DeRita in 1959
July 12, 1909
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
|Died||July 3, 1993 83) (aged|
|Resting place||Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery|
(m. 1935;her death 1965)
(m. 1967;his death 1993)
Joseph Wardell (July 12, 1909 – July 3, 1993), known professionally as Joe DeRita, 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."
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.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. 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.
In 1946, DeRita was hired by Columbia Pictures Short Subjects Division head/director Jules White to star in his own series of comedies. The first effort, Slappily Married , was released under the studio's All-Star Comedy series. The three remaining entries — The Good Bad Egg , Wedlock Deadlock (both 1947) and Jitter Bughouse (1948)— billed DeRita as the headliner. Regarding his Columbia shorts series, DeRita said, "My comedy in those scripts was limited to getting hit on the head with something, then going over to my screen wife to say, 'Honey, don't leave me!' For this kind of comedy material, you could have gotten a busboy to do it and it would have been just as funny."After his contract with Columbia ended, DeRita returned to burlesque and recorded a risque LP in 1950 called Burlesque Uncensored.
When Shemp Howard died suddenly of a heart attack on November 22, 1955 at age 60, the Three Stooges had been making short comedies for Columbia Pictures since 1934. Shemp was succeeded by Joe Besser in 1956. Columbia eventually shut down the short-subjects department at the end of 1957, and Besser quit the act in 1958 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. Moe and Larry now had many job offers, but they were in need of a new "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 he readily accepted.
A rumor said that Jules White had attempted to recruit DeRita for the Three Stooges in 1955 (and even as early as 1946) because he wanted "another Curly." However, it was told that strong-willed DeRita had refused to change his act or imitate another performer, and White eventually gave up on him.DeRita himself debunked the rumor and called it "added a romance to the story". When he first joined the act (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".
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".
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, their act was 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, in addition to having replaced Shemp as the "third stooge" in a 1929 Broadway play.[ citation needed ]
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.
DeRita was married twice. His first marriage was to a chorus girl named Bonnie Brooks (real name Esther M. Hartenstine) from July 13, 1935, until her death on September 6, 1965; they had no children.DeRita married his second wife, Jean Sullivan, the following year on December 28. 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.
DeRita died of pneumonia on July 3, 1993, nine days before his 84th birthday. He was residing at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California, at the time of his passing. He was the last surviving member of the Stooges.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 five years.
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.
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."
In the spring of 2000, ABC aired a made-for-television movie about the Stooges, with actor Peter Callan playing DeRita.
|1943||Thank Your Lucky Stars||Meek Man||Uncredited|
|1944||The Doughgirls||The Stranger||Uncredited|
|1945||The Sailor Takes a Wife||Waiter||Uncredited|
|1946||People Are Funny||Mr. Hinkley||Uncredited|
|The French Key||Detective Fox|
|High School Hero||Tiny|
|Slappily Married||Joe Bates||Short film, Joe DeRita series|
|1947||The Good Bad Egg||Mr. Priggle||Short film, Joe DeRita series|
|Wedlock Deadlock||Eddie||Short film, Joe DeRita series|
|1948||Jitter Bughouse||Joe||Short film, Joe DeRita series|
|Coroner Creek||Jack, Bartender||Uncredited|
|1953||The War of the Worlds||MP in jeep||Uncredited|
|1958||The Bravados||Mr. Simms||Uncredited|
|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 Joe||Cameo, credited as part of 'The Three Stooges'|
|4 for Texas||Curly Joe||Uncredited|
|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 Lollipop||TV Series, Uncredited|
|1967||Off to See the Wizard||"Three Men in a Tub"||TV series|
|1968||Star Spangled Salesman||Curly Joe||Short film|
|1970||Kook's Tour||Unsold TV series pilot, (final film role)|
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.
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.
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.
Samuel Horwitz, known professionally as Shemp Howard, was an American actor and comedian. 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 (1923–1932), 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.
Paul Albert "Mousie" Garner was an American actor. Garner earned his nickname by assuming the role of a shy, simpering jokester. Garner was one of the last actors still doing shtick from vaudeville, and has been referred to as "The Grand Old Man Of Vaudeville."
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).
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 cinematic 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.
Edward Bernds was an American screenwriter and director, born in Chicago, Illinois.
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.
The Three Stooges In Orbit is a 1962 American comedy science fiction film directed by Edward Bernds. It is the fourth 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 Columbia Pictures and produced by Normandy Productions, The Three Stooges In Orbit was directed by long-time Stooge director Edward Bernds, whom Moe later cited as the team's finest director.
The Three Stooges Meet Hercules is a 1962 American comedy fantasy film directed by Edward Bernds. It is the third 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 Columbia Pictures, The Three Stooges Meet Hercules was directed by long-time Stooges director Edward Bernds. It was the most financially successful of the Stooges' feature films.
A Plumbing We Will Go is a 1940 short subject directed by Del Lord starring American slapstick comedy team The Three Stooges. It is the 46th entry in the series released by Columbia Pictures starring the comedians, who released 190 shorts for the studio between 1934 and 1959.
Hoofs and Goofs is a 1957 short subject directed by Jules White starring American slapstick comedy team The Three Stooges. It is the 175th entry in the series released by Columbia Pictures starring the comedians, who released 190 shorts for the studio between 1934 and 1959.
The Robonic Stooges is a Saturday morning animated series featuring the characters of The Three Stooges in new roles as clumsy crime-fighting cyborg superheroes. It was developed by Norman Maurer and produced by Hanna-Barbera Productions from September 10, 1977, to March 18, 1978, on CBS and contained two segments: The Robonic Stooges and Woofer & Wimper, Dog Detectives.
Commotion on the Ocean is a 1956 short subject directed by Jules White starring American slapstick comedy team The Three Stooges. It is the 174th entry in the series released by Columbia Pictures starring the comedians, who released 190 shorts for the studio between 1934 and 1959.
Three Little Pirates is a 1946 short subject directed by Edward Bernds starring American slapstick comedy team The Three Stooges. It is the 96th entry in the series released by Columbia Pictures starring the comedians, who released 190 shorts for the studio between 1934 and 1959.
Scrambled Brains is a 1951 short subject directed by Jules White starring American slapstick comedy team The Three Stooges. It is the 132nd entry in the series released by Columbia Pictures starring the comedians, who released 190 shorts for the studio between 1934 and 1959.
Three Stooges Scrapbook was an unaired 1960s television pilot starring The Three Stooges. In the opening title and Hollywood trade ads, the show's title is spelled without "The," including a promotional photograph of the Stooges holding an oversized scrapbook. The pilot featured the slapstick trio getting evicted from a rooming house for cooking in their apartment, looking for a new place to live, finding refuge in the home of a mad inventor, and presenting an animated short called The Spain Mutiny that imagines the funnymen as part of Christopher Columbus’ crew.
Frank Mitchell was an American film actor. He appeared in over 70 films between 1920 and 1980.
The Three Stooges is an American biographical television film about the slapstick comedy team The Three Stooges directed by James Frawley. This television film was entirely shot in Sydney, Australia. It was broadcast on ABC on April 24, 2000.