This is the biography of Joe Besser. Morris and Fannie Besser (Joe's parents) emigrated from a small town in Russia near the Polish border. After having a civil wedding in England, they finally came to the United States in 1890. In his home country of Russia, Morris worked as a possible baker, but in the United States he becomes a tailor. They had a large family and lived in the New York City for about 10 years. The family then decided to move to Cincinnati, Ohio for a short time where Joe's sister Gertrude in born. The family relocates once again for a final time to St Louis, Missouri, where Joe is born. Joe was born on August 12th 1907. He was next to the youngest of eleven children (two boys and eight girls). Two of Joe's siblings die before Joe was born due to illness. Joe from the beginning, had little interest in school. Even though Joe attends school until the age of 12, he still does various jobs to earn money including song plugging for a music company as well as selling popcorn at carnivals.
At a young age, Joe's favorite thing to do is magic which came from watching the famous magician Thurston the Magician. Joe being the comedian that he was, approaches Thurston at the age of 9 and convinces him that he should be a plant in his audience to heighten his magic shows. Thurston had been previously been coming annually to St Louis for several years doing magic shows. Thurston likes young Joe, but tell him to wait some years and he would let Joe one day come on the road with him. Joe however was impatient. In the middle of the night when Joe who was almost 14 (April 1921), he stows away in a train that is bound for Detroit. That night he unwittingly sleeps on top of a lion’s cage. The next day Thurston called his parents and assures them that Joe would be fine. Joe stays with Thurston until the summer of 1923. Joe then decides to expand his resume, and works for another magician called Hermann. Hermann actually was Thurston's mentor years before.. Herman's wife takes over her late husband's act when Joe works for her. After a short time, Joe is unhappy working for her, and wants to leave only after a few weeks. He then decides to work as an assistant for an acrobat. Joe meets this acrobat named Queenie at a theater while he was still working for Mrs Hermann. Joe set up props for Queenie the acrobat, and stays with her for about a year and a half.
Joe for the first time now in late 1924, is unemployed and looks for work. He soon finds work in a restaurant first as a busboy, and then as a waiter in New York City. During this time, he calls out to his older brother Manny. Joe's older brother Manny, had been working himself first as a solo comedian, and then preforming as a team doing Vaudeville. Manny started preforming as early 1919 just a few years after completing the 8th grade in school. Joe like Manny, had natural comedic talent,, but needed to improve it by some routines and jokes. Manny works with Joe on and off for a few months until in early 1925. Manny then introduces Joe in the early summer of 1925, to the comedy team of Alexander and Olsen.
The latter Olsen (Steve) was the younger brother of Chic Olsen of the famous comedy team of Olsen and Johnson. After many requests Joe gets his dream job being part of that comedy team, and starts on the road with them in Nov 1925. After three years, in August of 1928, he decides that he should go out on his own. To do that, Joe would need to have a straight man. In the beginning, his first semi regular straight man was Ritchie Craig Jr. Joe starts to get some notoriety as they preform all over. In late 1929 while Joe is traveling around the country, he meets Lou Costello in a stop over show in Patterson, New Jersey. At this time, he was doing on stage show with his own comedy troup at the Lyric Theater. Joe was apart of a circuit of shows called the Keith Circuit doing Vaudeville. On this circuit he was sees his future wife Ernie. She is apart of ensemble show as one of the famous Foster girls. In July of 1932, Joe receives a two year contract with the Shuberts for their Broadway shows. In August 1932 Joe meets for the first time the comedy group known as The Three Stooges (Shemp Moe and Larry) for the Shuberts production show called The Passing Show. The show featured Ted Healy. Ted however only after a few weeks, walked out of rehearsing since he was not happy with the finances. He was a minor partner with Shubert and said that Shubert breached his contract. Ted Healy angrily takes Moe and Larry with him. Shemp however, stays on at the show with Joe in September of 1932. The reviews of Joe in that brief show are good. The Passing Show however fails, and closes only after two weeks.
Joe shortly thereafter, thought it would be a good time to finally settle down. After a few years of being engaged, he finally marries Ernestine (Ernie) Kretschmer in November 1932. From 1933 until 1941, Joe tours the US on different shows with three different straight men. First with Sam Critichenson from 1933 until 1937, then with Lee Royce from 1937 until 1940, and finally with Jimmie Little from 1940 until 1948. After his growing success on stage he is approached by a talent scout from Columbia Studios and is given a contract to star in a two reel short for Columbia called Cuckaranchoo (1938). About 5 months after shooting the film, Joe then travels with his wife and his straight man Lee Royce, to London for a show at the prestigious Palladium Theater. After coming back from London, Joe is still ambitious in his career., In a short time lands his in his first full feature as a major player in the film called Hot Steel (1940) which stars Andy Devine. From Dec 1941 until Jan 1944 Joe tours the US in the Broadway show called Sons of Fun with Olsen and Johnson. During one of these shows, he is spotted once again by a Columbia Studios agent and is given a starring role in the feature film Hey Rookie (1943). As apart of the contract by Columbia, they have an option to do two more films with them. As a result of the success of the first film, Joe stars in the second film called, Eadie was a Lady (1945). The first film like the second, also co-stars Ann Miller. The third Columbia Studios film starring Joe, was called Talk about a Lady (1946).
Joe becomes very popular from the Sons of Fun production. Jack Benny catches one of his performances and is asked to go on Jack's own radio show in Jan of 1943. After this first appearance other radio shows appearances follow like the Fred Allen show, and the Milton Berle Show. Finally in 1945, due to his popularity from radio, Joe is asked by the sponsors of the Milton Berle show Eversharpe, to do his own radio show. The show is called Tonight on Broadway. This summer radio fill in show runs from 1945 until 1946. Joe being the pioneer that he was, also stars in an early TV show in 1946 called the Hour Glass Theater doing his army drill routine that he learned from skits in Sons of Fun.
Joe then continues to work as a comedian and actor and in 1948 Joe appears in the film Feudin Fussiin and Fighting. (1948) He then moves to North Hollywood, California at the suggestion of Universal Studios the producers of that film. Joe then appears in with his friends Lou Costello and Shemp Howard in the Abbott and Costello movie called Africa Screams (1949). Joe is kept busy and from 1948 until 1955, and still does his own comedy shorts with Columbia Studios.
In 1950 he also appears in feature films like the Desert Hawk with Jackie Gleason and Women In Hiding. Joe is also signed on as a regular in television show called the Ken Murray show from 1950 until 1951. He also continues to appear a this time, in various television shows and movies. Lou Costello sees his friend Joe appearing as little Lord Flountlery in the Alan Young show (1951). Lou then decides that Joe would be perfect for his own show.(The Abbott and Costello TV show) In 1953 until 1954 Joe stars as a character named Stinky for the Abbott and Costello TV show. In December 1955 Joe is requested by director Jules White through Harry Cohn Columbia Studios, to become one of the Three Stooges. This was because his friend Shemp suddenly dies in November of 1955. From Dec 29th 1955 until Jan 1958, Joe is apart of the Three Stooges and does 16 comedy shorts with them. He leaves them in mid Jan 1958 to stay near his ailing wife and not do a road tour with the Stooges.
From the years 1958 until 1962, Joe continues doing various TV show appearances as well as movies including Say one For me (1959), and Marilyn Monroe's Lets make Love (1960). In July of 1961, he meets Joey Bishop through his friend Sammy Davis Jr and is asked the following year to be apart of Joey Bishop's show. He then first appear in March of 1962 as a mailman named Jillison. Joe is then asked to stay on the show as a regular in September 1962 and does so until May of 1965. In the second season of the show, Joe occupation changes as is to a janitor on the Joey Bishop show. From 1962 until 1973 Joe continues appearing in various movies and TV shows. In a different medium Joe is asked to do voice over work for cartoon starting in 1972. The first series called the Houndcats. Joe continues doing a variety of voice over cartoon work the best known called Jeannie (1975). That cartoon show is a spin off from an earlier TV show. In 1977 Joe is honored with a well publicized award by the Sons of the Desert for his comedy talents Joe finally retires in 1983 after his last voice over work for Hanna Barbara.
In 1983 Joe appears in the induction of the Hollywood Three Stooges walk of Fame At that event, thousands of fans cheer as soon a they see Joe.. In 1985 Joe finally finishes his autobiography that he had been working on since 1978. The book is called Not Just a Stooge. In mid 1987 Joe's health start to fail. His wife Ernie also suffers from health problems. Despite his health issues, he continues to meet and correspond with fans. On March 1st 1988 he sadly passes away from a heart attack in his home. In July 1989 is devoted wife Ernie passes away as well.