February 29, 2024 | Neil Crone

Knuckleheaded Facts About Ted Healy, Creator Of The Three Stooges

1. He Was A Latch-Key Kid

Born in Kaufman, Texas, Ted Healy came into the world as Earnest Lee Nash—and he was behind the eight ball from the get-go. His father, an itinerant gambler, was never around much and left when Healy was very young. But that was just the beginning. 

His mother, a wannabe actress, then dumped him with relatives in Ohio while she headed to New York to pursue a career on the stage. Healy however, wasn’t long for the country life.

Ted Healy in suitMGM, Wikimedia Commons

2. He Got A Taste For Vaudeville

After a few years, Healy joined his mother in New York. He attended De La Salle high school, where one of his classmates was Bryan Foy of the famous Vaudeville act The Seven Foys. Strongly attracted to a life in show business, Healy would soon meet another enterprising young lad who shared the same dream.

Grayscale Photo of 5th Avenue looking south from 66th Street, New York CityUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

3. He Met A Future Funnyman

While still a young showbiz hopeful in New York, Healy met the 15-year-old Harry Moses Horvitz, later to become Moe Howard of Three Stooges fame. The two of them hit it off and became fast friends. It wouldn’t be long before the pair of them were doing live comedy together.

The Three StoogesInsomnia Cured Here, Flickr

4. He Joined A Water Comedy Act

Healy and Howard joined the Diving Girls, an all-girl water show on Vaudeville that featured Australian swimming sensation Annette Kellerman and her daring, one-piece, bathing suits. Healy and Howard were half of the four boys providing the comedy relief in the show. 

Still just a teenager, things were going along swimmingly for Healy. Then a sudden, tragic accident sunk their act.

Ted HealyClarence Sinclair Bull, Getty Images


5. He Witnessed A Terrible Tragedy

Healy’s tenure with the Diving Girls only lasted for a summer. The show ended for good when one of the young female performers misjudged a high dive and broke her neck. That wasn't the only thing that ended that day. When the act dissolved, Healy and Howard went their separate ways. 

They would collaborate in a big way in a few years, but in the meantime, Healy was working on his own act.

Ted HealyHulton Archive, Getty Images

6. He Changed His Name

His first taste of show biz may have been short but it was enough to get him hooked. In short order, Ernest Lea Nash officially adopted the stage name Ted Healy and created his one-man Vaudeville act. Performing as a comedian, singer and MC, Healy learned to quickly think on his feet. 

Fast, sarcastic and sharp, he was a terrific improviser—a style embraced and imitated years later by some of the most iconic comedians in history. 

Ted Healy In Mad Love (1935) TrailerMGM, Wikimedia Commons

7. He Blazed A Trail For Some Giants

Healy’s style of bantering with the audience and even hecklers was new in the world of Vaudeville. As his success grew, so did his influence on those coming up after him. Comic giants Milton Berle and Bob Hope both claimed that Ted Healy’s act had had an enormous impact on their own approaches to comedy. 

Meanwhile, Healy’s spontaneity and impulsivity on stage sometimes spilled over into his personal life.

Publicity photo of Milton Berle - 1943Wire photo, Wikimedia Commons

8. He Got Married On A Whim

In 1922 Healy met dancer and singer, Betty Braun. Never one to waste time when it came to getting what he wanted, especially when it came to women, Healy married her within a week of their meeting. Always the opportunist, Healy may well have seen more in the talented Braun than just a pretty life partner. 

He knew a good second banana when he saw one. 

Betty Healy (Formerly Brown)Los Angeles Daily News, CC BY 4.0 , Wikimedia Commons

9. He Formed A Comedy Team

Healy was a savvy performer and created the comedy team of “Ted and Betty Healy: The Flapper and the Philosopher”. The act was an immediate hit. So much so, that very soon Healy was pulling in more money than he’d ever dreamed of. But this new success came with a dark side.

Ted Healy as  Father in Hello PopMGM. Hello Pop (1933)


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10. He Couldn’t Curb His Appetites

By 1922, Healy’s popularity was such that he was raking in $9,000 per week. A staggering sum for that time which, incidentally, made him the highest paid performer in vaudeville. The more Healy made however, the more he seemed to spend. Already a steady drinker, womanizer, and gambler, for Healy, this sudden influx of cash was a recipe for disaster.

Ted Healy as  Father in Hello PopMGM. Hello Pop (1933)


11. He Reunited With A Stooge

As Healy’s act gained popularity, it also grew in size. Soon, he had acrobats involved in the madness on stage. When some of them quit the show, Healy’s old comedy friend, Moe Howard, answered the ad for replacements. Howard was no acrobat but Healy, in a move that would eventually make comedy history, invited Howard to play an unwitting audience member who gets called up on stage. 

In that moment, the first Stooge was born.

Ted Healy as  Father in Hello PopMGM. Hello Pop (1933)

12. He Hired Two More Stooges

Healy employed a number of comic bit players as his stooges over the next few years. Moe Howard’s brother Shemp joined in 1923 as a pretend heckler, and Larry Fine came along just after that. Healy and his “Three Stooges” were now one of the most popular acts in Vaudeville. 

Though Healy was not always so popular with his sidekicks.

Ted Healy as  Father in Hello PopMGM. Hello Pop (1933)

13. He Was A Stingy Boss

Healy and his wife made a fortune with their act, but the riches didn’t trickle down to the guys who were providing most of the entertainment. More and more, the audiences were coming to delight in the slapstick antics of the Stooges, but Healy reportedly only paid them a scant $100 a week..split three ways! And there was a dark side to Healy as well.

Ted Healy as  Father in Hello PopMGM. Hello Pop (1933)

14. He Wasn’t Funny When He Drank

When Healy was on the sauce he got mean, belligerent, and spoiling for a fight—and Healy was on the sauce all the time. Working for peanuts alongside that kind of mercurial personality took its toll on the Stooges. Healy's resentment quickly began to boil over. 

Billed as the star of the act, Healy hated when The Stooges got a bigger laugh than him and he let them know his displeasure. Eventually, for one of the Stooges, that was the last straw.

Ted Healy and StoogesMGM, Wikimedia Commons

15. He Had His Bluff Called

Shemp Howard quit the act in 1925, leaving Healy with a position to fill. Moe suggested his younger brother Jerome, but Healy hated him. He didn't want to hire some amateur, and he told Jerome as much. But Jerry Howard wasn't going to take a "no" that easily.

He left the room, and returned with his slick haircut shaved completely off. Healy was impressed, and Curly Howard was born. But Healy wouldn't be on top for long.

Shemp HowardUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

16. He Made The Leap To The Big Screen

Fox Studios offered Healy a lead role in the film Soup To Nuts and he brought his Stooges along with him. The chemistry may have been disappearing however, as the picture was a flop. Things weren’t going so well in his personal life either. Healy was still drinking heavily and stepping out on his wife. 

Soon enough he found himself embroiled in not one, but two legal situations.

Ted Healy  in Soup to NutsFox Film, Soup to Nuts (1930)


17. He Was Still Playing Around

Involved in a not-so-discreet affair with Philadelphia Socialite Mary Brown Warburton, Healy found himself in hot water. His wife, having had enough, finally sued him for divorce. But that wasn't all. She was also asking for “substantial property settlement and alimony”. 

But that still wasn't enough, so she decided to go after the woman who was stealing her husband from her.

Ted Healy  in Soup to NutsFox Film, Soup to Nuts (1930)

18. He Was Making Headlines

Soon Healy’s name was being splashed across tabloids everywhere as his wife slapped a $250,000 lawsuit against his wealthy mistress for “Alienation of her husband's affections,” claiming the two of them had met in seedy hotels and back rooms to commit their adultery. 

But when it rains, it pours. As if that weren’t enough, now it seemed as though his Stooges were bailing on Healy too.

Ted Healy wearing   suit and hatMGM, Dancing Lady (1933)

19. He Shafted The Stooges

The failure of Soup To Nuts stung Healy, but what was worse was that the executives at Fox fell in love with The Stooges. They were about to offer them a contract when Healy caught wind of it and kiboshed the deal, claiming The Stooges were his employees. As a result, Fox rescinded the offer. 

That was the final straw. When The Stooges found out, they left Healy for good.

Three StoogesMGM, Dancing Lady (1933)

20. He Was Infuriated

Healy didn’t take the split at all well. Doubly infuriating was the fact that The Stooges were enjoying success doing sketches he had done with them previously. He responded by suing the troupe for the right to perform the material. The Court however, ruled in The Stooges favor. 

When Healy got the news, he blew his stack, going so far as threatening to destroy any theater the Stooges performed in.

Ted Healy wearing   suit and hatMGM, Dancing Lady (1933)

21. He Became A Movie Actor

Forced into a solo act, Healy embarked on what was a fairly successful career as a film actor in both comedic and dramatic roles. He eventually signed a contract with MGM, performing alongside such stars as Clark Gable and Joan Crawford

But he was a full-blown alcoholic by this time and no better with money than he’d ever been. And he was still as impetuous as ever with women. One woman in particular. 

Ted Healy wearing   suit and hatMGM, Dancing Lady (1933)

22. He Married A Stranger

In 1936, Healy met UCLA student Betty Hickman. Literally moments after shaking her hand, Healy proposed to her. Engaged the following day, then eloping by plane, they married in Yuma, Arizona on May 15 that same year. Unsurprisingly theirs would be a rocky and all too brief union.

Ted Healy wearing   suit and hatMGM, Dancing Lady (1933)


23. He Divorced Again

Less than six months into their marriage, Hickman filed for divorce, claiming, amongst other things, that Healy refused to “let my mother come to my house”. They divorced but then, strangely, had it nullified after the two of them reached some sort of reconciliation. 

It seemed like things might be working out for Healy in the romance department after all. And there was some very good news coming his way soon.

Ted Healy wearing   suit and hatMGM, Dancing Lady (1933)

24. He Became A Father

Just over a year into their almost-failed marriage, Hickman gave birth to their son, John Jacob. Healy, who had remained childless to this point, was over the moon. As Moe Howard related, "He was nuts about kids. He used to visit our homes and envied the fact that we were all married and had children”. 

Sadly, Healy would get to lay eyes on his son only once before tragedy intervened.

Ted Healy and Three StoogesMGM, Nertsery Rhymes (1933)

25. He Was Under Constant Surveillance

The birth of his son and the imminent release of Hollywood Hotel (his first co-starring feature role) had Healy in a dangerously celebratory mood. His sister Marcia and manager James Marcus kept him under constant surveillance, making sure the star stayed clean, sober and out of mischief prior to the film's opening premiere. 

In fact, they actually hired Healy a bodyguard...to protect him from himself. But Healy was sneaky when he wanted a drink.

Ted HealyWarner Bros., Hollywood Hotel (1937)

26. He Snuck Out

On December 17, 1936, only hours after his son's birth, an exuberant Healy must have felt the need to celebrate in the only way he really knew how. He needed to drink. Somehow eluding the watchful eye of his hired bodyguard, Hymie Marx, Healy made his way out of the house. 

He was looking for a good time. He found a lot more than that.

Ted HealyWarner Bros., Hollywood Hotel (1937)

27. He Began A Night Of Partying

Healy decided to paint the town red and immediately began a solitary binge at a number of his favorite Los Angeles watering holes. Details are sketchy regarding where he spent the first part of his evening, but he likely began his drinking at The Seven Seas Cafe, with a second stop at The Brown Derby. 

His last stop was at a major landmark. A place that would become infamous thanks to Healy’s attendance that fateful night.

Ted Healy ~ Hollywood HotelWarner Bros., Hollywood Hotel (1937)

28. He Went To The Trocadero

Eventually, an already inebriated Healy wandered into the famed Trocadero nightclub on the Sunset Strip. The club had opened its doors a couple of years previous and very soon became the place Hollywood stars went to be seen. Healy was certainly seen that evening, but perhaps by the wrong sort of people.

TrocaderoBillboard 1944 Music Yearbook, Wikimedia Commons

29. He Bumped Into A Mobster

Hollywood agent and alleged mobster Pat DiCicco ran The Trocadero. He was there that night, along with his cousin, Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, (who would later go on to fame as the producer of James Bond films) and legendary screen actor Wallace Beery. The three were drinking at the bar when Healy stumbled in. 

The trouble began almost immediately.

Portrait of American Actor Wallace BeeryBettmann, Getty Images

30. He Threw The First Punch

Healy was pretty much blotto by the time he stepped into the Trocadero. One source has it that he made his way to the bar where he met Broccoli. Broccoli said something to Healy, who responded by punching Broccoli in the nose and then again on the chin. Broccoli apparently shoved the belligerent Healy away from him.  And then management stepped in.

Albert Cubby Broccoli 1976Colin Dangaard, Wikimedia Commons

31. He Was Ejected From The Bar

The fisticuffs would earn him a bouncing from the bar. But Healy didn’t know when to quit.

Using the same wily cunning he had used to evade his bodyguard earlier, Healy once again, “through a ruse” gained entrance to the club. He sat down at a table with two men and a woman and once again began to stir things up. 

Ted Healy ~ Hollywood HotelWarner Bros., Hollywood Hotel (1937)

32. He Went Back For More

It’s not known what exactly Healy said to his table mates but his words were harsh enough to earn him a second enforced exit out of the premises. This time however, one of the offended parties, “...a well known Hollywood figure”, very likely Beery, followed Healy outside.

Ted Healy ~ Hollywood HotelWarner Bros., Hollywood Hotel (1937)

33. He Traded Blows With Beery

One source claims that Beery followed Healy outside the club, where he apparently “took a poke” at the cross-eyed actor, knocking him to the pavement. According to Beery, that ended his involvement with Healy. He stated later that Healy “...got back up, smiling and we shook hands and said he was sorry for what happened and asked if we were still friends”. 

Beery then came back inside the club…but Healy never made it.

Ted Healy in The Big IdeaMGM, The Big Idea (1934)

34. He Was Set Upon Outside The Bar

There are varying accounts of what really took place outside the Trocadero that fateful night, but the story that seems to have the most traction is that after Beery shook hands with Healy, a vengeful Broccoli, accompanied by his mobster cousin DiCicco, threw a jacket over the drunken Healy’s head and began to beat him and kick him. 

By the time they finished, Healy was in very bad shape.

Sunset TrocaderoMike Dillon, Wikimedia Commons

35. He Was Left Barely Breathing

Healy lay on the pavement, bleeding profusely from cuts to his head. He was barely conscious, incoherent and suffering from internal injuries as a result of the kicking. He might very well have passed right then and there were it not for the only bit of good luck Healy experienced on that evening. He was recognized.

Ted Healy in The Big IdeaMGM, The Big Idea (1934)

36. He Was Rescued By A Friend

An old friend of Healy’s, actor Joe Frisco, happened to be passing by the club that night and found the prone and bleeding body of Healy. Over the years, Healy had been extremely generous to Frisco, helping him out with money periodically, and that generosity may well have saved Healy from breathing his last on the pavement outside the Trocadero. 

At the very least it bought Healy some time.

Joe FriscoUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

37. He Was Taken To A Hotel

Seeing that Healy was in rough shape, Frisco called Healy’s sister, Marcia, for help. She told Frisco to take her brother to see Dr. Weinberg at the Hollywood Plaza hotel. The men hailed a cab and got the bleeding Healy into it. 

Arriving at the Hollywood Hotel, they met yet another acquaintance of Healy’s; Wrestler Man Mountain Dean who reported that Healy “staggered out, bleeding from a cut over one eye”. Healy was alive, but unable to say what had happened to him.

Hollywood Plaza HotelJunkyardsparkle, Wikimedia Commons

38. He Was Seen By A Doctor

Healy was still incoherent and unable to give the doctor much information about what had happened to him or who had beaten him. In Weinberg’s words “Healy had been drinking heavily. He said he had been in a fight but was unable to say who his opponent was”. 

Weinberg treated Healy by closing the deep cut over his eye with two surgical clips. If he’d examined him a little more closely he might’ve saved his life.

Ted Healy in suitLMPC, Getty Images

39. His Manager Took Him Home

Meanwhile, Healy’s sister Marcia called his manager, James Marcus, and asked if Marcus could pick up her brother from the hotel and drive him to his home. Marcus obliged. They got Healy into his own bed, but it very soon became apparent that he wasn’t going to simply sleep this one off. 

Something was seriously wrong with Healy.

Ted Healy and Three StoogesMGM, Nertsery Rhymes (1933)

40. His Condition Worsened

Healy’s condition was going from bad to worse. The bleeding from his facial cuts had stopped but something else was going on. He became “violently ill, wracked with convulsions and (was) frequently delirious, moaning about the fight”. He needed more medical attention, and he needed it fast.

Ted Healy in suitLMPC, Getty Images

41. His Family Doctor Was Sent For

Late in the evening of Monday December 21, Healy’s family physician, Dr. Wyant Lamont arrived. Lamont, who only days before had delivered Healy’s son into the world, examined him and immediately realized that Healy was in serious medical trouble, more trouble than Lamont could deal with by himself. He sent for help.

Good Old Soak 1937MGM, Wikimedia Commons

42. He Was Seen By A Heart Specialist

Lamont administered a sedative to the mumbling, moaning Healy and requested an immediate consultation with Dr. John Ruddock, a Los Angeles Heart Specialist. Ruddock arrived shortly thereafter but it’s not known whether he was able to do much for the failing comic. What is known however, is that at three in the morning, things took a turn for the worst.

The Three Stooges factsBettmann, Getty Images

43. He Slipped Into A Coma

Despite the administration of glucose and oxygen, and the best efforts of two physicians, at 3 a.m. Healy suffered an attack that would signal the beginning of the end. The actor lapsed into unconsciousness one final time on Tuesday morning and lingered in a coma until 11:30 a.m. 

Ted HealyLMPC, Getty Images

44. He Breathed His Last

At 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday December 21, 1937, four days after the birth of his son, a badly beaten, comatose Ted Healy drew his final breath. The questions surrounding his final hours and the events leading up to his passing were so many that the attending physician, Dr. Wyant Lamont, refused to sign off on it. Clearly, there was more to this story.

Bonnie Bonnell stands beside Ted HealyLos Angeles Times, CC BY 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

45. His Body Was Autopsied

In an attempt to decipher the cause of Healy’s passing, the authorities conducted an autopsy. The Los Angeles County Coroner determined that Healy succumbed to acute toxic nephritis secondary to acute and chronic alcoholism. 

There was no mention of injuries, both external and internal, sustained from a heavy beating. And there were no charges laid against anyone. Witnesses to the night's events began to talk about a cover up.

Calvary Cemetery ChapelKonrad Summers, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

46. His Story Was Covered Up

MGM, the studio that employed both Healy and Wallace Beery, released a statement shortly after Healy’s passing declaring that three college boys set upon the actor outside The Trocadero and that his demise had nothing to do with the assault. Beery’s name, or even the mention that he was there that night, were completely left out of the story. 

There were rumors, as a result, that not only had MGM covered up what really happened but had even “bought and paid for” the autopsy results. 

MGM studioAnthony Godinho, Flickr

47. His Assailant May Have Taken A Powder

It’s interesting to note that immediately following Ted Healy’s passing, MGM Studio Head Louis B. Mayer sent Wallace Beery overseas to Europe for several months around the same time that the story of the three college boys was being put together. 

Thus leaving Beery conveniently unavailable for any questioning regarding the incident. 

Robert Taylor at a birthdayDell Publications, Wikimedia Commons

48. His Home Was Burglarized

Healy’s wife, Betty Hickman, remained in the hospital throughout and after the events leading to her husband's passing. As a result, their unattended home was broken into and looted of everything of value. Discharged from the hospital with a new infant to look after, a late husband and the news that she’d been robbed on her plate she didn’t need anymore bad news. Healy however, had one final gift for her.

Hollywood Hotel Auction for Healy FamilyBettmann, Getty Images

49. He Left This World Penniless

Although he’d been a millionaire several times over during his career. Healy spent, drank and gambled himself into penury. At the time of his passing he owed a mountain of debt, including the medical bills incurred treating him for the attack at The Trocadero. 

His wife could not even pay for his funeral, a huge bill that was purportedly taken care of by Healy’s childhood friend and actor Bryan Foy.

Bryan FoyTheatrical Repro. Photo. Co., Wikimedia Commons

50. His Trust Fund Went Missing

Shortly after Healy’s passing a Trust Fund was set up by friends and colleagues to provide financial support for Betty Healy and her infant son. A $10/plate (roughly $204 today) fundraising dinner was held in her benefit as well. As a terribly sad legacy to Ted Healy’s life and tragic end, Betty Healy maintained to her dying days that she never saw any of the money. 

grandmother opens an empty walletmarikun, Shutterstock

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