A reproduction of a poster for the Three Stooges “Half-Wits Holiday” has been listed on EBay as Buy It Now for $6.99.
James writes: Here’s another of those interviews I did during a random burst of energy in 1975. This one took place a couple of weeks before my previously-posted talk with Dick Lane, and my memory is that this one is probably a bit better because of the range of topics it covers.
JAMES CURTIS: Following the Three Stooges into the forties and the later forties,
it appears that before Jerry “Curly” Howard left the group that he was a little less active, or perhaps even ill…
JULES WHITE:He was, and we never knew what was the matter with him. He couldn’t remember a line, he lost a great deal of his comedic value, and I gave him less and less to do.
JC:What was the problem?
JW:Well, he was getting sick at hat time. He had a stroke, a cerebral hemorrhage…
JC: …while they were shooting a picture–“Half-Wits Holiday.”
James Curtis’ interview with Jules White, Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6
James Curtis’ interview with Dick Lane Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7
JW:I was on the fourth day of my–usually we had four-day schedules. This was at lunchtime. I came back from lunch and they said, “Curly has had a stroke.” They took him to the hospital, and here I am with about twenty people making a picture. I’ve got a half a day’s shooting and he was in everything. I was lucky. Moe had done a scene—I had a line in the scene where Moe says, “Listen, you puddinhead, you go over and sit down and if I see you—” doing something, I don’t know what it was. Oh–he had reached in the punchbowl to get a cherry and his cuff slipped off and went into the punchbowl and he was fishing it out when Moe caught him. And Moe smacked him and said, “You go over in that corner and sit down and I don’t want to hear any more from you. Now you stay there!”
Well, that saved my life, because the rest of the stuff that I had to shoot, I did it with them talking about Curly and every once in a while I’d have him say, “You stay there and shut up!” And I finished the picture with the two of them.
JC:That must have been a difficult atmosphere to work in with the third star in the hospital and not knowing whether he was even alive at that point.
JW:Well, there was nothing I could do about it. All I was concentrating on for the rest of the day was getting my picture finished. I had no feeling about Curly particularly at this time, although naturally I was concerned. He was a very likable guy, and I certainly didn’t want to see anything as drastic as that happen to anybody, let alone to one of my associates.
So now we waited after the film was done before we made any kind of a move. We realized that he would never be Curly again.
JC:Was he paralyzed?
JW: Yes, of course. I did give him a couple of bits after I replaced him with Shemp.
JC:“Hold That Lion” was one, I believe.
JW:I don’t remember exactly. I know he did a chef bit in one, and in one on a train where they go along and he’s reading a paper and he looks up and you recognize Curly. But he couldn’t work anymore. In retrospect, then I realized what was happening to Curly, because he would talk thick-tongued before he ever had the stroke. Had he gone to a doctor, had we had an inkling… Now our studio doctor, I think, examined him but could never find anything. His blood pressure was all right, his heart was okay. So how could you anticipate what was going to happen in the brain? Maybe he had a blood clot, but no one could find any kind of symptom that would lead them to the problem.
JC:Was he an easy man to work with?
JW:Yes. Curly was never difficult. In fact, we never had any major difficulties with any of the three. Larry sometimes would be thick-headed and wouldn’t know what the heck he’s doing. Usually if we had retakes, it was because Larry flubbed something.
JC:Who was the business end of the group?
JW:Moe. Moe was the brains of the three. Moe was a very intelligent man. He was very helpful to me. In going over the scripts they’d all contribute something, but Moe usually contributed more than the other two.
JC:Was Shemp working at Columbia at the time he joined the group?
JW:Oh yes. I made pictures with Shemp alone. And I teamed him with Harry Langdon, and I teamed him with El Brendel.
JC:So the decision was a natural one to go with Shemp?
JW:Yeah. Sure, well Shemp had been with them originally. Shemp was one of the Three Stooges. Then he left to go out on his own and that’s when Curly came in.
JC:In the early fifties Hugh McCollum left Columbia. I had heard that you and Mr. McCollum didn’t get along very well.
JW:No, it was just a clash of personalities. He got a little bit big-headed after we had made a lot of pictures, and he thought he knew everything. A couple of times I called him because he copied everything I did, and what he did he learned from me—otherwise I would never have agreed to put him in there as the other half of the program. As a matter of fact, he tried to take over from me at the end. He thought he was a big, big wheel, but Columbia didn’t agree with him. And neither did I. When the chips were down, he was out.
JC: Thinking about Harry Cohn, there are so many legends. How was your working relationship?
JW:Can I tell you something?
JW:Harry Cohn and I had a great rapport from the very inception. First place, he had respect for me because he knew I knew my business. He sent for me. And I told him when I came to work for him, “I know your reputation—the reputation of bring a very cruel man to work for. Remember: You sent for me. I didn’t come and ask you for a job.” Because I had never been out of work. In fifty years, I think I was out of work once for about four months by my own choosing, because my wife was ill and I wanted to take her away and devote my time to her. Otherwise, I was never out of work; I was always in demand. So, I was independent, but not cocky. I said, “Leave me alone. Give me enough rope to hang myself if I’m dumb enough to do this, but don’t interfere with me.” And we shook hands, and that’s how we lived.
Additionally, as I said, I was independent. When he called me an SOB, I called him one in return. He liked this.
JC:Would you see Harry Cohn on a regular basis when you were working?
JW:No. Only when I wanted to see him.
JC:And otherwise he left you alone.
JW:He never interfered with me. We had a great rapport. I’m one of the few men who liked Harry Cohn. I liked him so much that in ’58 when he went to Arizona and died there, I had no more heart for it; I quit. I quit working. I just didn’t want to work anymore.
Because this was a man—I tried to teach him how to relax. I finally got him to go fishing up in Las Vegas, on Lake Mead. He never would do anything outdoors. He’d play a game of golf now and then, but not enough of that. He would work from noon until four or five in the morning. This was terrible, and I used to razz him about it. I asked him, what is his object? He’d say that’s all he knows. “Why don’t you quit?” “What would I do? I’d go crazy.” And that was true. But like these last words when they were carrying him out: “It’s too much, it’s just too much.” And he died.
And that was true; he did not know how to relax. His brother Jack was complete opposite. I used to go to New York and Jack and I would ride horseback. He’d come along with me when I hunted. When he came out here on business, he’d come to my office and hide away from Harry and all the rest of them, and we’d go horseback riding in Griffith Park. He had a big estate out in Katonah, which was about fifty or sixty miles from New York City. He had a beautiful estate there; he knew how to live but Harry didn’t. Harry only knew pictures. If he wasn’t making them he was looking at them, looking at someone else’s stuff.
JC:So in 1958 when Harry Cohn died, the decision was made to close down the short subjects department and curtail production?
JW:Well that was made before. We had quite a discussion. I told him I was quitting. I didn’t want to work anymore. I didn’t want to take over television; they wanted me to take over Screen Gems at its inception. Ralph Cohn took it on. He said, “Come with me. You’ll be rich.” I wasn’t about to start a whole new life at that stage of the game. And I knew that my rat race was a paradise as compared to what television was going to be. I could just sense it, and I was right. I wouldn’t have lived through it. So I told Harry I was leaving, and he said, “No, you can’t do it. You’ll go nuts.” He said, “I’ve got a bunch of comedy scripts. I’m going to take a two-week vacation. You take a vacation for two weeks, full pay of course, and you come back, you read some scripts and pick out what you want to do.” Well he never came back, and neither did I. I cleaned up what I had to do, and that was the end of it.
JC:And you went to television to do the Wiere Brothers series “Oh, Those Bells!”
JW:Well, that was one of those things I’d like to not even try to remember. As I said, I didn’t want to work. When you don’t want to work, people want you. Had I needed a job, perhaps I would have starved to death. As it happened, CBS wanted to make a comedy series, and they wanted some gentile Three Stooges. I said, “Boys, you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. You make three stooges or you make three gentlemen from Verona or whatever you want.” But they insisted. My brother was in on it, Sam. And the man who had done the “Perry Mason” show with him, Ben Brady. CBS says you gotta have a comedy expert. If Jules White will do it, we’ll do it. If not, not.
So I dictated my terms. Well, we took a long time making this thing. It seemed there were no comedians available, but when the Wiere Brothers were brought up we agreed that this might be something and we tried it. Unfortunately it was as fiasco from its inception; it was very bad. I pulled out right after the pilot was made and they made 13 of them, but I got paid for them anyway. I didn’t want any part of it.
JC:So you, at that point, retired.
JW:I was retired then, but I came out of it. At that same time I was doing this thing with Winchell and Harry Rohm, who had been their agent. Again, I didn’t want to do this, but he made it so interesting money-wise that I couldn’t turn it down. I made enough in a couple of months to more than cover my annual living expenses. I didn’t really want to do it, but if I do it—the same thing at 20th Century Fox. Jack Cummings, who’s my pal, called and asked if I’d gag up a picture for him, and it was a sickie. I didn’t want to do it, but he was my buddy. He said, “You’ve got to do it.” I said, “It’s going to cost you—not you, but Twentieth.” He said, “Name it.” I named it, and he said okay.
JC:What film was that?
JW: Uh… it was called… “Second Time Around.”
JC:Oh, with Andy Griffith and Debbie Reynolds.
JW:Debbie Reynolds. I rewrote the script with the comedy because I wanted to do it in about two days. I hung around there altogether about two weeks.
JC:Well, considering your output during the years you were at Columbia, television wasn’t good enough for you.
JW:It could have been. I could probably have contributed much to television in my own way, as I did to the short subjects business. But I was 58 years old. A lot of people start new careers at that age, but from the age of 22 to 58, working consistently without a letup, that was a long, long time. You can’t take it with you. I didn’t want to be the richest man in the grave, and I was lucky I quit when I did.
JC:Thank you very much, Mr. White.
JW: You’re very welcome.
In the days when Mr. White worked, studio doctors were there to keep the contracted actors working. No matter what. If it took loading the up with pills, they did. If it took denial, they happily supplied that. After all, a death would be covered by insurance. A debilitating illness might not.