Mar 31, 2014

The Three Stooges: Gay Symbolism on "Cartoon Showboat"

When I was a kid in the 1960s, every day after school I rushed home or to my boyfriend Bill's house to watch Captain Ernie's Cartoon Showboat.  Captain Ernie (later weatherman Ernie Mims) showed old Bugs Bunny and Popeye cartoons, and with the proviso "Don't try this at home," The Three Stooges.

I didn't realize that the comedy shorts were originally shown in theaters 30 or more years before, or that the three "stooges" belonged to a long tradition of comedy teams.  I found them bizarre, somewhat disgusting,  and fascinating.

What was this world of boarding houses, boxing rings, hobos riding the rails, jitterbug music, and machine-gun toting gangsters?

Why did Moe, Larry, and Curly/Shemp have different jobs and living situations in every episode?

Why was their theme song Three Blind Mice?

Why was third member of the trio so changeable, sometimes Curly, sometimes Shemp?

The role of the Third Stooge was sometimes filled by two flamboyantly gay-coded actors, Joe Besser in the shorts and Joe DeRita in the movies (seen here with Samson Burke in The Three Stooges Meet Hercules).  But they never appeared on Cartoon Showboat.

And the most important question: why did the men live together (and sleep together)?  Where were their wives?

All of the adult men I knew, or had seen on tv, or had ever heard of, had wives.  My parents and other relatives constantly talked about the far-off day when I would be "grown up" and "married," as if the two states were identical.

Yet these three men were obviously grown up, and obviously not married.  Men building a life together, not needing or wanting wives (I missed or ignored the scenes where they flirt with women).

I didn't think there was any  romance between them, not even friendship -- Moe was painfully abusive to the others, and they treated him with open contempt.

But, as with the Hanna Barbara cartoons of my earliest childhood (Yogi Bear, The Flintstones), the domesticity itself was evocative.

There was a recast, The Three Stooges, in 2012, with Chris Diamantoupoulos  (top photo) as a rather muscular Moe.  Again, they don't get girlfriends or wives; the hetero-romantic plot is given to a new character.

See also: Samson Burke.