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THE 3 STOOGES: LOST, FOUND, AND UNSEEN

THE 3 STOOGES: LOST, FOUND, AND UNSEEN

By now you may
have read about the exciting discovery of a long-lost two-reel short subject, Hello Pop (1933) starring Ted Healy and
his Stooges. A 35mm nitrate print, in two-color Technicolor, turned up in a
private collection in Australia and is now being restored at a Los Angeles
laboratory by Warner Bros. Understandably, this kind of “find” fuels hopes that
other cinematic rarities will yet be unearthed…but for now, Stooge aficionados
are thrilled that a gap in their filmography will soon be filled. (This was the
third of five two-reelers that Healy and his Stooges made for
MGM, incorporating musical numbers from
the 1929 feature It’s a Great Life
and the never-released revue The March of
Time
. It also features comedic character actors Ed Brophy and Henry
Armetta.)

At the same
time, Sony has released a jam-packed three-disc set called The Three Stooges (Rare Treasures From the
Columbia
Pictures Vault)
as
part of its Sony Pictures Choice Selection, an ongoing program of
DVDs-on-demand. If you purchased the giant boxed DVD set called The Three Stooges Ultimate Collection last year, you already have
this material, but this is the first time it is being sold apart from that
compendium of 190 two-reel comedies. Included are two full-length features (the
B Western-musical Rockin’ in the Rockies,
from 1945, and the first “new” Stooge feature from the team’s renaissance, Have Rocket—Will Travel, from 1959),
three color Columbia cartoons in which the Stooges are caricatured, and all of
the rarely-seen solo comedy shorts featuring the “other” Stooges, namely Shemp
Howard, Joe Besser, and Joe DeRita.

When I first
wrote about The Three Stooges in my book Movie
Comedy Teams
, I didn’t realize how extensive those solo careers were. It
wasn’t coincidental that
Columbia called on Shemp, then Besser, then DeRita to fill in as the “third stooge” after Curly Howard was felled by a
stroke: the studio had worked with all three comics before, in slapstick shorts
cut from the same cloth as the Stooge two-reelers. You’ll recognize the same
supporting players and a similar modus operandi: you just won’t laugh as often.

Beginning in
the late 1930s, Shemp was utilized as a featured player with Columbia comedy star Andy Clyde and as a
regular in the short-lived prizefight series called The Glove Slingers. The pick of the lot is Money Squawks (1940), in which director Del Lord allows
Clyde and Howard to cut loose and ad lib in
one eating scene, drawing on their vast comedy experience. Most of Shemp’s solo
starring shorts from the mid-1940s are inferior remakes of earlier Columbia
comedies that featured Charley Chase, George Sidney and Charley Murray, and
other stars…including The Three Stooges themselves. A Hit with a Miss (1945) is a retread of one of the earliest Stooge
shorts, Punch Drunks (1934) and if
you look closely you’ll spot Larry Fine in some stock footage from the
original. In other shorts, Shemp is haphazardly teamed with such journeymen
comics as Tom Kennedy and El Brendel, but there is no particular spark to these
pairings. Shemp gives his all, but far too often the scripts let him down.

Joe DeRita turns out to be a likable
schnook in his four solo comedies from 1946-47, which aren’t particularly
inspired but show him off to good advantage. He works well with Christine
McIntyre, Dorothy Granger, Vernon Dent, and other members of the studio stock
company and gamely participates in all the slapstick mayhem the writers can
concoct.

The best thing about the ten Joe
Besser shorts is Besser himself, a naturally funny man even when his material
is second-rate. Working for producer-director Jules White at a time when
budgets were being squeezed, he found himself remaking his own two-reel
comedies just a few years after the originals were released. Army Daze (1956) is a recycling of Aim, Fire, Scoot (1952) and The Fire Chaser (1954) copies Waiting in the Lurch (1949). White also
teamed him up with
Los
Angeles

radio personality Jim Hawthorne for several unmemorable shorts.

This three-disc set, then, is strictly
for Stooge completists, but as a member of that obsessive group, I’m delighted
to have all of this material in my collection—in superbly mastered copies. It’s
available from many online retailers, as is the bargain-priced 20-disc set
Ultimate Collection. If you love the Stooges, you’d have to be a knucklehead to
pass up these offerings.

P.S. for
Stoogeaholics. Here’s a note I received from Ryan Fay which is
self-explanatory: “Along with a few other members (Frank Reighter, Bill Cappello),
I track down unaccounted-for supporting players from the Stooge films. While
most we find are deceased, we have some found a few living ones.

“But no player has been harder to find
than Norma Randall, the missing blonde from Spooks
and a couple other shorts. The fan club has been looking for her for a LONG
time, much longer than the two years I’ve been trying. You name it, we’ve tried
it. But there’s just nothing of note on her that we’ve seen. We believe she
could still be alive in her early 80s. There’s a few dozen players still
unaccounted for one way or another, but Randall is the most significant by far.

“I’m hoping
you could do a blog post about her with the hopes somebody reading knows
something. Here’s a blog post I made during the fall and it sums up what we
know about her: NitrateVille.com.

“Our
biggest recent find was Marti Shelton, aka Marti Stanley, aka Shirley Martin.
She was Miss Jones in Heavenly Daze in 1948. We missed her by four years; she
died in 2008.”

I’m as
curious as any other Stooge fan. Is there someone out there who can provide a
clue as to Norma Randall’s life after 1954? I checked, and she wasn’t even
listed among current ingénues in the Academy Players Directory for 1953 and 54.
Curious indeed.

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