The Virtuoso Violinist who Found Silver Screen Stardom, a Musical Mystery
by Drew Holmes
Tragedy struck Louis Feinberg at an early age. His father owned a watch repair and jewelry store in Philadelphia and kept acid on hand to test the gold content of pieces. One day the thirsty young boy mistook the bottle of acid for a drink and raised it to his lips.
Fortunately, his father knocked the toxic liquid from his hand before he could take a sip. Unfortunately, the acid spilled on his arm, burning it severely.
The muscles in his forearm were extensively damaged, so to restore strength they enrolled Louis in violin lessons. He had great aptitude for the instrument and planned to attend conservatory in Europe, but the outbreak of the Great War thwarted his dream.
Determined to perform, Louis played his violin on the vaudeville circuit. In the mid 1920’s, while the master of ceremonies at Rainbo Gardens in Chicago, he met Ted Healy and Samuel Horowitz. They were performers in a play and Samuel was taking a leave, so they asked Louis to fill in. This proved so successful that in 1929 Ted signed Louis, Samuel, and Samuel’s brother, Moses, to a contract for a new touring revue.
This was at the advent of a cutting-edge innovation in technology and entertainment, the talkie, an ideal medium for the short plays of vaudeville. In 1930 the quartet went to Hollywood and appeared for the first time on film in Soup to Nuts. Shortly after, Louis and the Horowitz brothers severed ties with Ted and went out on their own, adding yet another Horowitz brother, Jerome, to the mix. After a couple of years touring, Samuel left to pursue a solo career and the trio was set.
1934 saw the beginning of their legendary rise to fame as Louis, Moses, and Jerome made the first of their short films. Louis stayed mostly in the background, proving a grounding foil to the bossiness of Moses or the childishness of Jerome. He endured the zany antics of the others, suffering constant verbal and physical abuse. According to his brother, he developed a callous on his face from the frequent slaps delivered by Moses.
Louis’ trademark hairstyle with its bald top and thick auburn sides was, according to legend, the result of hastily wetting it before that first fateful meeting with Ted Healy. Moses referred to the coif as “porcupine”, but Ted encouraged him to keep it and it became his signature look.
His personality always came through on the screen with director Charles Lamot saying “…(he) was a nut. He was the kind of guy who always said anything. He was a yapper.” And though he had abandoned his career as a musician to pursue film, he can sometimes be seen playing the violin on screen while his henchmen are merely pantomiming.
The popularity of the trio exploded during the last century and endures into this one, influencing film and comedy even today. Though you may not recognize the names Louis, Moses, Jerome, and Samuel, you’ve doubtless seen them on TV or in their 206 short films. You know them better by their stage names, Larry, Moe, Curly, and Shemp, and by the name found on their shared star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame — The Three Stooges.