On the quiz show Jeopardy! on March 24, 2014, Historical Nicknames was the topic of this Final Jeopardy! clue: “Nickname shared by George Armstrong Custer, Native American Chief Crazy Horse and a member of a 1930s comedy team.” The answer was Curly, and it caused a bit of controversy.

George Armstrong CusterChief Crazy HorseCurly Howard

Apparently, many people never heard of George Armstrong Custer being called “Curly.” Here are some sources we found for each person in the clue:

  • Chief Crazy Horse, Native American war leader of the Oglala Lakota, who led a war party to victory at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in June 1876. Most images you see of Chief Crazy Horse are in black and white, but most artists who sketched or painted him in color depicted him as having brown hair. Wikipedia says that Crazy Horse’s mother called him “Curly” and “Light Hair,” citing “The Authorized Biography of Crazy Horse and His Family” as the source of that information. In his bio, “Crazy Horse: A Life, author Larry McMurtry says that Crazy Horse went by 3 names in his lifetime: Curly, His Horses Looking and Crazy Horse.
  • George Armstrong Custer was the commander of the 7th Cavalry. He and his men all perished at the Battle of Little Bighorn, which came to be known as “Custer’s Last Stand.” In “On the Plains with Custer,” a 1913 book by Edwin Legrand Sabin, Custer is described as a “Famous American soldier and cavalry leader in the Civil War and on Indian campaigns afterward. A loyal citizen, a tender son, a devoted husband,” and further includes a list of his nicknames: “Family name “Autie”; otherwise called Armstrong; by war correspondents styled “the Boy General”; by the soldiers nicknamed “Old Curly,” and “Jack”; entitled by the Indians “the Yellow Hair,” “the Long Hair,” or, in full, “White Chief with the Long Yellow Hair.”
  • Jerome “Jerry” Horwitz, a member of the Three Stooges, known as Curly. His first family nickname was “Babe,” given to him by his brother, Moe, because he was the youngest in the family. When his brother Shemp married Gertrude Frank, Babe was her nickname, too, so they began to call Jerry “Curly.” He shaved his head when he took over for his brother Shemp. In the book “Moe Howard & the Three Stooges,” Curly says that before that he had “beautiful wavy hair and a waxed mustache.”

To complicate matters, Curly (or Curley) was also the nickname of a Crow Indian scout (Ashishishe) on Custer’s side at the Battle of Little Bighorn, who observed the battle from a distance and was the first to report what happened. So there were actually at least three people who shared the nickname Curly at the Battle of Little Bighorn.

More people nicknamed Curly:

  • Curly Armstrong (1918-83), American basketball pro; born Paul Carlyle Armstrong
  • Curly Chalker (1931-98), American jazz and country musician; born Harold Lee Chalker
  • Curly Fox (1910-95), American country singer, musician; born Arnim LeRoy Fox
  • Curly Lambeau (1898-1965), founder, player, and first coach of the Green Bay Packers; born Earl Louis Lambeau
  • Curly Putman (b. 1930), American songwriter, born Claude Putman, Jr.
  • Curly Joe DeRita (1909-93), American comedian, the second “Curly” of the Three Stooges; born Joseph Wardell
  • Curly Morrison (b. 1926), American football pro; born Fred Lew Morrison
  • Curly Ogden (1901-64), American baseball player pro
  • Curly Page (1902-87), New Zealand cricketer, born Milford Laurenson Page
  • Curley Russell (1917-86), American jazz double-bassist; born Dillon Russell

Characters named Curly:

  • Curley, “Of Mice and Men” character in 1937 John Steinbeck novel and subsequent films based on the book
  • Thaddeus “Curly” Gammelthorpe, the class psychopath in the cartoon series “Hey Arnold”
  • Curly Sue, character in the 1991 film of the same name, portrayed by Alisan Porter
  • Curly Top, nickname of Elizabeth Blair in the 1935 film “Curly Top”, played by Shirley Temple
  • Curly Watts, British soap, “Coronation Street”, played by Kevin Kennedy

In French, boucle means curl. The fairy tale “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” is translated as “Boucles d’Or and les Trois Ours.” In German, locken means curl so Goldilocks is “Goldlöckchen und die drei Bären.” In Spanish, she is Ricitos de Oro and in Italian, Riccioli.

Italian is the only language where we found people nicknamed Il Riccio, the equivalent of Curly. A former basketball player, Maurizio Ragazzi, whose last name literally means “boys,” was nicknamed Il Riccio due to a nice head of curls.

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