Movies at the Library: “The Three Stooges” with special guest

COURTESY PHOTO | Grown-up Shelter Island summer kid Paul Ben-Victor as Moe Howard, middle, from the 2000 made-for-TV biopic, ‘The Three Stooges,’ which will be screened at the library at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, June 10. Paul’s co-stars are Michael Chiklis, left, and Evan Handler.

COURTESY PHOTO | Grown-up Shelter Island summer kid Paul Ben-Victor as Moe Howard, middle, from the 2000 made-for-TV biopic, ‘The Three Stooges,’ which will be screened at the library at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, June 10. Paul, who will be on hand to answer questions after the screening, in a scene above with co-stars Michael Chiklis, left, and Evan Handler.

Paul Ben-Victor will be on hand June 10 to help celebrate the 10th anniversary of Movies at the Library with a screening of ABC’s made-for-TV film “The Three Stooges.”

Paul, whose parents Victor and Leah Friedman are long-time Shelter Islanders, spent childhood summers here and cherishes his many happy Island memories.

In this bittersweet bio-pic, he stars as Moe Howard, the eldest and savviest of the three comics.  He’ll participate in a post-screening Q&A, taking us on a tour of the production (for budgetary reasons it was shot in Australia) and sharing stories from his long, successful career as an actor.  (Paul was recently profiled by the Reporter. Check it out at shelterislandreporter.timesreview.com/2014/05/30/profile-an-actor-with-island-roots/)

The Three Stooges had a 45-year run as a comedy team, starting in 1920s.  Their earliest incarnation was in vaudeville as foils for the very successful Ted Healy.   After a short-lived movie career with Healy at MGM, Harry Cohn signed them to make their own comedy shorts for Columbia Pictures.

From the beginning, they were wildly popular — true financial rain-makers for the studio.  Ultimately they made 190 2-reelers for Columbia.  Nearly all are still syndicated to television.  Indeed, the Stooges have never left the television airwaves since their first appearance in 1958.  As nearly any 9-year old boy knows — 9 year-old boys being their perennial audience — they specialized in slapstick and physical farce.  Pies in the face were a common phenomenon, as was making fun of the rich and pompous, particularly in the form of a character named Mrs. Gotrocks.

But theirs were not easy or happy lives.  The truism that all clowns are somehow sad applies here.  And therein lies the text of the film.  Despite their comic talent and popularity, even Moe seemed not to understand their power as cultural icons.  Cohn exploited their ignorance mercilessly, threatening to cancel their contracts and insisting that the market for their films was declining.

Cohn’s scare tactics worked for 23 years, during which The Stooges never asked for or got a salary increase; nor were they entitled to any residuals resulting from re-sales and re-showings of their work.  And though the brothers Moe and Curly and the long-time third stooge Larry Fine mostly got along, the physical hardships and emotional duress ultimately cost them dearly.

As the film begins Moe is so down on his luck that he’s working at the studio as a gofer.  It’s there that a theatrical impresario approaches him with the idea of reviving The Three Stooges as stage act.  But it’s been so long, and their original fans are as old or older than Moe.  Is there a new generation that will come out to laugh at/with them?  Is it possible to polish up a faded career?  The impresario believes the answer to both questions is “yes.”  Moe isn’t so sure.  As he considers his options, the movie shifts between what was and what may be, and whether the proposed revival will bring pleasure or an overwhelming tide of sorrowful memories.

Paul Ben-Victor as Moe is ably abetted by a cast that includes Michael Chiklis as the child-like Curly, Evan Handler as Larry Fine, John Kassir as Shemp Howard, Martin Csokas as Ted Healy and Linal Haft as Harry Cohn.

“The Three Stooges” is based on Michael Fleming’s book, The Three Stooges:  From Amalgamated Morons to American Icons.  It run 88 minutes, was directed by James Frawley and written by myself and Kirk Ellis.  I also get credit for creating the film story.

Please join us and special guest Paul Ben-Victor at 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 10, downstairs at the library for an evening of screening and celebration.