Fake Shemp

A fake Shemp is someone who appears in a film as a replacement for another actor or person. Their appearance is disguised using methods such as heavy make-up (or a computer-generated equivalent), filming from the back, dubbing in audio and splicing in past footage from the original actor's previous work, using a sound-alike voice actor, or using partial shots of the actor. The concept is named after Shemp Howard, whose sudden death in 1955 necessitated the use of these techniques to finish the films to which he was already committed. Once somewhat commonplace throughout the 20th century, the use of fake Shemps to emulate living people is now forbidden under Screen Actors Guild contracts, largely because of a lawsuit filed by Crispin Glover that determined that the method violates the original actor's personality rights. The method continues to be used in cases, such as Shemp's, where the original actor is deceased and permission from the deceased actor's estate is granted.

A fake Shemp is distinguished from a stunt double. Stunt doubles usually only substitute for an actor in select scenes where the original actor is either unable to perform the stunt or is unwilling to take the risk of being injured in the stunt. The same techniques are often used for both.


The term references the comedy trio The Three Stooges. On November 22, 1955, Stooge Shemp Howard died of an unexpected heart attack at age 60. At the time, the Stooges still had four shorts left to deliver (Rumpus in the Harem, Hot Stuff, Scheming Schemers, and Commotion on the Ocean), by the terms of their annual contract with Columbia Pictures. By this point in the trio's career, budget cuts at Columbia had forced them to make heavy use of stock footage from previously completed shorts, so they were able to complete the films without Shemp. New footage was filmed of the other two Stooges (Moe Howard and Larry Fine) and edited together with stock footage. When continuity required that Shemp appear in the new scenes, they used Columbia supporting player Joe Palma to be a body double for him, often appearing only from behind or with an object obscuring his face.[1]

Palma is often mistakenly cited as Shemp's stand-in, but these four shorts are the only documented times he performed in this capacity. Palma was a bit character actor and was not employed as a stand-in or double during Shemp's lifetime. Shemp's stand-in was usually Harold Breen, and there were others from time to time. But these four shorts required someone to double as Shemp in an actor's capacity, not a stand-in as such; hence, director Jules White utilized character actor Palma, who had appeared as a supporting character in numerous Three Stooges shorts before Shemp's death and would continue in that capacity for the trio's shorts with Joe Besser as the third stooge. Palma became the original "Fake Shemp", although the term was not officially in use at the time.[2]

The Stooge films

Rumpus in the Harem

For Rumpus in the Harem, Palma is seen from the back several times. The first time occurs in the restaurant when Moe declares that the trio must do something to help their sweethearts. Larry then concludes the conversation by saying "I've got it, I've got it!" Moe inquires with "What?" Larry replies, "a terrific headache!" Later, Palma is seen from the back being chased in circles by the palace guard. A few lines of dialogue appear — "Whoa, Moe, Larry! Moe, help!" — by dubbing Shemp's voice from the soundtracks of Fuelin' Around and Blunder Boys. Palma was later seen from the side when staring up at the Harem girls (they allowed half his face to be shown because he was farther from the camera than Moe or Larry).

Palma is seen one final time, making a mad dash for the open window, and supplying his own yell before making the final jump. This was one of the few times during his tenure as Shemp's double that Palma was required to speak without the aid of dubbing.

Hot Stuff

For Hot Stuff, Palma is seen several times. The first time occurs when the Stooges, disguised in beards, are trolling through office hallways. Moe instructs Shemp to pursue a suspicious looking girl, to which Palma grunts "Right!" He then walks off-camera, allowing Moe and Larry to finish the scene by themselves. This is the only time Palma was shown from the front in a near shot, but since his secret agent character was wearing a fake beard at the time, his face was concealed.

Later, Palma is seen from the back while the boys are locked in the laboratory. Palma attempts to imitate Shemp's famed cry of "Heep, heep, heep!". Again, Moe directs Shemp, this time to guard the door. Palma obliges, mutters a few additional "Heep, heep, heeps!," and hides behind the door. This brief scene was the largest speaking part Palma performed in his own voice while acting as Shemp.

Scheming Schemers

For Scheming Schemers, Palma appears for the shot of "Shemp" honking a truck horn. Palma gathers several pipes, obstructing his face, and one line of dialogue ("Hold yer horses, will ya?") is dubbed in Shemp's voice from The Ghost Talks. Shemp is absent from several scenes. In one scene, Larry, upon hearing that a valuable piece of art has been stolen, whispers to Moe, "Where's Shemp? He loves pictures!" Moe mutters, "I think he's upstairs," explaining away Shemp's absence for the next few minutes.

Commotion on the Ocean

For Commotion on the Ocean, Palma appears in only one new shot during the newspaper office scene. After Larry says, "Oh, I know Smitty: 'Under the spreading chestnut tree, the village smitty stands'," Moe slaps him. Palma gets involved in the slapstick exchange and shields himself in defense, obstructing his face.

Other new footage throughout the film consists of Moe and Larry working as a duo, often discussing Shemp's absence aloud:

  • Moe: "I wonder what became of that Shemp?"
  • Larry: "You know he went up on deck to scout for some food."
  • Moe: "Speaking of food, my stomach thinks my throat is cut."

First usage

Aspiring filmmaker Sam Raimi, a professed Stooges fan, coined the term in his first feature-length movie The Evil Dead.[3] Most of his crew and cast abandoned the project after major delays (mostly due to budget issues) pushed production well beyond the scheduled six weeks. He was forced to use himself, his die-hard friends Bruce Campbell, Rob Tapert, and Josh Becker, his assistant David Goodman, and his brother Ted Raimi as "fake Shemps".[4]

Sam Raimi's later productions in film and television have also often used the term to refer to stand-ins or nameless characters. For example, 15 fake Shemps were included in the credits for Army of Darkness, Raimi's second sequel to The Evil Dead.[5] The description is sometimes modified in the final credits; in Darkman, Bruce Campbell's quick cameo in the final scene is credited as "Final Shemp", and Campbell was also credited as "Shemp Wooley" (a pun on singer Sheb Wooley) when doing the voice of "Jean-Claude the Carrier Parrot" in the short-lived TV series Jack of All Trades.


There have been many Fake Shemps over the years. One of the earliest, in an example that predates its use to replace Shemp, was in the film Saratoga, in which the illness and death of star Jean Harlow necessitated the filming of scenes with a voice and body double. Director Ed Wood used his wife's chiropractor, Tom Mason, in the 1959 cult classic Plan 9 from Outer Space as a stand-in for the deceased Bela Lugosi. Joey Faye was used as a fake-Shemp to complete filming of The Night They Raided Minsky's after Bert Lahr died in 1967.

In the 1981 film Superman II, actor Gene Hackman, who had finished the majority of his scenes playing Lex Luthor, left the project following the departure of the film's original director, Richard Donner. After replacement director Richard Lester took over production, a Shemp was used for Hackman to finish his remaining scenes. This was accomplished by an uncredited actor standing in for Hackman, though not ever facing the camera, while also impersonating Hackman's voice.

The death of actor John Candy forced the use of a fake Shemp to complete filming of Wagons East!.[6]

Another example is from the 1989 film Back to the Future Part II. Actor Crispin Glover was asked to reprise the role of George McFly. Glover indicated interest, but could not come to an agreement with the producers regarding his salary. For the George McFly character to appear, director Robert Zemeckis used some previously filmed footage of Glover from the first film and inter-spliced Jeffrey Weissman, who wore prosthetics including a false chin, nose, and cheekbones and used various obfuscating methods, such as background, sunglasses, rear shot, and even upside-down, to resemble Glover. Dissatisfied with these plans, Glover filed a lawsuit against the producers, including Steven Spielberg, on the grounds that they neither owned his likeness nor had permission to use it. Due to Glover's lawsuit, there are now clauses in the Screen Actors Guild collective bargaining agreements that state that producers and actors are not allowed to use such methods to reproduce the likeness of other actors.[7]

See also


  1. Lenburg, Jeff; Howard Maurer, Joan; Lenburg, Greg (1982). The Three Stooges Scrapbook. Citadel Press. ISBN 0-8065-0946-5.
  2. Seely, Peter; Pieper, Gail W. (2007). Stoogeology: Essays on the Three Stooges. McFarland. p. 78. ISBN 0-7864-2920-8.
  3. Germain, David (August 10, 2004). "Should the Stooges get a little brighter?; New DVD lets viewers see colourized version Modern directors decry new-look numbskulls". Toronto Star. p. D.08.
  4. Campbell, Bruce; (2001). If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor, St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-24264-6
  5. "A Trip Into the Macabre With 3 Stooges". Philadelphia Inquirer. February 19, 1993. p. 03 (weekend features section).
  6. Horn, John. "Technology lets Candy finish role". The Gazette. Archived from the original on May 13, 2016. Retrieved May 27, 2017.
  7. Glover, Crispin (February 4, 2011). "Crispin Glover on Back to the Future 2". Kermode & Mayo (Interview). Interviewed by Simon Mayo, Mark Kermode. London: BBC Radio 5 Live. Retrieved April 11, 2011 via YouTube video.
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