Fine was born to a Jewish family as Louis Feinberg in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at the corner of 3rd and South Streets. The building there is now a restaurant which is called Jon's Bar & Grill - "the birth place of Larry Fine," but is not actually the building in which he was born. 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. Mistaking 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 and 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.
As Larry Fine, he first performed as a violinist in vaudeville at an early age. In 1925, he met Moe Howard and Ted Healy. Howard and his brother Shemp had been working as audience stooges for Healy. Shemp left soon after to attempt a solo career and was in turn replaced by another brother Curly. Larry's trademark bushy hair came out, according to rumor, from his first meeting with Healy, in which he had just wet his hair in a basin, and as they talked, it dried oddly. Healy told him to keep the zany hairstyle and, according to a 1973 TV interview on the Mike Douglas show with Moe:
|“||...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.'||
Beginning in 1933, The Three Stooges made 206 short films, and several features, with their most prolific period featuring the characters of Larry, Moe and Curly. Their career with Healy was marked by disputes over pay, film contracts, and Healy's drinking and abuse. They left Healy for good in 1934.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 very curly hair, this gave him the name "Porcupine", which Moe calls him on occasion. 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. (in the short Three Loan Wolves, Larry was pressed into service to replace an ailing Curly, who was unable to perform as the lead stooge.) After Curly left the act, Larry shared screen time equally with his two partners. 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.
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 would either gamble it away at the track or at high-stakes gin rummy 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 free spending, 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 wonderful Mediterranean home in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles, California.
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.
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. 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 Death
Returning 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, four months before the death of Moe Howard, making them the only Stooges to die within the same year. 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.