Imagine carrying on a correspondence with one of the original Three Stooges. I was lucky enough to do just that with Moe Howard in the late 1960s and early ‘70s. With the new Three Stooges film about to open, I realize I’ve never spoken about my brief contact with the one and only, Moe. I first wrote to him because I was researching an article on Charley Chase, the unsung comedian who directed some of the Stooges’ comedy shorts. That prompted a reply, written in ink on Stooge stationery, accompanied by an autographed photo in an official Three Stooges envelope! Needless to say, I was thrilled.
(For the record, Moe wrote, “Charley Chase was not only one of the best actors in the field of household or family comedies but was even a more competent director, soft spoken, gracious and very knowledgeable. His own statement to me personally was that he had never worked with comedians who were so cooperative and with such wonderful timing.”)
By watching the Stooges every day on WPIX television in New York, and listening carefully to “Officer” Joe Bolton, who hosted their program from his Clubhouse, I’d already learned a bit about the team and its history. I was aware that Moe’s brothers Curly (Jerome) and Shemp (Samuel) were long gone; he and Larry Fine were keeping the act alive with Joe De Rita, who was dubbed Curly Joe. In fact, I’d seen them in the flesh when they were promoting The Three Stooges Meet Hercules at the Oritani Theatre in Hackensack, New Jersey in 1962—an unforgettable day in my young life.
Now I was writing to Moe as a budding film historian, and he obliged by answering my question with a high compliment to Charley Chase as a director. I apparently didn’t admit how young I was in my first letter because his response was addressed to “Mr. Maltin,” while his subsequent notes came to “Dear Friend Leonard,” in his impeccably neat cursive handwriting. In August of 1969 he wrote, “Just returned from an extended personal appearance tour and tackled your letter first out of a pile of about 200.” A trouper of the old school, Moe was clearly grateful to his fans and diligently responded to their mail and requests for photos. (The picture he sent had printed autographs of all three members of the team, but Moe added in ink, “To our friend Leonard.”)
When I compiled the first-ever Stooge filmography for my magazine Film Fan Monthly, using back issues of the trade journal Motion Picture Herald at the Lincoln Center branch of the New York Public Library, Moe gave me his seal of approval, noting that I’d missed only one title.
I didn’t want to pester him, but took the opportunity to write whenever I had a legitimate question. If I could step back in time and conduct a bona fide interview, in person or even on the phone, I’d have so much more to ask, but I’m grateful for the nuggets I did receive in Moe’s welcome letters. I asked about the Stooges’ frequent leading lady, Christine McIntyre, and he was most enthusiastic, saying, “There wasn’t a thing she couldn’t do, even take falls. I can’t praise her talents too highly.” Then he added, “Lots of good luck with the publishing of your book. You are really talented beyond your years.” What a wonderful thing to say.
I treasure my contact with Moe, as I do my friendship with his children Joan and Paul. (Imagine my surprise when I learned that they were raised not far from where I live today.)
Incidentally, the book Moe referred to in his letter was called Movie Comedy Teams, and when it came out in 1970, I had the thrill of appearing with Officer Joe Bolton on his WPIX show. By that time he was introducing The Little Rascals, but no matter; he was warm and welcoming to me as we taped a week’s worth of shows in short order. Days later, while walking to class at NYU, a student called out to me, “Hey, I saw you with Officer Joe!” Then, as now, classic comedy shorts had a strong appeal to guys who didn’t want to surrender their boyhood favorites. I still feel the same way.