01/07/2002 at 12:00 AM EST
Please hold the laughs. Larry, Moe and Curly made it all the way to the United States Supreme Court. On Monday, the highest court in the land sided with the heirs of the Three Stooges in a dispute with L.A. artist Gary Saderup, whose charcoal rendering (which was then silk-screened onto T-shirts) of the late slapstick comics purportedly made the artist $75,000 in profits. Reuters reports that Saderup must now chalk up that amount to the families of the Stooges, plus some $15,000 in legal fees. (In fact, the Supreme Court merely upheld a California court decision in the matter involving the right to publicity of celebrities being maintained by their heirs.) In fighting the case, Saderup, age unreported, had claimed that his depiction of the eyeball-jabbing, skull-pounding trio -- Larry Fine, Moe Howard and Jerome "Curly" Howard -- did not violate any of the heirs' rights because his work did not involve any sort of commercial product sponsorship. The Stooges first combined forces in vaudeville in the 1920s, then began making short films for Columbia Pictures in the '30s. They were rediscovered in the late '50s when their featurettes became popular among baby boomers on TV. "Curly" dropped out of the act in 1947, after suffering a stroke, and was replaced in movies by his brother, Shemp Howard (1895-1955), whom "Curly" had originally replaced in vaudeville. Fine died in 1975, at the age of 73. Moe, brother of Shemp and "Curly" (1903-55), died in 1975. He was 78.