Joe DeRita

Last updated
Joe DeRita
DeRita in 1959
Joseph Wardell

(1909-07-12)July 12, 1909
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
DiedJuly 3, 1993(1993-07-03) (aged 83)
Resting place Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery
OccupationActor, comedian
Years active19201975
Bonnie Brooks
(m. 1935;her death 1965)
Jean Sullivan
(m. 1967;his death 1993)

Joe "Curly Joe" DeRita (July 12, 1909 July 3, 1993), born Joseph Wardell, was an American actor and comedian, who is best known for his stint as a member of the Three Stooges in the persona of "Curly Joe."

The Three Stooges American comedy team

The Three Stooges were an American vaudeville and comedy team active from 1922 until 1970, best known for their 190 short subject films by Columbia Pictures that have been regularly airing on television since 1958. Their hallmark was physical farce and slapstick. Six stooges appeared over the act's run : Moe Howard and Larry Fine were mainstays throughout the ensemble's nearly fifty-year run and the pivotal "third Stooge" was played by Shemp Howard, Curly Howard, Shemp Howard again, Joe Besser, and Curly Joe DeRita.


Early life

DeRita was born into a show-business family in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Florenz (DeRita) and Frank Wardell, and of French-Canadian and English ancestry. [2] He was the youngest of 5 brothers. Wardell's father was a stage technician, his mother a professional stage dancer, and the three often acted on stage together from his early childhood. Taking his mother's maiden name, DeRita, the actor joined the burlesque circuit during the 1920s, gaining fame as a comedian. His family members were believers of Roman Catholic faith. During World War II, DeRita joined the USO, performing throughout Britain and France with such celebrities as Bing Crosby and Randolph Scott. In the 1944 comedy film The Doughgirls , about the housing shortage in wartime Washington, D.C., he had an uncredited role as "the Stranger", a bewildered man who repeatedly showed up in scenes looking for a place to sleep.

Philadelphia Largest city in Pennsylvania, United States

Philadelphia, known colloquially as Philly, is the largest city in the U.S. state and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the sixth-most populous U.S. city, with a 2018 census-estimated population of 1,584,138. Since 1854, the city has been coterminous with Philadelphia County, the most populous county in Pennsylvania and the urban core of the eighth-largest U.S. metropolitan statistical area, with over 6 million residents as of 2017. Philadelphia is also the economic and cultural anchor of the greater Delaware Valley, located along the lower Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers, within the Northeast megalopolis. The Delaware Valley's population of 7.2 million ranks it as the eighth-largest combined statistical area in the United States.

American burlesque genre of variety show

American burlesque is a genre of variety show. Derived from elements of Victorian burlesque, music hall and minstrel shows, burlesque shows in America became popular in the 1860s and evolved to feature ribald comedy and female striptease. By the early 20th century, burlesque in America was presented as a populist blend of satire, performance art, music hall, and adult entertainment, featuring striptease and broad comedy acts.

Catholic Church Largest Christian church, led by the Bishop of Rome

The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the largest Christian church, with approximately 1.3 billion baptised Catholics worldwide as of 2017. As the world's oldest continuously functioning international institution, it has played a prominent role in the history and development of Western civilisation. The church is headed by the Bishop of Rome, known as the pope. Its central administration, the Holy See, is in the Vatican City, an enclave within the city of Rome in Italy.

Career with the Three Stooges

In May 1946, the Three Stooges (Curly Howard, Larry Fine, and Moe Howard) had been making short comedies for Columbia Pictures since 1934. Curly suffered a disabling stroke on May 6, 1946, forcing him to retire. He died on January 18, 1952, at the age of 48. Meanwhile, his brother Shemp Howard, the original third Stooge before leaving the act in 1932 for a solo career, only wanted to be a temporary replacement. Joe DeRita was also starring in his own series of shorts at Columbia (in The Good Bad Egg , Wedlock Deadlock , Slappily Married , and Jitter Bughouse ). Stooges producer-director Jules White attempted to recruit Joe DeRita for the Three Stooges because he wanted "another Curly." However, the strong-willed DeRita refused to change his act or imitate another performer, and White eventually gave up on DeRita. (DeRita's own short-subject contract was not renewed after four films, the final entry being Jitter Bughouse .) [3] DeRita returned to burlesque and recorded a risque LP in 1950 called Burlesque Uncensored.

Curly Howard American comedian as one of the Three Stooges

Jerome Lester Horwitz, known professionally as Curly Howard, was an American vaudevillian comedian and actor. He was best known as a member of the American farce comedy team the Three Stooges, which also featured his elder brothers Moe and Shemp Howard and actor Larry Fine. Curly Howard was generally considered the most popular and recognizable of the Stooges. He was well known for his high-pitched voice and vocal expressions, as well as his physical comedy, improvisations, and athleticism. An untrained actor, Curly borrowed the "woob woob" from "nervous" and soft-spoken comedian Hugh Herbert. Curly's unique version of "woob-woob-woob" was firmly established by the time of the Stooges' second Columbia film, Punch Drunks (1934).

Larry Fine American actor, comedian, in The Three Stooges

Louis Feinberg, known professionally as Larry Fine, was an American actor, comedian, violinist, and boxer, who is best known as a member of the comedy act the Three Stooges.

Moe Howard American actor and comedian

Moses Harry Horwitz, known professionally as Moe Howard, was an American actor and comedian, best known as the leader of the Three Stooges, the farce comedy team who starred in motion pictures and television for four decades. That group originally started out as Ted Healy and His Stooges, an act that toured the vaudeville circuit. Moe's distinctive hairstyle came about when he was a boy and cut off his curls with a pair of scissors, producing a ragged shape approximating a bowl cut.

When Shemp Howard died unexpectedly of a heart attack on November 22, 1955 at age 60, he was succeeded by Joe Besser. Columbia eventually shut down the short-subjects department at the end of 1957, and Besser quit the act to take care of his ailing wife. The two remaining Stooges seriously considered retirement. Then Columbia's television subsidiary, Screen Gems, syndicated the Stooges' old comedies to television, and the Three Stooges were suddenly television superstars.

Shemp Howard American comedian and actor

Samuel Horwitz, known professionally as Shemp Howard, was an American comedian and actor. He was called "Shemp" because "Sam" came out that way in his mother's thick Litvak accent. He is best known as the third stooge in the Three Stooges, a role he played when the act began in the early 1920s, while it was still associated with Ted Healy and known as "Ted Healy and his Stooges"; and again from 1946 until his death in 1955. Between his times with the Stooges, he had a successful solo career as a film comedian.

Joe Besser American actor

Joe Besser was an American actor, voice actor, comedian and musician, known for his impish humor and wimpy characters. He is best known for his brief stint as a member of the Three Stooges in movie short subjects of 1957–59. He is also remembered for his television roles: Stinky, the bratty man-child in The Abbott and Costello Show, and Jillson, the maintenance man in The Joey Bishop Show.

Larry, Moe, and Curly Joe DeRita in 1962 The Three Stooges 1962.JPG
Larry, Moe, and Curly Joe DeRita in 1962

Moe and Larry now had many job offers, but they were in need of a "third Stooge." Larry had seen DeRita in a Las Vegas stage engagement and told Moe that DeRita would be "perfect for the third Stooge." Howard and Fine invited DeRita to join the act, and this time he readily accepted. When he first joined the act in 1958 (shortly after appearing in a dramatic role in the Gregory Peck western, The Bravados ), DeRita wore his hair in a style similar to that of former Stooge Shemp Howard and did so during initial live stage performances. However, with television's restored popularity of the Three Stooges shorts featuring Curly Howard, it was suggested that Joe shave his head in order to look more like Curly. At first, DeRita sported a crew cut; this eventually became a fully shaven head. Because of his physical resemblance to both Curly and Joe Besser, and to avoid confusion with his predecessors, DeRita was renamed Curly Joe.

Gregory Peck American actor

Eldred Gregory Peck was an American actor. He was one of the most popular film stars from the 1940s to the 1960s. Peck received five Academy Award for Best Actor nominations, and won once – for his performance as Atticus Finch in the 1962 drama film To Kill a Mockingbird.

<i>The Bravados</i> 1958 film by Henry King

The Bravados is a 1958 American western film directed by Henry King, starring Gregory Peck and Joan Collins. The CinemaScope film was based on a novel of the same name, written by Frank O'Rourke.

Crew cut

A crew cut is a type of haircut in which the upright hair on the top of the head is cut relatively short, graduated in length from the longest hair that forms a short pomp (pompadour) at the front hairline to the shortest at the back of the crown so that in side profile, the outline of the top hair approaches the horizontal. Relative to the front view, and to varying degrees, the outline of the top hair can be arched or flattened at the short pomp front and rounded or flattened over the rest of the top to complement the front hairline, head shape, face shape and facial features. The hair on the sides and back of the head is usually tapered short, semi-short, or medium.

The team embarked on a new series of six feature-length theatrical Three Stooges films, including Have Rocket, Will Travel (1959), DeRita's on-screen debut with the Stooges, and Snow White and the Three Stooges (1961). Aimed primarily at children, these films rarely reached the same comedic heights as their shorts and often recycled routines and songs from the older films. Moe and Larry's advanced ages—Moe was 62 and Larry 57 at the time of the first Curly Joe film—plus pressure from the PTA and other children's advocates, led to the toning-down of the trio's trademark violent slapstick. While DeRita's physical appearance was vaguely reminiscent of Curly, his characterization was milder and not as manic or surreal. The characterization evolved over time; early sketches featuring Curly Joe (such as a commercial for Simoniz car wax) have him effectively as a fifth wheel while Moe and Larry divided most of the comedy between themselves, while by the mid-1960s, Larry's role had been reduced and Curly Joe divided much of the comedy with Moe. Curly Joe also showed more backbone, even occasionally talking back to Moe, calling him "buddy boy".

<i>Have Rocket, Will Travel</i> 1959 film by David Lowell Rich

Have Rocket, Will Travel is a 1959 American science fiction comedy film starring The Three Stooges. By this time, the trio consisted of Moe Howard, Larry Fine, and new "third Stooge" Joe DeRita. Released by Columbia Pictures, the feature was produced to capitalize on the comedy trio's late 1950s resurgence in popularity.

<i>Snow White and the Three Stooges</i> 1961 film by Walter Lang

Snow White and the Three Stooges is the second feature film to star the Three Stooges after their 1959 resurgence in popularity. By this time, the trio consisted of Moe Howard, Larry Fine, and Joe DeRita. Released by 20th Century Fox, this was the trio's take on the classic fairy tale Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The film was retitled Snow White and the Three Clowns in Great Britain. This was Walter Lang‘s final directing film before his retirement.


Simoniz USA, Inc. is an American manufacturer of automobile and janitorial cleaning products. The original Simoniz Company was founded in 1910, making it the oldest car care brand in the United States.

Through the 1960s, DeRita remained a member of the team, participating in The New Three Stooges animated cartoons series (with live-action introductions) and a shelved television pilot titled Kook's Tour . However, Larry Fine suffered a paralyzing stroke in January 1970 (he died on January 24, 1975, at the age of 72) during the production of Kook's Tour, putting all new Stooges-related material on hold. Emil Sitka was named as "the middle stooge", but never got to perform with the team. Before Moe's death on May 4, 1975, at age 77, the Stooges (with Sitka succeeding the deceased Larry) had planned to film an R-rated movie called The Jet Set (later produced with the surviving members of the Ritz Brothers and released as Blazing Stewardesses ).

In the very early 1970s, with Moe's blessing, DeRita attempted to form a truly "new" Three Stooges. He recruited burlesque and vaudeville veterans Mousie Garner and Frank Mitchell to replace Moe and Larry for nightclub engagements. However, they were poorly received thereby ending the group. Mitchell had worked with original Stooges organizer Ted Healy decades earlier in an abortive attempt to replace the Stooges after they had split from Healy. Mitchell had also replaced Shemp as the "third stooge" in a 1929 Broadway play.

On August 30, 1983, the Three Stooges received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Joe Besser was the only Stooge to show up at the ceremony because of DeRita's illness; Stooges longtime supporting player Emil Sitka spoke for him. Sometime after the new star award, Besser eventually fell ill which led to his death from heart failure on March 1, 1988, at age 80. DeRita was the last Stooge to be born, the last to join the ensemble, and the last to die.

Personal life

DeRita was married to a chorus girl named Bonnie Brooks from 1935 until her death in 1965; they had no children. [1] The following year, he married Jean Sullivan. Sullivan's sons from a previous relationship, Earl and Robert Benjamin, control licensing rights to many deceased celebrities, along with the Three Stooges, through C3 Entertainment.

DeRita was the only member of the Stooges who was not Jewish.


On July 3, 1993, DeRita, the last surviving Stooge, died of pneumonia nine days before his 84th birthday at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California. [4] DeRita is interred in a grave at the Pierce Brothers Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery in North Hollywood, California; his tombstone reads "The Last Stooge", as he outlived Joe Besser by 5 years.


With Moe Howard and Larry Fine in 1959 Three Stooges 1959.jpg
With Moe Howard and Larry Fine in 1959

Although DeRita enjoyed working with Moe and Larry and made a living doing it, he was not a fan of the Stooges' humor. He once told an interviewer the following:

I don't think the Stooges were funny. I'm not putting you on, I'm telling the truth—they were physical, but they just didn't have any humor about them. Take, for instance, Laurel and Hardy. I can watch their films and I still laugh at them and maybe I've seen them four or five times before. But when I see that pie or seltzer bottle, I know that it's not just lying around for no reason. It's going to be used for something. I was with the Stooges for 12 years and it was a very pleasant association but I just don't think they were funny. [5]

Despite his indifference to the team's brand of comedy, he had nothing but respect and appreciation for the Stooges, proudly saying "Moe and Larry were the best. We worked well together and enjoyed every minute of it." [5]

In the spring of 2000, ABC aired a made-for-television movie about the Stooges, with actor Peter Callan playing DeRita. [6] [ circular reference ]


1943 Thank Your Lucky Stars Meek ManUncredited
1944 The Doughgirls The StrangerUncredited
1945 The Sailor Takes a Wife WaiterUncredited
1946 People Are Funny Mr. HinkleyUncredited
The French Key Detective Fox
High School Hero Tiny
Slappily Married Joe Bates Short film, Joe DeRita series
1947 The Good Bad Egg Mr. PriggleShort film, Joe DeRita series
Wedlock Deadlock EddieShort film, Joe DeRita series
1948 Jitter Bughouse JoeShort film, Joe DeRita series
Coroner Creek Jack, BartenderUncredited
1953 The War of the Worlds MP in jeepUncredited
1958 The Bravados Mr. SimmsUncredited
1959 Have Rocket, Will Travel Curly Joe
1961 Snow White and the Three Stooges
1962 The Three Stooges Meet Hercules
The Three Stooges in Orbit
1963 The Three Stooges Go Around the World in a Daze
The Three Stooges Scrapbook Short, Unsold TV pilot never released
It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World Fireman Curly Joecredited cameo, Uncredited
4 for Texas Curly JoeUncredited
1965 The Outlaws Is Coming
The New Three Stooges TV Series
Danny Thomas Meets the Comics TV movie
1966 The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet Man with LollipopTV Series, Uncredited
1967 Off to See the Wizard "Three Men in a Tub"TV series
1968 Star Spangled Salesman Curly JoeShort film
1970 Kook's Tour Unsold TV series pilot, (final film role)

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The Three Stooges' comedy routines have inspired generations of tributes in other media. The following information is a partial list of such tributes. Depending on the form of media used, there are direct and indirect references to the Three Stooges. Beginning with the Stooges themselves as the trio did make small guest appearances in movies or in small bumper clips for their cartoon series. Clips from the Stooges shorts are sometimes featured in the actual footage of a movie, TV show, or advertisement, or the line from the 1934 short Men in Black, "Calling Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard" is used. Moe Howard, Larry Fine, and Curly Howard appeared as cartoon versions of themselves.

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  1. 1 2 Reighter, Frank. The Three Stooges Journal #133 (2010) p. 5
  2. [ permanent dead link ]
  3. Forrester, Jeff (2004). The Three Stooges: The Triumphs and Tragedies of the Most Popular Comedy Team of All Time. Donaldson Books. ISBN   0-9715801-0-3.
  4. Pace, Eric (1993-07-05). "Curly-joe DeRita, 83, Last of the Three Stooges". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-08-07.
  5. 1 2 Lenburg, Jeff; Howard Maurer, Joan; Lenburg, Greg; (1982, rev. 2012). The Three Stooges Scrapbook, p. 59, 93, Citadel Press. ISBN   0-8065-0946-5.
  6. The Three Stooges (2000 film)