March 19, 2024 posted by Greg Ehrbar

The Three Stooges in “Record Smashes & Cartoon Crashes”

From Moe Howard, Larry Fine, and Curly Howard to Shemp Howard, Joe Besser, and Curly Joe DeRita, the various combinations that formed the eternal slapstick trio of The Three Stooges was reborn with the advent of television and a burgeoning fan base of baby boomers. Parades of live-action short comedies were programmed along with vintage Warner, Paramount, and other animated cartoons by local stations, giving them a new, arguably more appreciative audience. From a film package once thought old and irrelevant sprang what would now be called a franchise. They were not only newly marketable, they were so merchandisable that toys and related products filled the store shelves to a level never imagined when Columbia was churning out shorts at low costs with little for the Stooges themselves.

This rebirth was not lost on the remaining Stooges, nor their families and associates. Norman Maurer, who married the lovely Joan Howard (daughter of Moe) in 1947, was responsible for comic books starring the Stooges, as well as an additional comic line with “Little Stooges” (before Muppet Babies and Tiny Toon Adventures). Maurer became a business partner and developed new projects featuring images of the most famous three, in addition to the then-current team of Moe Howard, Larry Fine, and Curly Joe DeRita. In the fifties, they became a welcome presence on such variety shows as Texaco Star Theater, The Frank Sinatra Show, The Colgate Comedy Hour, and The Steve Allen Show.

According to The Three Stooges Scrapbook by Joan Howard Maurer, Jeff Lenburg, and Greg Lenburg, the first attempt at a TV series, at least in the talking stages, was pitched by friends of Shemp Howard. We Wuz There spoofed Walter Cronkite’s You Are There with the Stooges appearing in humorous looks at history.

With Moe as Vice-President, Maurer formed Illustrated Films in 1958 for a Stooge Time TV series combining live segments with cartoons using the “Artiscope” process, described as “a revolutionary automated animation system that filmed ‘live’ actors and utilized an optical-chemical process to transform each frame of the film into line drawings that looked like they were hand-drawn.” Edward Bernds was to direct the live-action and Friz Freleng would direct the cartoon sequences. Even though an Artiscope test film was produced in 1954 called Captain Lafitte with Don Lomond and Moe, it did not sell.

1959’s Three Stooges Scrapbook did make it to the pilot stage. The premise placed the live-action trio in a creepy old house (in Lompoc, California), where a mad scientist (favorite Stooge co-star Emile Sitka) invents an extraordinary vehicle, enabling animated Stooges to, as proposed earlier, journey through history. The Stooges and Maurer formed Normandy Productions and hired TV Spots (Crusader Rabbit) for the cartoon. The live-action segment is available on YouTube.

Three Stooges Scrapbook was not picked up, but the footage from the pilot was reused for the Stooges’ 1962 feature, The Three Stooges in Orbit.

The late fifties and early sixties became a haven for family-friendly comedies, particularly Walt Disney’s The Shaggy Dog, itself originally turned down by ABC for a TV series yet such a smash on the big screen it surpassed Sleeping Beauty at the box office. The first feature-length film starring The Three Stooges (with the exception of 1930’s Soup to Nuts with Ted Healy), was Have Rocket, Will Travel, featuring a less violent Howard, Fine, and DeRita in a zany space send-up. Colpix Records released a single of the film’s theme song, sung by the Stooges in the film.

This is a personalized “Happy Birthday” record sold by “Normy Enterprises” that features the Stooges singing and joking while mentioning a specific child’s name. A popular gimmick, this was also done on recordings by Captain Kangaroo, Popeye, Mickey Mouse, and friends and others. This video is an edited version with some interesting promotional materials that tie into the Stooges’ TV fame:

Here is a full version of the record for birthday boy “Johnny:”

Their first long-playing album was also their most elaborate. Coral/Decca’s The Three Stooges: The Nonsense Songbook gave the world fully orchestrated renditions of favorite novelty tunes in stereo. For Warner cartoon and Roger Rabbit fans, there’s “The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down,” and for Stooge and Charley Chase enthusiasts, they sing their beloved “Swinging the Alphabet” from 1938’s Violent is the Word for Curly. The album was in print and reissued for years, later released on CD.

Golden Records released a 45 rpm EP in 1959 (the same year the Three Stooges Scrapbook pilot was being pitched). Six Happy Yuletide Songs, reissued by Rhino as Christmas Time with The Three Stooges. Columbia Records presented the trio in a 1961 soundtrack story album based on the most expensive Stooge feature, 1961’s Snow White and the Three Stooges. This LP was explored in an earlier Animation Spin devoted to Snow White records.

1962 brought two more features, The Three Stooges Meet Hercules and The Three Stooges in Orbit, and another album. Golden Records released the most modular of their LP, Madcap Musical Nonsense. It was written by Bill Buchanan and Dick Cella, who were also responsible for another Golden bestseller, The Golden Treasury of Great Bedtime Story-Songs, reissued as Bedtime Stories. This album, which was reissued to the grownup nostalgia market by Rhino Records, is a collection of parodies to public domain children’s songs and short sketches. The sections of the album were divided into parts so the segments could also be sold as Little Golden Records and Golden 3-on-1 EP Records.

The various incarnations and attempts at animated Three Stooges TV shows are most evident on the Peter Pan LP, A Rocket Ship Ride Through Time and Space to Storyland. It was released in 1963 (the same year they starred in The Three Stooges Go Around the World in a Daze and appeared in Four for Texas and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World). As the lengthy title of the Peter Pan LP states, the Stooges rocket to the “once upon a times” of several fairy tales. The LP and 45 rpm versions of this production featured cartoon renderings of the Stooges. When Peter Pan reissued it in 1973 as The Three Stooges and Six Funny Bone Stories, the cover art (by Bill Peet’s brother George Peed) depicted them in caricature.

Here is the first portion of the Peter Pan album, in which the Stooges board the rocket ship:

The album continues here in which they meet Cinderella, then the Ugly Duckling, the Princess and the Pea, and find the Magic Lamp.

1965 marked the premiere of the syndicated TV series, The New Three Stooges, produced by Cambria Studios (Clutch Cargo). Each cartoon opened and closed with color live-action segments. This series enjoyed a long life, as the five-minute episodes were easily placed where needed by local stations. It was also released in a DVD set. Their final feature was also in theaters that year: The Outlaws IS Coming.

Perhaps the most bizarre and beguiling album comes from Hanna-Barbera Records in 1966: the gloriously goofy Yogi Bear and the Three Stooges Meet the Mad, Mad, Mad Dr. No-No. The authors of The Three Stooges Scrapbook called it “a well-deserved success.”

In addition to the voices of Moe, Larry, and Curly Joe, Daws Butler plays Yogi, the rangers, Dr. No-No (Uncle to Dr. No), and his “stooge,” Fang. This is the only Hanna-Barbera Cartoon Series album upon which Butler voiced Yogi (though he recorded others that were never released and they are revealed in this keen book). The disc is also a banquet of great music cues from The Yogi Bear Show, The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Jonny Quest, The Magilla Gorilla Show, and Loopy DeLoop cartoons.

The story finds Yogi such a popular public attraction, that LBJ sends an order to the rangers from Washington to keep Yogi from constantly escaping from Jellystone Park. The Park Department’s “three best rangers” are assigned to keep track of Yogi. Of course, Yogi slips away, dressed as a lady, but it backfires as he finds himself caught in a storm. (In the absence of Boo-Boo, Yogi talks to himself about his predicament, the same way José Jiminez does on the HBR LP The Flintstones and José Jiminez in The Time Machine.)

In the tradition of classic comedy horror movies and TV shows (as well as The Rocky Horror Picture Show), Yogi discovers a classic creepy old house where he can seek shelter. HBR fans will notice that Daws Butler’s voices for Dr. No-No and Fang are similar to the ones he used for Dr. Oh-No and Killer on Super Snooper’s James Bomb album (love those HBR inside threads!). What follows is the sitcom staple of electronic mental and/or physical transference—a trusty comedy plot that worked for everything from The Flintstones and Gilligan’s Island to The Fly and the Stitch’s Great Escape attraction. The Stooges track Yogi to the mad doctor’s laboratory, where hilarity ensues. Here’s the album to savor like a fine vintage wine:


  • I was familiar with some, but not all, of these albums. I never realized that there were so many. The Stooges are used to such delightful effect on the Yogi Bear album, it’s unfortunate that the real voices did not surface again for the New Scooby Doo Movies, although by that late date they may have been gone.

    The Yogi Bear album has a few inconsistencies. During Yogi’s monologue of talking to himself, he reveals that he can’t read (which is contradicted in several TV episodes) but later when talking with the mad doctor’s assistant, he echoes: “You ain’t going nowhere? What kind of a double negative is that?” If he’s not literate, he would be unlikely to recognize a double negative. But that’s a very minor quibble. The Stooges themselves provide plenty of spot-on humor, and while the mad doctor plot becomes quite predictable, it plays out so cleverly that the listener is anticipating the next bit of rich word play more than plot twists. In the absence of Don Messick, there is no Boo-Boo and also no Ranger Smith, but Daws provides a decent “range” of rangers to carry the narrative–and in any case, a national park is more likely to have several rangers instead of just one–even with rangers as zany as the Stooges!

    I certainly recall how popular the Stooges still were in the 60s and 70s, which is remarkable considering that they rose to fame all the way back in the 30s. Proving that a solid franchise has timeless appeal.

    It’s great to find another HBR record referenced here. I look forward to learning more about those “unreleased” recordings so tantalizingly alluded to above.

  • The first feature-length film starring The Three Stooges (with the exception of 1930’s Soup to Nuts with Ted Healy), was Have Rocket, Will Travel…

    Maybe just me, but I include Rockin’ in the Rockies (1945) and Gold Raiders (1951) as Stooge features.

  • “OHHHH…. Chickery Chick, cha la, cha la, check a maroney, in a banana ka balla ka walla ka can’t you see? Chickery Chick is me!”

    I bought the Three Stooges’ Nonsense Songbook when I was in my early twenties. My friends and I sang along with it while my downstairs neighbour pounded on her ceiling with a broom handle. That woman had no sense of rhythm at all.

    Funny you should compare Norman Maurer’s “Little Stooges” to the “Muppet Babies”, as Maurer’s son, Jeffrey Scott, was the head writer on that show.

    The “Artiscope” process sounds a lot like the “Cinemagic” process Maurer used in the science fiction cheapie “Angry Red Planet”. If it’s the same thing, I doubt that even Friz Freleng’s direction could have salvaged it.

    That Yogi Bear album was a lot funnier than I expected it to be. I imagine Dr. No-No’s Molecule-Mixing Machine as a sort of giant See ‘N Say, with various animals on the dial and a long string to pull. I wish there had been more collaborations between Daws Butler and the Three Stooges. One wonders what sort of hijinks those knuckleheads could get into with Snagglepuss, or Snooper and Blabber, or Quick Draw and Baba Looey.

    Now that Chickery Chick song is going to be in my head all night. OHHHH….

    • Yeah, it might’ve been the worst thing Friz ever directed. On the other end of the spectrum, I wish Bob Clampett Productions did the animated Three Stooges cartoons instead of Cambria Studio. Knowing what Clampett was capable of, I’m pretty sure those would have more of the Stooges’ wit than what we got.

  • “Top Cat James”: I’m with you on ROCKIN’ IN THE ROCKIES and GOLD RAIDERS. GOLD RAIDERS – considering the budget and the time director Ed Bernds was given to make it, it’s a pretty good film – you could call it an “extra-extra long short.” I once got to interview Ed Bernds and I’m sorry I didn’t ask him more questions on THE THREE STOOGES and other things about his career – THE BOWERY BOYS, RETURN OF THE FLY, etc. He had been interviewed A LOT around the time I talked to him on the phone and I felt like that maybe he was tired of talking about all this stuff. Turns out we had a nice talk about his early days of Chicago, Frank Capra, Sam Katzman at Columbia, etc. – and so maybe I SHOULD have talked to him a lot more. GOLD RAIDERS was one of Bernds’ first feature films and he said in an other interview that it almost killed his budding career – but I (and other STOOGE fans) can overlook the miniscule budget and enjoy it for what it is!

    That being said, I don’t know what happened with those little short live-action “framing devices” for the ’60s cartoons. Very few of them seem even a little bit funny to me!

  • There was also a Lp recording of the movie soundtrack of”Snow White & The Three Stooges”..which was cut,produced and released by Columbia Records and a special recording of the tv soundtrack of “The Three Stooges”performing on an NBC TV comedy/variety special”Sunday Showcase:The Frances Langford Show”..this was sold to customers via the show’s sponsor and trying to find a copy of very rare.

  • I can’t help but make double-takes at the Dr. No-No character and wonder if he served as a model for future cartoon villains at other animation studios. I swear to you, I see a LOT of Ursula from “The Little Mermaid” in that unrighteous fellow! (And perhaps even a bit of the antagonist from 1992’s “Tom And Jerry: the Movie”)

  • I knew about The Three Stooges being featured in other media such as Snow White and the Three Stooges as well as their animated spinoffs. However, I was not aware of how far they branched out to records. That truly speaks volumes about how much their brand of humor still continued to resonate with audiences, even decades later.

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