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THE 3 STOOGES: LOST, FOUND, AND UNSEEN

Leonard Maltin By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin March 6, 2013 at 12:28PM

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.
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A 35mm nitrate frame enlargement from the recently-discovered short "Hello Pop" showing Ted Healy, Curly and Moe, in the heavy makeup required for Technicolor at that time.
A 35mm nitrate frame enlargement from the recently-discovered short "Hello Pop" showing Ted Healy, Curly and Moe, in the heavy makeup required for Technicolor at that time.
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.)

The Stooges depicted as cherubs in the 1935 Columbia Color Rhapsody cartoon "The Bon Bon Parade."
The Stooges depicted as cherubs in the 1935 Columbia Color Rhapsody cartoon "The Bon Bon Parade."
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.

Andy Clyde and Shemp Howard work well together in "Money Squawks" (1940).
Andy Clyde and Shemp Howard work well together in "Money Squawks" (1940).

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.

The original one-sheet poster for Joe DeRita’s short "Scrappily Married" (1945).
The original one-sheet poster for Joe DeRita’s short "Scrappily Married" (1945).
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.

Joe Besser and Christine McIntyre in "Waiting in the Lurch" (1949).
Joe Besser and Christine McIntyre in "Waiting in the Lurch" (1949).

“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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