Samuel Horwitz was born on March 17, 1895 in Brooklyn, NY, to parents Solomon and Jennie Horwitz. Sol and Jennie's family eventually included five boys Irving, Jack, Samuel (Shemp), Moses (Moe) and baby brother Jerome (Curly). To clarify one point, although Shemp's death certificate lists his birth date as Nov 5, 1895 according to family sources, this is incorrect and they are unsure how this error was made. Also, to put minds at ease, March 17th was definitely the day that was celebrated as Shemp's birthday within the family.
If you're wondering what kind of people would name their child "Shemp", Sol and Jennie, weren't "that kind of people". Samuel became "Shemp" somewhat accidentally as a result of his mother's thick European accent. It seems that when Jennie would call "Sams" (their shortened version of Samuel), it sounded like she was saying "Shemp" and the rest, as they say, is history.
Starting on the vaudeville circuit in his teens, Shemp performed both solo, and with brother Moe for many years. Shemp and Moe joined former classmate Ted Healy in 1922, and worked successfully for several years. In 1925, Shemp married the love of his life, Gertrude "Babe" Frank. After two years of marriage, the Howard's son Morton arrived. Also in 1927, Louis Feinberg AKA Larry Fine, joined the act.
In 1930 Shemp, Moe, Larry, and Healy were called to Hollywood by Fox Studios, to shoot the feature film "Soup to Nuts". After its original release, this film was thought to be lost for many years. In the 1980's, a copy turned up in the film archives of UCLA. The Philadelphia-based Three Stooges Fan Club paid to have a new 16mm master made of UCLA's fragile nitrate film to help in its preservation, as well as to give Fan Club members a chance to see this illusive Stooges flick. Several years later, Ted Turner turned up a copy, bringing "Soup to Nuts" to the masses.
In 1932, Shemp decided to strike out on his own after he could no longer bear to work with an often violent Healy. Shemp soon started working for New York based Vitaphone Corporation, shooting two-reel comedies. Shemp shot over thirty shorts for Vitaphone, including twenty which were part of the "Shemp Howard Series". Shemp's fifteenth short had him on screen with my all-time favorite actor, James Stewart, who was in his first film role, Vitaphone's "Art Trouble". During this time, Shemp also worked in a handful of short subjects for RKO and Warner Brothers. Shemp, like the Stooges, eventually found a home at Columbia Studios. Shemp had an extensive solo career, starring in over 100 feature and short subject films. He worked with many high-profile actors of the day, including John Wayne, Marlene Dietrich, The Andrew Sisters, Rudy Vallee, Abbott & Costello, and W.C. Fields, just to mention a few.
In 1947, after younger brother Jerome "Curly" Howard suffered a stroke, Shemp got a call from brother Moe, asking him to rejoin the act. Shemp happily returned to work with Moe and good friend, Larry Fine. His first short was the boxing-themed two-reeler "Fright Night". Shemp went on to complete seventy-seven Three Stooges shorts and multiple Stooges TV and feature appearances.
During this time, Shemp's son Morton and wife Geraldine, brought two granddaughters, Jill and Sandie (who now operate ShempCompany.com) into Shemp and Gertrude's lives.
On his way home from a November 23, 1955 boxing match, with friends Al Winston and Bobby Silverman, Shemp leaned over to light a cigar and slumped forward in his seat. Although his friends thought that Shemp was "clowning around", he had unfortunately suffered either a heart attack or a cerebral hemorrhage (to this day there is still confusion over the exact cause of his death) at only 60 years of age.
The world lost a talented performer, a gifted comedian, and a truly wonderful man that day. Luckily for all of us, we have hundreds of hours of Shemp's work on film, that allows his memory to live on, for us and for generations to come, who continue to be entertained by this one-of-a-kind funny man.