I stopped by a few weeks ago to pay my respects to Larry Fine.
Fine was, of course, one of the original Three Stooges. His grave was the one I hadn’t yet been to on my odyssey of Stooge cemeteries.
It was important to me to get there before the publicity from the new Stooges movie tries to obliterate the memories of these original clowns.
Larry is entombed at Forest Lawn Glendale in a huge building at the top of a hill called the Freedom Mausoleum, in an alcove called the Sanctuary of Liberation. It was a little difficult to find, since the building has several layers of marble corridors and tomb alcoves, and the map the guard gave me at the front gate didn’t say on what level I’d find Larry. After descending a few flights of stairs and traversing enough hallways, I finally found the spot.
It was, as you can see, a plain marker. It had his stage name, rather than Andrew Louis Feinberg, the name he was born with. And it had the year of his birth and the year of his death.
That’s it. No mention of all the laughs he brought by taking the brunt of Moe’s theatrical brutality for so many decades. Nothing about his great poker face when Curly was working the shtick for humor.
Curly is buried in LA’s oldest Jewish cemetery, with his given name as Jerome. Shemp, who was born Samuel and who was Curly’s and Moe’s brother, is in a mausoleum in the same cemetery under his stage name. Moe is cross-town in the same Jewish cemetery as Al Jolson and many other entertainers, also entombed under his stage name. And Larry is in a non-sectarian cemetery with a decidedly Christian stained-glass scene shedding light on the brass letters that make up his name.
Larry was an accomplished violinist, I’d read, a result of his parents trying to engage him in activities that would strengthen an arm burned by acid in his youth. Larry’s signature frizz, I’d read somewhere else, came when he auditioned for Ted Healy’s vaudeville show with wet hair that dried oddly during his interview. Still, somewhere else, it said that Larry was getting ready to go on stage with the Stooges in Rhode Island when he learned that Mabel, his wife of over 40 years, had dropped dead in Los Angeles in 1967 of a heart attack.
One of the most surprising things I discovered is that Larry’s only son, John, died in an auto accident at the age of 24 in 1961, which is about the time the Stooges enjoyed their greatest popularity, the result of the relatively new medium of television needing material to fill the time and Baby Boomers looking to be entertained. John is buried beside Mabel, who is buried beside Larry.
How could he go on being funny after something like that?
But he did. Or at least he tried. A series of strokes left him confined to a wheelchair for the last five years of his life. A stroke ended his life in January 1975.
As I did on my visits to the other Stooge grave sites, I found a spot to sit and reflect on the life of a man I’d spent hours watching, but didn’t really know. I’m not the kind of person who’s hit by great insights in these moments, but there’s some solace to me in trying to put the often contradictory pieces together. Usually, they don’t fit very neatly.
So what I’m left with is the laughter I’ve known for decades whenever I see the Stooges perform. It’s not much to distill a man’s whole life to a guffaw.
But that was the point of his career. It worked. And I wanted to show up in person to thank him—to thank all of them—for that.