Biography

As Stinky with Lou Costello.
While the name Joe Besser (August 12, 1907 – March 1, 1988) may not be a household name, for six generations, he is best remembered for two famous roles: as a member of the iconic Three Stooges comedy team replacing Shemp Howard as the third stooge from 1957-1959 and as the malevolent brat “Stinky” on The Abbott and Costello Show TV series of the 1950s.

New generations have also discovered him in recent years in his regular role of Jillson, the henpecked and frustrated building superintendent, on The Joey Bishop Show TV series of the 1960s, thanks to the broadcast of these long lost episodes on MeTV and Antenna TV as well as their release to DVD and free streaming on Tubi.com.

But these roles are just the tip of the iceberg. From the 1920s to the mid-1980s, Joe worked in virtually every medium including vaudeville, Broadway, stage, radio, motion pictures and television, including voicing popular Saturday morning animated cartoon series.

As a stooge in A Merry Mix Up (1957).
He first honed his comedy craft when he worked as a bumbling assistant to the world-famous Thurston the Magician in the 1920s. With Thurston, he carved out success with his own act—that of a childlike sissy who brandished his foils with a flick of the wrist and such hilarious verbal assaults as “Ooh, you cr-a-a-zy you!” and “Not so f-a-a-s-t!” 

It was that character that first caught the nation by surprise with such hilarious antics on popular radio shows of the 1930s, making Joe an instant hit with audiences.


Joe left an indelible mark, making audiences howl with laughter on the Jack Benny, Milton Berle and Fred Allen radio shows. His success later led him to signing a contract with Columbia Pictures and to starring roles in three feature films-- Hey, Rookie, (1944) Eadie Was a Lady (1945) and Talk About a Lady (1946)--and his own short-subject series in the 1940s and 1950s.

His first feature film appearance was as Siggie Landers in Hot Steel (1940) starring Richard Arlen and Andy Devine for Universal Pictures.


With Joey Bishop.
Most memorable highlights of Joe's long film career include: playing Sheriff Sharkey Dolan opposite Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride (Ma and Pa Kettle) and actor-singer-dancer Donald O'Connor in Feudin', Fussin,' and A-Fightin' (1948), cast with Shemp Howard in Abbott and Costello's Africa Screams (1949), being teamed with the Great One, Jackie Gleason, in The Desert Hawk (1950), cast in his first dramatic role in Bing Crosby's Say One for Me (1959), and playing another serious role, as a joke writer, in Marilyn Monroe's Let's Make Love (1960).

A favorite of the critics, Besser has rightly earned the title of most prolific third stooge because of his huge legacy without the Stooges: in all, he appeared in 28 feature films from 1940 to 1978, 11 short subjects of his own, and nearly 300 television appearances!