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Shemp's Last Cigar

The original third Stooge, Shemp Howard spent the end of his career in brother Curly's shadow.
Jim Mueller
From the Print Edition:
Danny DeVito, Winter 96

(continued from page 2)

"The Howards were show people who loved to entertain their friends," says Greenbaum. "Shemp and Babe didn't travel much because Shemp was so afraid of airplanes and ships. They never went to the East Coast, let alone to Europe, so Shemp spent much of his spare time watching sports on television or going to the fights with his friends.

"When Mort and I were first dating we'd go along, and Shemp always had us in the best seats, front row," Greenbaum recalls. "He'd get all caught up in the fight, shadowboxing from his seat, and after Round 2 he'd be as much a part of the show as the boxers themselves. Between rounds the ring attendants would come down and towel Shemp off and give him a drink, which always got a big hand from the crowd, and that pleased Shemp because he loved his fans so. Shemp was never above signing autographs or stopping on the street to chat with people who recognized him." Stooges director Bernds agrees. He says Shemp was always "on," always performing, though he never came across as affected. Shemp simply considered himself a working actor.

The Three Stooges were approaching late middle age in November 1955 when Shemp quietly passed away in the aforementioned taxicab. Greenbaum's memory of that evening remains, arguably, the most accurate surviving account.

"Shemp did not have a heart attack or a stroke," Greenbaum says, "at least not that I ever heard of, and I was there with Mort and his mother the entire time. It was my understanding that Shemp had a massive cerebral hemorrhage. He was returning from the fights with Al Winston and Bobby Silverman when he leaned over to light a cigar and died. Just like that. Al and Bobby thought Shemp was teasing them, since he'd been laughing only a moment before, but Shemp was dead. It happened just as their cab came over the rise on Barham Boulevard."

Regarding the type of cigar Shemp may have been firing up, nobody knows the brand for certain. Emil Sitka swears he paid no attention to the cigars Shemp chewed. The same goes for Greenbaum and Maurer. Morey Amsterdam couldn't recall either, and, when contacted, Shecky Greene's agent, Jerry Levy, offered a curt "Shecky wouldn't know."

Did Milton Berle have a clue? No, afraid not. After all, Shemp Howard's last cigar was a long time ago. A long time.

Jim Mueller has written for Chicago and Pittsburgh magazines and several other publications.

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