Of course none of this would have happened, perhaps, if Moses had not gone down to Mississippi,” Woodrick said.