In 1955 Shemp Howard, member of the Three Stooges, died suddenly of a heart attack. The Stooges still owed Columbia four shorts. Instead of simply cancelling production, the producers insisted they still be made.
Actor Joe Palma was dressed like Shemp and put into the four remaining shorts. Since he looked nothing like Shemp he was filmed mostly from behind and dialog from Shemp from old shorts was dubbed in.
Shemp was Moe’s brother. Imagine having your brother die and then have to act with someone dressed as him, pretending that this strange guy is your dead brother.
Here is a collection of clips with the fake Shemp:
Believe it or not this wasn’t the first time Moe had a brother die. Curly was also Moe’s real life brother. Curly’s health began to decline in 1944. Moe begged the producer, Harry Cohn, to give his brother some rest, but Mr. Cohn declined. The Stooges shorts were highly profitable and he did want to cut production.
In 1945 Curly was diagnosed with obesity (he wanted to lose weight, but the film company wouldn’t let him because it was part of his image), retinal hemorrhage and hypertension. He also would suffer from a mild stroke that year. Despite this he kept working.
By 1946 Curly’s illness became more and more evident. He had trouble remembering the simplest of dialog and he became visually weaker. On May 6th of that year he suffered a severe stroke while waiting to film the last scene of the day. Moe recalled that Curly was unable to talk, just cry.
Curly effectively retired from acting, being replaced by brother Shemp. Curly would make one cameo in Stooges film, “Hold That Lion”. He had a full head of hair and did his barking dog routine. It was the only time that both Shemp and Curly would appear on film together. Curly would live for another five years, suffering more strokes and spending most of that time in hospitals. Finally on January 18, 1952 Curly passed away.
Nowadays “Fake Shemp” has been coined as a term for body doubles in films. It was first used by Sam Raimi during the filming of The Evil Dead. After major delays during the filming Mr. Raimi was unable to get some of the actors back, so he used “Fake Shemps” to finish production. He know uses the term to credit body doubles in many of his films.