Fake Shemp

fake shemp by greg williams

Fake Shemp is the term for someone who appears in a film under heavy make-up, filmed from the back, or perhaps only showing an arm or a foot.

In 1955, Shemp Howard of the ‘Three Stooges’ died suddenly of a heart attack. At the time, the Stooges still had four shorts left to deliver, according to 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 anyway, 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 these new scenes, they used Shemp’s stand-in Joe Palma to be a body double for him, appearing only from behind or with an object obscuring his face. Palma became the original ‘Fake Shemp,’ although the term was not officially in use at the time.

Aspiring filmmaker Sam Raimi, a professed Stooges fan, coined the term in his first feature-length movie ‘The Evil Dead.’ 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 and family as ‘fake shemps.’ The term stuck. To this day, Sam Raimi’s productions, both feature film as well as TV work, use the term to refer to stand-ins or nameless characters.

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