The Three Stooges were an American vaudeville and comedy act of the early to mid–20th century best known for their numerous short subject films. Their hallmark was physical farce and extreme slapstick. In films, the stooges were commonly known by their first names: "Moe, Larry, and Curly" and "Moe, Larry, and Shemp," among other lineups.
The film trio was originally composed of:
Moses "Moe" Howard (June 19, 1897 – May 4, 1975, original surname Horowitz)
Samuel "Shemp" Howard (March 11, 1895 – November 22, 1955) (brother of Moe) and
Larry Fine (October 5, 1902 – January 24, 1975, original surname Feinberg), long time friend of the Howards.
Jerome "Curly" Howard (October 22, 1903 – January 18, 1952), sometimes spelled Curley, replaced brother Shemp, who had left to try out other projects. After 11 years during which Curly participated in about 90 short films, Shemp returned to the team following Curly's debilitating stroke in 1946.
After the deaths of Curly and Shemp in the 1950s, other men were recruited to fill the "third Stooge" slot. These were:
Joe Besser (August 12, 1907 – March 1, 1988), with the team 1956-9
Joseph "Curly-Joe" DeRita (July 12, 1909 – July 3, 1993, original surname Wardell), with the team 1959-70
Thus there were a total of six men known as The Three Stooges.
The shorts with Curly Howard are the best known in pop culture, although Shemp starred in some iconically popular outings as well. The entries with Besser and DeRita have never been as well known. In the works of Harry Turtledove, most references to the Stooges allude specifically to the Curly line-up.