The Three Stooges started in 1925 as a raucous vaudeville act called Ted Healy and His Stooges (also called "Ted Healy and His Southern Gentlemen" and "Ted Healy and His Racketeers"). Lead comedian Healy would try to sing or tell jokes while his noisy assistants kept "interrumping" him. Healy would respond by abusing his stooges verbally and physically. Brothers Harry Moses Horwitz (Moe) and Samuel Horwitz (Shemp) were joined later that year by violinist Larry Fine (born Louis Feinberg).
In 1930, Ted Healy and His Stooges appeared in their first Hollywood feature film: Soup to Nuts, released by Fox Studios. The film was not a critical success but the Stooges' performances were considered the highlight and Fox offered the trio a contract on their own, without Healy. This upset Healy, who told studio executives that the Stooges were his employees. The offer was withdrawn, and after Howard, Fine, and Howard learned the reason, they left Healy to form their own act. Their act quickly took off, and they toured the theatre circuit. Healy attempted to stop the new act with legal action, claiming they were using his copyrighted material. There are accounts of Healy threatening to bomb theaters if Howard, Fine, and Howard performed there, and these incidents worried Shemp so much that he almost left the group; reportedly, only a pay raise kept him on board. Healy tried to save his act by hiring replacement stooges, but they were not as well-received as their predecessors had been.
in 1932, with Moe now acting as business manager, Healy reached a new agreement with his former stooges, and they were booked in a production of J.J. Shubert's The Passing Show of 1932. Joe Besser, a future member of the Three Stooges, was a member of the cast. During rehearsals, Healy received a more lucrative offer and found a loophole in his contract allowing him to leave the production. Shemp, fed up with Healy's abrasiveness, decided to quit the act and found work almost immediately, in Vitaphone movie comedies produced in Brooklyn, New York.
When Shemp left, Ted and the two remaining stooges (Moe and Larry) needed a replacement, so Moe suggested his younger brother Jerry, later known as Jerry (Jerome Lester Horwitz). Ted reportedly took one look at Jerry, who had long chestnut red locks and facial hair, and stated that he did not look like a comedy character, as did Moe and Larry. Jerry left the room and returned a few moments later with with his head shaved (the mustache stayed on for a time); and thus, 'Curly' was born. (There are varying accounts as to how Curly actually came about. Some publications maintain that Moe, Larry, Ted Healy, and even Shemp, actually came up with the concept of shaving Jerry's head and dubbing him 'Curly.') Several sources have incorrectly stated that Curly made his first film appearance in a Hollywood on Parade short (entry #B-9), released by Paramount Pictures in 1932. The film in question was one of the last film appearances of Ted Healy, Moe, Larry and Curly together, released 1934-06-01. (The Hollywood on Parade shorts were later released to television, and replaced opening title sequences carried the same date, 1932, for every segment of the series, which led to the confusion.) Although the Stooges' characterizations initially were less distinct and more interchangeable, over time Moe’s character transformed, starting to duplicate Healy’s role as straight man.
In 1933, Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM) signed Healy and his Stooges to a movie contract. They appeared in feature films and short subjects, either together, individually, or with various combinations of actors. The group was featured in a series of musical comedy shorts, beginning with Nertsery Rhymes, released 1933-07-06. Nertsery Rhymes was one of a few shorts to be filmed in an early Technicolor process; the shorts were built around recycled film footage of production numbers cut from M-G-M musicals, some of which had been filmed in Technicolor, so some shorts (including Roast-Beef and Movies, Hello Pop and Jailbirds of Paradise) were filmed in color to match the reused footage. Nertsery Rhymes and Roast-Beef and Movies are the only two color Stooge-related M-G-M shorts to have survived the years; the others are presumed lost. Incidentally, Jailbirds of Paradise featured Moe and Curly without Larry or Ted Healy, while Roast-Beef and Movies featured Curly (billed as Jerry Howard) as part of a trio with two other comics, George Givot and Bobby Callahan. Other M-G-M shorts to feature the team included Beer and Pretzels, Plane Nuts' (which recreates the Stooges' vaudeville act of the time), and The Big Idea.
Healy and company also appeared in the feature films Turn Back the Clock, Meet the Baron, Dancing Lady, Fugitive Lovers, and Hollywood Party. Larry appeared solo in Stage Mother, while Moe and Curly played a pair of clowns in Broadway to Hollywood. Healy and the Stooges also appeared together in Universal's Myrt and Marge. In 1934, the team's contract with M-G-M expired, and the Stooges parted professional company with Healy. According to Moe Howard in his autobiography, the Stooges split with Ted Healy in 1934 once and for all because of Healy's alcoholism and abrasiveness. Their final film with Healy was MGM’s 1934 film: Hollywood Party. He set the slaps-and-pokes pattern that the Stooges would follow throughout their careers.