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Letters From Moe

Features
by Leonard Maltin
April 10, 2012 10:29 PM
18 Comments
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Moe, Larry and Curly line up with their hand-puppet likenesses in the late 1930s. Those puppets are highly collectible today.

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.

Moe polishes the badge of “Officer” Joe Bolton, the genial kiddie-show host who presided over daily showings of the Stooges shorts on WPIX-TV for many years. Moe stopped by whenever he was in New York City.

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.

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18 Comments

  • Kevin S.Butler | November 12, 2012 8:05 AMReply

    Dear Len,

    I've enjoyed reading your article here at your website regarding your correspondence and your friendship with Moe Howard.He was a wonderful gentleman and true talent..I remember hearing on "Officer Joe"Bolton's "Three Stooges"TV Show that the two of you did a lecture at a collage in New Jersey..where you both talked about the history of film comedy..do you recall which collage this lecture was staged at?

  • W.E. Goez III | April 16, 2012 4:42 PMReply

    It seems that the Three Stooges have a whole compilation of all of their Columbia shorts available for purchase---how would I be able to acquire the info. Needed to purchase the complete series of ALL the Remastered shorts---if anyone knows the answer, please E- mail me at this address------wegoez@sbcglobal.net------Thanks

  • Kevin S.Butler | April 13, 2012 10:46 AMReply

    Dear Lenny,I've just found at "You Tube"recently some rare footage of your good friend and one of NYC's most beloved kids tv wraparound hosts/performers:"Officer Joe'Bolton..The first piece of footage has"Officer Joe"talking with the kids at home from"The Clubhouse Gang"set(This is from either the late 1960's or the 1970's)and some rare silent color home movie footage of our favorite funny and nice cop on the beat doing a personal appearance at a children's hospital around Christmastime,1955. The web address to access the first footage is..youtube.com/watch?v=6XGOnMVEDdu The web addres for the second footage is..youtube.com/watch?v=dAiDg2DtLVk&

    I hope that you will get a chance to see this footage and relive your memories of watching this beloved kids tv mc.

    Kevin S.Butler.

  • Keith Scott | April 13, 2012 4:29 AMReply

    Love it, Leonard - I too have hand written letters from Moe (1966 and 1969), and one day I will post it all on my FB page. He even sent me signed 8" x 10" glossies of each Stooge team - one each for the teams featuring Curly, Shemp, Joe and Curly-Joe. Gave me all their full birth dates and essentially answered questions I was really expecting him to ignore. What memories. I think he was quite shocked to hear about the Stooge comedies being so popular on TV all the way down in Australia. I first saw a Stooges short (BOOBS IN ARMS) on TV in 1959 when I was six, and was an instant fan. Like you I mulled over things that ordinary folk could care less about (such as why Shemp suddenly appeared, why Curly declined in his last years on film, why Joe Besser was also on the Abbott & Costello TV show)...burningly important conundrums that led me to write to my heroes like Moe, Jay Ward and Daws Butler, etc. I'm sure YOU can relate to all that! Cheers, Keith

  • Ed Casey | April 11, 2012 10:22 PMReply

    Leonard, thank you for the wonderful story. It's great to hear that Moe Howard was a gentleman.

  • tom meyers | April 11, 2012 7:08 PMReply

    Love this article Leonard..I just wish I was a little older to have experienced seeing the Stooges at the Oritani. Mostly recall seeing Japanese monster movies as a kid at the Oritani of Hackensack. Great memories of a great man, Officer Joe Bolton and wow how cool is it that you were able to meet and sit in with him on his WPIX show. Here is a clip on You Tube for Officer Joe's 100th birthday - I know you will enjoy! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LYrxuhIcs8w

  • John | April 11, 2012 6:47 PMReply

    Wow! What great memories! That reaffirms what I've always heard about Moe...that he was truly a class act!

  • Kristine | April 11, 2012 4:33 PMReply

    Leonard,
    Back in the 1980's, I wrote a fan letter to Joan Howard Maurer(daughter of Moe Howard). She sent a nice reply. I talked with Eric Lamond, grandson of Larry Fine, pertaining to The Three Stooges Fan Club. He is very nice, friendly. As always , you write informative columns.

  • steve kaplan | April 11, 2012 4:06 PMReply

    Thanks for your heart warming piece on the Moe Howard. My date, incidentally, was friends with Joe Bolton and I remember visiting his home in Clifton. My Dad and Mr. Bolton
    would sit at the table discussing their mutual hobby of stamp collecting while I snapped photos.
    I was the envy of my school mates.

  • Richard | April 11, 2012 3:35 PMReply

    Wonderful story, Leonard. I hate to question this, but that "impeccably neat cursive handwriting" looks to me to be female, and a young hand at that. Not suggesting the thoughts in the letters weren't composed by the 70-something Mr. Howard, but is there a chance that he, at very least, dictated his letters to a secretary?

  • Chris | April 11, 2012 3:16 PMReply

    Movie Comedy Teams has been a valued resource for me. Just last weekend I consulted it regarding which Wheeler & Woolsey films to watch!

    Leonard is a very likeable guy and I'm sure Moe could sense that in his letters!

  • Michael Townsend Wright | April 11, 2012 2:04 PMReply

    I cherish mine, too, Leonard. I love Moe's quotes in your Great Movie Shorts, as well as the other wonderful film vets you quoted. I mentioned to you once that I became aware of you in the mid '60's when Officer Joe suggested I join a "group about Laurel & Hardy." I was only about 10 years old and he told me he would check with a young friend who would know if children would be permitted to join that group. The young friend said that only adults could join. Well, as you know that group was The Sons of the Desert and I think you know who that young friend of the good officer was.

  • Kevin S.Butler | April 14, 2012 8:54 AM

    Dear Mike,There were junior tents'(Chapters)of "The Sons Of The Desert"(The L&H Film Appreciation Club)that accepted kids as members back then..I don't know if there are any junior these days..but..back then..you could have found a junior tent and join up.

  • Patrick Picking | April 11, 2012 1:39 PMReply

    Thanks for sharing this Len! I look forward to hearing your review of the new Stooges movie. I didn't want to, but I did laugh at the trailer when I saw it. :)

  • Kevin S.Butler | April 11, 2012 12:15 PMReply

    Dear Lenny,Thanks for sharing this wonderful rememberence of Moe Howard and his thoughts about Chris MacIntyire and his praise of your work.

    I remember seeing you on "Officer Joe"Bolton's "Little Rascals Show"on WPIX TV in NYC years ago..but? I also remember hearing "Officer Joe"mention on his show that the two of you hosted a lecture on film comedy at either Princeton or Rutgers University in New Jersey. I don't know if you can do this..but? Could you give some infomation about that lecture?

    Again,

    Thanks For sharing this story about Moe,

    Yours Truly,

    Kevin S.Butler.

  • Jim Williamson | April 11, 2012 2:01 AMReply

    What a thrill for us, how you shared your correspondence from Moe!


    Thanks so much for this Leonard. I tweeted you recently on how your Great Movie Comedians is one of my favorite books. May I go further and say that your essays on comedy (especially regarding the Stooges) remain the best I've ever read in my life, and a tremendous influence on my own writing. Once again, sir, thanks!!

  • Danny Proctor | April 11, 2012 12:40 AMReply

    As a longtime fan of yours and, of course, the Three Stooges, I've always been so envious of your connection to Hollywood's Golden Age. I once wrote to you asking how I could correspond with some of the comedy greats and you sent me a very nice hand-written note. I knew then that we were close to the same age and I marvelled at your great work with Film Fan Monthly and your paperback collections of interviews with the wonderful character actors that I adored.

    I loved your book with Richard Bann on Our Gang. When I presented it to Spanky at a local golf tournament, so he could autograph a photo, he immediately turned to the closing page with a photo of him in the bathtub (he was apparently very familiar with the book) and signed, while saying "To Danny on my fanny." It is a treasure in my collection. I always longed for a book on the Stooges which profiled each short, much like the Our Gang book.

    I saw Moe, Larry and Curly Joe in person at Municipal Auditorium in Nashville in 1962, when I was 10 years old. It must have been such a thrill to the boys that only a few years after their Columbia contract ended, they walk onstage in a huge auditorium to an explosion of cheers and applause from a throng of screaming kids who loved them ... and still do.

    I love your work and have followed everything you've done for years, sir. Thank you for sharing your Moe story. And I'm still jealous :)

  • Crib | April 11, 2012 12:39 AMReply

    Thanks, Leonard. Great stories. Cheers to The Stooges!

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