Ted Healy

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Ted Healy
Ted Healy in The Casino Murder Case trailer.jpg
in the trailer for
The Casino Murder Case
Born Ernest Lea Nash
(1896-10-01)October 1, 1896
Kaufman, Texas, U.S.
Died December 21, 1937(1937-12-21) (aged 41)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Cause of death See below
Resting place Calvary Cemetery, East Los Angeles
Nationality American
Occupation Comedian, actor
Years active 1912–1937
Spouse(s) Betty Brown (m. 1922–32)
Betty Hickman (m. 1936–37)
Children 1

Ted Healy (October 1, 1896 – December 21, 1937) was an American vaudeville performer, comedian, and actor. Though he is chiefly remembered as the creator of The Three Stooges and the style of slapstick comedy that they later made famous, he had a successful stage and film career of his own, and was cited as a formative influence by several later comedy stars.

Early life

Sources conflict on Healy's precise birth name and birthplace; but according to baptism records, he was born Ernest (or Earnest) Lea Nash on October 1, 1896 in Kaufman, Texas.[1] He attended Holy Innocents' School in Houston before the family moved to New York in 1908. While in New York, he attended high school at De La Salle Institute. Nash initially intended to follow in the footsteps of his father and pursue a career in business, but eventually decided on the stage.[2]

Show business career

File:Ted Healy signed and Betty.jpg
Healy and his first wife, Betty Brown, ca. 1923

Nash made his first foray into show business in 1912, at the age of 15. He and his childhood friend Moses Horwitz (later known as Moe Howard) joined the Annette Kellerman Diving Girls, a vaudeville act that included four boys. The work ended quickly after an accident on stage, and Nash and Howard went their separate ways. Nash developed a vaudeville act and adopted the stage name Ted Healy.

Healy's act was a hit, and he soon expanded his role as a comedian and master of ceremonies. In the 1920s, he was the highest-paid performer in vaudeville, making $9000 a week. He added performers to his stage show, including his new wife Betty Brown (a.k.a. Betty Braun), and his German Shepherd dog.[3]

When some of his acrobats quit in 1922, Moe Howard answered the advertisement for replacements. Since Howard was not an acrobat, Healy cast his old friend as a stooge (a purported member of the audience who is picked, ostensibly at random, to come onstage). In the routine, Howard's appearance would end with Healy losing his trousers.

The Stooges

Howard's brother Shemp joined the act as a heckler in 1923, and Larry Fine was added in 1928. Healy's vaudeville revues (A Night in Venice, A Night in Spain, New Yorker Nights, and others) included the quartet under various names, such as Ted Healy and his Southern Gentlemen.

Healy with the Stooges in a 1934 Hollywood on Parade short subject.

Moe Howard took a break from show business in July 1925 after his marriage to Helen. The group of Moe, Larry & Shemp first became the legendary trio in February 1929 and appeared in the Shuberts' Broadway revue A NIGHT IN VENICE from April 1929 to March 1930, leading to their appearance in the 1930 film Soup to Nuts (filmed in June 1930). In late August 1930 the Stooges and Healy parted ways after a dispute over a movie contract. They began performing on their own, using such monikers as "The Three Lost Souls" and "Howard, Fine and Howard", and often incorporated material from previous Healy shows. Healy attempted to sue the Stooges for using his material, but the copyright was held by the Shubert Theatre Corporation, for which the routines had been produced, and the Stooges had the Shuberts' permission to use it.

Healy hired replacement stooges, consisting of Eddie Moran (soon replaced by Richard "Dick" Hakins), Jack Wolf (father of sportscaster Warner Wolf), and Paul "Mousie" Garner in early 1931. This group appeared in two Broadway plays, with Healy costarring in "The Gang's All Here" and "Billy Rose's Crazy Quilt." The original Stooges rejoined Healy's act in July 1932, but Shemp left on August 19 to pursue a solo career and was replaced by his younger brother Curly Howard. In early 1934, Fine and the Howards parted ways with Healy for the last time.

After the Stooges

Healy appeared in a succession of films for MGM from 1934 - 1937, and was also loaned to 20th Century Fox and Warner Brothers for films by those companies, playing both dramatic and comedic roles. One of his films, Mad Holiday (1936), featured stooge Dick Hakins as his sidekick. In San Francisco (1936 film), a new lineup of "stooges" consisting of Jimmy Brewster, Red Pearson, and Sammy Glasser (aka Sammy Wolfe) filmed a scene with Healy but it was omitted from the final release; a couple production stills of them exist. Also, in the Technicolor short subject La Fiesta de Santa Barbara (1935), Jimmy Brewster briefly appears to 'stooge' with Ted. During this period Healy took to wearing a toupée in public.[2] His last film, Hollywood Hotel, was released a few days after his death in 1937.

Personal life

Healy's first wife was dancer and singer Betty Brown (born Elizabeth Braun), whom he married in 1922[4] one week after they met.[5] The couple worked together in vaudeville, then divorced in 1932[6] after Brown sued heiress Mary Brown Warburton for "alienation of her husband's affections".[7]

Healy's second marriage was to UCLA coed Betty Hickman. After introducing himself, Healy proposed immediately, and the couple became engaged the following day.[8] They were married in Yuma, Arizona on May 15, 1936 after a midnight elopement by plane.[9] Hickman was granted a divorce on October 7, 1936, which was nullified after a reconciliation.[10] Their son, John Jacob, was born on December 17, 1937, four days before Healy's death.[11]


Healy died suddenly on December 21, 1937 at the age of 41, after an evening of celebration at the Trocadero nightclub on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles. He was reportedly celebrating the birth of his son, an event he had eagerly anticipated, according to Moe Howard. "He was nuts about kids," wrote Howard. "He used to visit our homes and envied the fact that we were all married and had children. Healy always loved kids and often gave Christmas parties for underprivileged youngsters and spent hundreds of dollars on toys."[2]

The circumstances surrounding his death remain a matter of some controversy.[12] Initial reports listed the cause as a heart attack,[13] but the presence of recent wounds—a cut over his right eye and a "discolored" left eye—combined with reports of an altercation on the night of his death at the Trocadero gave rise to speculation that he died as a result of those injuries. Because of the circumstances, Wyantt LaMont, the treating physician, refused to sign his death certificate.[14] At some point in the evening, Healy's friend, Joe Frisco, took him to his home.[15] LaMont was summoned to the home when Healy began experiencing convulsions, but his efforts to save Healy were unsuccessful.[1]

According to one source, quoting Healy's friend, the writer Henry Taylor, an argument broke out between Healy and three men identified as college boys.[citation needed] The younger men allegedly knocked Healy to the ground and kicked him in the head, ribs and abdomen. United Press reports cited wrestler Man Mountain Dean, who happened to be at Healy's hotel when he stumbled, injured and incoherent, out of a taxi, and who helped to locate a doctor for him.[5] From this point, after having his wound treated, Healy was taken to his home by Frisco.

A later source alleged that the three assailants were not college boys, but actor Wallace Beery, producer Albert R. Broccoli, and Broccoli's cousin, agent/producer Pat DiCicco.[16] While there is no documentation in contemporaneous news reports that either Beery or DiCicco was present, Broccoli admitted that he was indeed involved in a fist fight with Healy several hours before he died,[17] stating that a heavily intoxicated Healy had picked a fight with him, the two had briefly scuffled, and then shook hands and parted ways.[1] In other reports, Broccoli admitted to pushing Healy but not striking him.[18]

Two days after Healy's death, the Los Angeles county coroner reported that Healy died of acute toxic nephritis secondary to acute and chronic alcoholism. Police closed their investigation, as there was no indication in the report that his death was caused by physical assault.[18]

Healy was a prolific spender; despite his large weekly salary of US $1,700 (equivalent to $27,983 in 2019) he died in debt.[1] In addition to paying the salaries of his various assistant performers (which, at times, numbered as many as 10) out of his own pocket, he was also financially generous to his friends when they were out of work and indulged in many personal luxuries.[1] After dying, it also came to light that he had allowed the unemployed Joe Frisco to live at a high-priced hotel on Healy's tab, leaving Healy's wife, Betty, stuck with the bill.[1] Betty was also unable to pay the hospital bills related to the birth of her son and Healy's medical care.[19] Furthermore, she was still recovering in the hospital for some time after Healy had been buried, leaving their house unattended; as a result, it was robbed of everything of value.[1] A trust fund was organized by friends and colleagues to provide financial support for Betty and her child; the fundraiser included a $10 per plate high-class dinner and an auction of the Hollywood Hotel's ledger, which included a long list of famous signatures. At some point during the evening, the ledger was stolen and never recovered, and according to Betty in a later interview, she never received any money from the fundraiser, believing that Healy's business manager had stolen it.[1]

Ted Healy is interred at Calvary Cemetery in Los Angeles, California, along with his mother and sister.


In the decades that followed, many comedy stars, including Milton Berle, Bob Hope, and Red Skelton, cited Healy as a "mentor", and a significant influence on their careers.[20] "Back in [19]25, Ted Healy took me aside and gave me some wonderful advice," Berle told American newspaper and radio gossip commentator Walter Winchell in 1955. "'Milton, always play to the public. Never mind playing to the theatrical crowd. Don't try to impress the trumpet player in the pit. Entertain the people and you'll get rich and famous.' "[21] A caricature of Healy, drawn by Alex Gard, was the first of several hundred hung at Sardi's restaurant in the New York City Theater District.[22]


Year Title Role Notes
1926 Wise Guys Prefer Brunettes Napoleon Fizz Short film
1930 Soup to Nuts Ted "Teddy"
1931 A Night in Venice Short film
1933 Nertsery Rhymes Papa Short film
1933 Stop, Sadie, Stop Ted Short film. A lost film
1933 Beer and Pretzels Ted Healy Short film
1933 Hello Pop! Father Short film
1933 Stage Mother Ralph Martin
1933 Bombshell Junior Burns
1933 Plane Nuts Ted Healy Short film
1933 Meet the Baron Head Janitor
1933 Dancing Lady Steve - Patch's Assistant
1933 Myrt and Marge Mullins
1934 Fugitive Lovers Hector Withington, Jr.
1934 Lazy River William "Gabby" Stone
1934 The Big Idea Ted Healy, Scenario Company President Short film
1934 Hollywood Party Reporter Uncredited; last film with the Stooges
1934 Operator 13 Doctor Hitchcock
1934 Paris Interlude Jimmy
1934 Death on the Diamond Terry "Crawfish" O'Toole
1934 The Band Plays On Joe
1934 Forsaking All Others Scenes deleted
1935 The Winning Ticket Eddie Dugan
1935 The Casino Murder Case Sergeant Heath
1935 Reckless Smiley
1935 Murder in the Fleet Gabby O'Neill
1935 La Fiesta de Santa Barbara Himself Color short film
1935 Mad Love Reagan
1935 Here Comes the Band Happy
1935 It's in the Air Clip McGurk
1936 Speed Clarence Maxmillian "Gadget" Haggerty
1936 San Francisco Mat
1936 Sing, Baby, Sing Al Craven
1936 The Longest Night Police Sergeant Magee
1936 Mad Holiday Mert Morgan
1937 Man of the People Joe The Glut
1937 The Good Old Soak Al Simmons
1937 Varsity Show William Williams
1937 Hollywood Hotel Fuzzy Boyle
1938 Love Is a Headache Jimmy Slattery
1938 Of Human Hearts Uncredited


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 Cassara, Bill (2014). Nobody's Stooge: Ted Healy. BearManor Media. ISBN 1593937687.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Maurer, Joan Howard; Jeff Lenburg; Greg Lenburg (2012). The Three Stooges Scrapbook. Chicago, Illinois: Chicago Review Press. pp. 2–9. ISBN 978-1-6137-4074-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. staff (September 30, 1924). "Princess Bill is Rich in Comedy". The Montreal Gazette. Retrieved 27 August 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Mrs. Ted Healy Seeks Decree". Rochester Evening Journal. January 27, 1932. p. 4. Retrieved May 15, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. 5.0 5.1 staff (May 11, 1925). "Betty Healy's Fairy Tale Rivals Cinderella Legend". The Pittsburgh Press. Retrieved 27 August 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "pp1" defined multiple times with different content
  6. staff (May 14, 1936). "California Girl Bride of Healy Comedian". Reading Eagle. Retrieved 27 August 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. staff (January 28, 1932). "Comedian's Wife Suing Heiress". The Milwaukee Journal. Retrieved 27 August 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Garner, Paul; Kissane, Sharon (January 1999). Mousie Garner: autobiography of a vaudeville stooge. Mcfarland & Co Inc. p. 72. ISBN 978-0-7864-0581-7. Retrieved August 27, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. staff (May 15, 1936). "Ted Healy Wed After Elopement by Plane". The Evening Independent. Retrieved 27 August 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. staff (October 8, 1936). "Ted Healy's Wife Granted Divorce". The Milwaukee Sentinel. Retrieved 27 August 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "Dead Comedian's Son 10 Days Old". Spokane Daily Chronicle. December 29, 1937. p. 21. Retrieved May 15, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "Ted Healy Dies. Autopsy Ordered. Rumors of Cafe Fight Add Some Mystery to Passing of Actor in California Home". New York Times. December 22, 1937. Retrieved 11 July 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. staff (December 22, 1937). "Police Drop Healy Probe". Prescott Evening Courier. p. 1. Retrieved May 15, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. "Police Probe Death of Ted Healy, Motion Picture Star". The Evening Independent. December 22, 1937. p. 1. Retrieved May 15, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Howard, Moe; Howard Maurer, Joan (2013). I Stooged to Conquer: The Autobiography of the Leader of the Three Stooges. Chicago Review Press. p. 42. ISBN 978-1-6137-4766-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Fleming, E.J. (2004). The Fixers: Eddie Mannix, Howard Strickling, and the MGM Publicity Machine. McFarland. pp. 174–177. ISBN 978-0-7864-2027-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. staff (December 23, 1937). "Wealthy Sportsman Confesses Fight with Ted Healy". The Oxnard Daily Courier. p. 1. Retrieved May 15, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. 18.0 18.1 "Ted Healy Died of Toxic Nephritis". Lewiston Evening Journal. December 23, 1937. p. 8. Retrieved May 15, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. Cullen, Frank (October 9, 2006). Vaudeville, Old and New: An Encyclopedia of Variety Performers in America. 1. Routledge. p. 495. ISBN 978-0415938532.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. Braund, Simon (2012). "The Tragic And Twisted Tale Of The Three Stooges". EmpireOnline. Retrieved 1 September 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. Winchell, Walter (September 17, 1955). "Editorial". The Daytona Beach News-Journal. p. 4. Retrieved 1 September 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. "Inventory of Sardi's Caricatures". The New York Public Library. Retrieved 1 September 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • The Complete Three Stooges: The Official Filmography and Three Stooges Companion by Jon Solomon, (Comedy III Productions, Inc., 2002).
  • The Three Stooges Scrapbook by Jeff Lenburg, Joan Howard Maurer, Greg Lenburg (Citadel Press, 1994).

External links