What’s a Stooge? Ted Healy Tells You! (1934) 🇺🇸

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December 21, 2021

Ted Healy the man who made the United States stooge-conscious, had just finished a scene with Robert Montgomery in a picture when I cornered him.

by Robert Fender

I had been hanging around some time, waiting to get the answer to “What is a stooge?” So when I sprang it on him he replied:

“A stooge is a *****! /////— - ####!!!!!”

“Wait a minute, Ted,” I soft-pedaled. “We can’t print that. Give me a definition I can use in the magazine!”

Ted scratched his head. “It’s going to be tough to give you a definition of a stooge in decent language,” he pleaded, “but here’s a go. A stooge is a guy who never has a light for a cigarette he is trying to borrow.

“A stooge is something that’s there when you look around. It’s a sort of something — something awful.” He shuddered. “Something really awful, like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde without the Dr. Jekyll. A stooge is two helpings of awful. A stooge is something that, when you dream about it, you have to get up and turn on the lights.

“All of us,” Ted continued, “have a little stooge in us. If our Mr. Mayer and President Roosevelt are walking down the street, one of them’s a stooge, but if Mr. Mayer reads this, I’m only joking.”

“What do you call your stooges?”

“I call ‘em N.R.A. because, like prosperity, they’re always around the corner when I want ‘em. But my stooges ought to get along fine in Hollywood. They have lots of company. This is Stooge Center here, the land where all good little stooges go. If,” he added, “they’re real, real good or bad. All my stooges have to do here is keep real quiet and pretty soon they’ll all be supervisors.”

“Where,” I asked, “did you find your stooges?”

“I found them under loose boards and outside the city limits. When I came across them, they were trying to find their way, but they had forgotten which way they were looking for. They’d been there for days and days. They wanted to go North so we compromised and I brought them South. Now wherever I go, they go, too. It’s terrible.

“But Jean Harlow thinks they’ve got a big future here. She liked ‘em the first time she tripped over them. She was feeling sorry for herself that day, but since she met them and saw how low human life can fall, she’s been a new gal. Well, anyway, that’s what she says.

“But bad as they are,” Ted went on, “they aren’t so terrible for the money they get.”

“What do you pay them?” I asked.

“Nothing,” Ted snapped. “Nothing, that is, in actual money. I pay them in vegetables.”

At that moment Red Pearson, one of his stooges, popped his head in the open window. “You’re supposed to say. ‘What kind of vegetables?’” Red piped, “and Ted will answer, ‘Just a small celery.’ He thinks that’s a joke, the dog.” Ted threw something at Red and the head at the window disappeared.

“That,” Ted lamented, “is the kind of thing I have to put up with from those lugs. And they haven’t been the same since Jean made the mistake of telling them they had stooge-appeal.”

“What’s stooge-appeal?” I thought I had floored him with that one.

But he cracked right back and said,” It’s a sort of cross between Ramon Novarro and an egg sandwich.”

“What do they do with their spare time?” I asked.

“They go to the library and tear pages out of books. They started with picture books, but now they’ve gone high-brow and rip up only the classics. Then on second Thursdays they take turns thinking. But they don’t strain themselves. They just think of easy things like what day it is and what they’d do if they had sixty cents. By that time they’re worn out so they go home and play with their pigeons.”

Jerry Howard, one of his stooges, popped his head out of the fireplace. “You’re supposed to ask, ‘What kind of pigeons?’” he chirped, “and then Ted can come back with ‘Stooge Pigeons, of course.’ “ Ted took time out to light the fire and Howard went up in smoke.

Ted Crashes In

“Let’s talk about you, awhile, Ted. Come clean and tell me — how did you get into pictures?”

“I don’t exactly remember,” Ted answered. “The stooges and I were out walking and a door was open and we just walked in and kept walking. I met an executive and he said, ‘What are you doing here?’ and I said. ‘I’ll bite, what are you doing here?’ And he couldn’t answer that one. He said he used to know, but that had been years ago. ‘But,’ he said, ‘I have the nicest office. Ever see my office?’ I told him I hadn’t, so the stooges and I went to his office and stayed there for four months. Best office I ever slept in. The only noise was on Saturdays when the executive went out to get his check.

“But one day I made a mistake. I left the office with the stooges and took a walk around the studio. A director discovered us and the first thing we knew, they stuck us into ‘Hollywood Party,’ ‘Bombshell,’ ‘Dancing Lady,’ ‘Fugitive Lovers,’ ‘Meet The Baron,’ and ‘Nertsery Rhymes’ and a half-dozen other shorts. Now, I live in a fine house with carpets and windows and doors and everything. And my stooges, Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Jerry Howard, Bonny and Red Pearson all live in other houses as far from mine as I could find them. And that’s about all I know — or care to know — about stooges.”

How a Stooge Works

But before he finished, Ted became serious enough to tell me that a stooge, after all, isn’t such a bad guy to have around. His job, unless you already know, is to confuse and harass the comedian with whom he works. Ted’s stooges spoil his best jokes by giving away the point. They say the wrong things at the wrong time.

They lie in wait for him on the set or stage and just as he’s going well, hop in and “crab” his act. They may do it by starting a song, a juggling act, or by telling silly riddles. Thus the attention that should go to Ted is diverted and he loses his audience. It’s then up to Ted to jump on them, have sand-bags dropped on their heads and otherwise get them out of the way. But if they’re good stooges (like Ted’s) they come right back for more, giving Ted not a moment’s peace. The results are always good for belly laughs. Audiences howl at Ted and the trouble he has with the flies in his ointment.

Ted and his stooges have been vaudeville and musical-comedy headliners for the past fifteen years. New York idolizes them for their buffoonery in Earl Carroll’s “Vanities” of 1927, “Passing Show,” “Night in Venice,” “Night in Spain,” “The Gang’s All Here” and Billy Rose’s “Crazy Quilt.” Phil Baker had his stooge in the last show, too, but Ted said he could never figure out which one was the stooge.

“Every actor out here ought to have a stooge,” Ted philosophized. “They’re very handy guys to have around. If a star’s too busy to give an interview, he can send his stooge. And a stooge is a swell alibi. If a star’s wife or girl-friend says she saw him in Sardi’s with another doll, he can always say, ‘It must have been my stooge. I was home with the mumps, or a bad toothache or something.’

“And then a stooge always comes in handy when you feel like throwing something at somebody. Whenever I’m in doubt or feel mixed up, I always hit the nearest stooge. Makes me feel better. Nothing like it. Hollywood’s tired of ‘yes-men.’ That’s why the stooge is coming into his own out here. A stooge is a ‘guess-man.’ You can never guess what he’s going to do next. But some stooges act queerly before the camera the first time,” went on Ted, tilting his battered hat farther back on his head.

“What seems to be the matter with them?” I asked.

“I guess,” Ted concluded, “it’s just —”

“He guesses,” chirped the stooges, who were poking their heads in the transom, “he guesses it’s just a case of stooge-fright. That,” they piped, just before Ted hit them with a set of andirons, “is one of Mr. Healy’s very funny jokes.”

I escaped during the fight that ensued, not knowing which were the goofiest, Ted Healy’s stooges or Ted. The only thing I was sure of was that Healy and his gang have invaded Hollywood with the freshest brand of humor ever seen in these wastelands.

This is Ted Healy. You can tell him by his hat. The three lads who are practically in his hair are his “stooges.” Between them, they have brought a brand-new kind of clowning to films!

Source: Movie Classic, March 1934