Fine was born to a Jewish family as Louis Feinberg in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His father, Joseph Feinberg (who was Russian-Jewish), and mother, Fanny Lieberman, owned a watch repair and jewelry shop. When Larry was a child he burned his arm with some acid that his father used to test whether or not gold was real: having mistaken it for a beverage, Larry had the acid bottle to his lips when his father noticed and knocked it from his hand, accidentally splashing Larry's forearm. Later, Larry received violin training to help strengthen his damaged muscles; this skill would be put to use in many of the Stooges' films. He became proficient on the instrument, and his parents wanted to send him to a European music conservatory, but the outbreak of World War I prevented this. In scenes where all three Stooges are playing fiddles, only Larry is actually playing his instrument; the others are pantomiming. To further strengthen his arm, Larry took up boxing as a teenager. He fought and won one professional bout. His career as a pugilist was stopped by his father, who was opposed to Larry's fighting in public.
Career as a StoogeAs Larry Fine, he first performed as a violinist in vaudeville at an early age. In 1928, he met Ted Healy and Shemp Howard who worked as Healy's stooge on stage. (Shemp's brother, Moe, also part of Healy's act but left the act at the end of 1926). At the time, Shemp decided to leave Healy's act and form a new one with fellow vaudeville comedian, Jack Waldron and Healy needed a replacement Stooge.
Healy and Shemp caught Larry's performance played "My Old Kentucky Home" tune in his violin while did a Russian dance in Rainbo Gardens on March 1928. Shemp suggested Healy to make Larry as his replacement. Healy, however, offered Larry to become a Stooge. But, Larry was hesitant to join Healy, as he had never done comedy before. But coincidentally, the hours after Larry received the offer, the club where he had been performing was shut down for serving alcohol; Prohibition was still in effect. As a result, Larry had no contract and no job so he eagerly accepted Healy' offer.
In 1929, Healy teamed Larry with his former Stooge: Moe and Shemp for new Jacob J. Shubert's production, A Night in Venice. Moe later recalled that event in 1973 TV interview on the Mike Douglas show:
- “ ...So Healy said 'Would you like to be one of the stooges and make three instead of two?' And Larry said 'Yes, I would love that.' Healy said 'I'll give you ninety bucks a week.' 'Fine.' He also said, 'I'll give you an extra ten dollars a week if you throw that fiddle away.”
The revue indeed successful and the three quickly clicked to each other.
Shemp left soon after to attempt a solo career and was in turn replaced by another brother, Curly Howard. Healy and the Stooges were hired by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer as "nut" comics, to liven up feature films and short subjects with their antics. After a number of appearances in MGM films, Healy was being groomed as a solo character comedian. Fed up with Healy's drinking and abuse, Howard, Fine & Howard left him for good in 1934. With Healy pursuing his own career, Moe signed with Columbia Pictures and the three renamed themselves as "The Three Stooges". They stayed until December 1959, making 190 short films.
In many of the Stooge shorts, Fine did more reacting than acting, staying in the background and providing the voice of reason between the extreme characterizations of Moe and Curly. He was known for his bald head on top, and lots of very curly hair around the sides and back. On many occasions, Moe would call him "Porcupine". He was a surrealistic foil and the middle-ground between Moe's gruff "bossiness" and Curly and Shemp's (and later Joe's and Curly Joe's) childish personae. And like the other Stooges, he was often on the receiving end of Moe's abuse.But in the earliest Stooge two-reelers (and occasionally the later ones) Larry indulges in utterly nutty behavior. He would liven up a scene by improvising some random remark or ridiculous action. In the hospital spoof Men in Black, Larry wields a scalpel and chortles, "Let's plug him... and see if he's ripe!" In Disorder in the Court, a tense courtroom scene is interrupted by Larry breaking into a wild Tarzan yell. Of course, after each of his outbursts, Moe would gruffly discipline him. According to his brother, Larry had developed a callus on one side of his face from being slapped innumerable times by Moe over the years.
Larry's on-screen goofiness was an extension of his own relaxed personality. Director Charles Lamont recalled, "Larry was a nut. He was the kind of guy who always said anything. He was a yapper." Writer-director Edward Bernds remembered that Larry's suggestions for the scripts were often "flaky," but would occasionally contain a good comic idea.
The Stooges became a big hit in 1959 on television, when Columbia Pictures released a batch of the trio's films. The popularity brought the Stooges to a new audience and revitalized their careers.
Offstage, Larry was a social butterfly. He liked a good time and surrounded himself with friends. Larry and his wife, Mabel, loved having parties and every Christmas threw lavish midnight suppers. Larry was what some friends have called a "yes man," since he was always so agreeable, no matter what the circumstances.
Larry's devil-may-care personality carried over to the world of finance. He was a terrible businessman and spent his money as soon as he earned it. He had a serious gambling addiction, and would gamble away all of the money he had on him either at the horserace track or at high-stakes gin rummy card games. In an interview, Fine even admitted that he often gave money to actors and friends who needed help and never asked to be reimbursed. Joe Besser and director Edward Bernds remember that because of his constant and free spending and gambling, Larry was almost forced into bankruptcy when Columbia terminated the Three Stooges comedies in December 1957.
Because of his profligate ways and his wife's dislike for housekeeping, Larry and his family lived in hotels — first in the President Hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where his daughter Phyllis was raised, then the Knickerbocker Hotel in Hollywood. Not until the late 1940s did Larry buy a home in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles, California.
On May 30, 1967, Fine's wife, Mabel, died of a sudden heart attack. According to the DVD supplemental material for the Midway Pictures documentary You Must Be This Tall: The Story of Rocky Point Park, Fine was on the road and about to take the stage for a live show at Rocky Point Amusement Park in Warwick, Rhode Island when he heard news of Mabel's passing. Fine immediately flew home to California, leaving his fellow two stooges to improvise their remaining shows at the park.
Mabel's death came nearly six years after the death of their only son, John, in a car accident on November 17, 1961 at age 24. The couple's daughter, Phyllis, died of cancer at the age of 60 in 1988. John's wife, Christy (Kraus), died on October 26, 2007 after a lengthy illness.
Final acting years and deathReturning to work, Fine and the Stooges were working on a new TV series entitled Kook's Tour in January, 1970, when Larry suffered a debilitating stroke that paralyzed the left side of his body. He eventually moved to the Motion Picture House, an industry retirement community in Woodland Hills, where he spent his remaining years. In spite of his paralyzed condition, he did what he could to entertain the other patients, and was visited regularly by his friend Moe Howard.
Fine used a wheelchair during the last five years of his life. Like Curly Howard, Fine suffered several additional strokes before his death on January 24, 1975. He was entombed in Glendale's Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in the Freedom Mausoleum, Sanctuary of Liberation.
Fine is sometimes erroneously listed as the father of sportscaster Warner Wolf, who is in fact the son of Jack Wolf, one of several other "stooges" who played in Ted Healy's vaudeville act at one time or another. He is, however, the father-in-law of actor and Los Angeles television personality Don Lamond, best known for hosting Stooges shorts on KTTV for many years.
- The Three Stooges have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for their contributions to Motion Pictures, at 1560 Vine Street in Hollywood, dedicated on August 30, 1983, with ex-stooge Joe Besser in attendance.
- In the 2000 TV movie, Larry Fine was played by Evan Handler.
- In a 2004 New Yorker feature on the Farrelly Brothers's attempt to write a script for a new Three Stooges movie, Peter Farrelly offered his theory of Stooge appreciation: “Growing up, first you watched Curly, then Moe, and then your eyes got to Larry. He’s the reactor, the most vulnerable. Five to fourteen, Curly; fourteen to twenty-one, Moe. Anyone out of college, if you’re not looking at Larry, you don’t have a good brain.”
- A large mural of Larry Fine appears on a wall at the busy intersection of 3rd and South Streets, near his birthplace in Philadelphia. The effort to create a mural on that site began when a local weekly newspaper suggested that the city should somehow honor Fine. Dedicated on October 26, 1999, with Fine's sister in attendance, that mural showed Larry with a peculiar look on his face. In May 2006, a similar mural showing Larry with a more animated expression and playing a violin was painted over the original mural. This mural stands over Jon's Bar and Grill and a sign reads "Birthplace of Larry Fine."
- On October 15, 2009, the Associated Alumni of Central High School in Philadelphia inducted Larry Fine in the illustrious school's Hall of Fame, even though he never graduated. A member of the Central Alumni Hall of Fame Committee stated: "Many people are not even aware that Mr. Fine was a Philadelphian and that is a part of what we’re trying to do."
- For the 2012 Farrelly Brothers' film The Three Stooges, Larry portrayed by Sean Hayes of Will and Grace fame.
- Maurer, Joan Howard; Jeff Lenburg, Greg Lenburg (1982). The Three Stooges Scrapbook. Citadel Press. ISBN 0806509465.
- Feinberg, Morris (2001), Larry: The Stooge in the Middle, Last Gasp. ISBN 0867193085
- Cox, Steve and Terry, Jim, One Fine Stooge: Larry Fine's Frizzy Life in Pictures (2005) Cumberland House Publishing.