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Three Funny Guys….Right In Our Backyard!

Three Funny Guys….Right In Our Backyard!

Memories of the Three Stooges in the Buckeye State!

Touring comedians are no novelty. They’ve done it for years and carrying on that long tradition is the Kent Stage where vaudeville acts once reigned and modern acts like Paula Poundstone still tread the boards. Back in the halcyon days of our youth when the glow of a TV screen was still a novelty, local programmers were scrambling to fill airtime. Fortunately, they saw the rich potential of old movies that were sitting on the shelf after their runs in theaters. The twenty-minute “shorts” were especially valuable finding a new audience on TV and, at the same time, reviving careers of old timers who might have otherwise been forgotten. You remember them! The “Our Gang” films were repackaged as “The Little Rascals”, Laurel & Hardy were on every afternoon, Cliff Norton introduced us to his many “uncles” on “The Funny Manns” and then……the Three Stooges!

Look, I’m fighting to find space for our books, and Gary Lassin isn’t helping! He’s the executive director of the Stoogeum. (Yeah, there really is a Three Stooges museum near Philadelphia.) He’s also linked to Larry Fine by marriage, and the author of A Tour De Farce, the all-time greatest book ever written about “Tres Patsis” as Captain Penny called them. After years of research Lassin was able to document five decades of live appearances by the act, and the word “comprehensive” might be an understatement. Remember what I said about shelf space? This one is 765 pages and every one of them has fascinating information about the Stooges on stage, including plenty in Northeast Ohio.

Lassin also points out that when the Stooges hit the road, they covered a lot of ground, especially in the Buckeye State.

The Stooges knew how to draw attention. During one visit to Cleveland’s Palace Theater, they grabbed young Ann Szcotka on the street, put her in a wheelbarrow and ran her around Playhouse Square. One question: Where would you find a wheelbarrow handy in downtown Cleveland?

The Stooges wasted no time talking advantage of the medium that brought them new fame and made the rounds of Cleveland TV appearing on Dorothy Fuldheim’s The One O’Clock Club, the Mike Douglas Show and, as expected, a visit with Captain Penny. The TV stations were all a short distance from each other, and Keven Scarpino…TV’s “Son of Ghoul”…can add a legendary meeting to that list. The Three Stooges on….Ghoulardi’s Shock Theater! You can liken that to the Beatles meeting Elvis, but unlike that fateful meeting there’s a tape and Scarpino has it.

But the crowning moment was to see them walk on stage, an unforgettable experience for 9-year old Roger Price who saw them at Mansfield’s historic Ohio Theater. He remembers “a full house. Lots of kids… and their not so excited parents”. But Rog also recalls, “When Joe DeRita came on stage with Moe and Larry, I thought, ‘Where’s Curly?’ (The newspaper ad had Curly’s picture and we didn’t know he had died a few years earlier.) The act was a few of their bits followed by Moe demonstrating how they performed their slaps, hits and eye pokes. Moe warned the kids to NEVER do any of this on their own. They finished their act, sang a song or two and walked off stage, returning for an encore bow, with their hair COMBED! (Except for Curly-Joe.). It was quite a thrill for all the little fans, especially me.”

Bob Ingersoll has a similar story when the trio visited his home-town theater in Shaker Heights. He remembers the Vogue as, “one of those old majestic movie palaces; a huge auditorium with aisles and ushers and one – only one – huge screen. You know the kind of movie house that doesn’t exist anymore. Including the Vogue. It’s now an indoor golf simulator. It didn’t trade up.” Ingersoll went along with his best friend whose family didn’t prevent him from watching the Stooges, but “they didn’t exactly encourage it, either.” He remembers the show featured one of the Stooges’ movies along with a one hour talk from “the Boys” where they answered questions and raffled off a new bike…where young Ingersoll dodged a potentially embarrassing incident in front of hundreds of screaming kids.

He recalls, “Ah, the raffle. When the winning ticket numbers were announced, I looked at my ticket, blinked repeatedly, looked at my ticket again, and started up toward the stage. I had won! It wasn’t the bike that excited me, I had a fairly new Schwinn. What I didn’t have was a face-to-face meeting with the Three Stooges!” Way in the back, he started the long walk to the front of the theater when… “I hadn’t even gotten one-third of the way there when someone else beat me to the stage and presented the winning ticket! Moe Howard checked the proffered ticket and read the winning numbers again. Which is when I realized that I had transposed two of the numbers on my ticket. Mine was not the winning ticket.” A dejected kid returned to his seat. No bike. No face-to-face with the Three Stooges. No shaking the hands that launched a thousand pies. No such luck. But, as Ingersoll realized sometime later, “I was lucky after all. Lucky that I was in that last row. It saved me the embarrassment of going up on stage and presenting a losing ticket.”

Luck is on your side with A Tour De Farce, eight pounds you’ll carry from room to room reviewing a special time in our collective history when we thought pie fights were covered by the First Amendment. Trust me, you’ll find room for it. (“Hey, do we really need all these albums of family photos?”)

Gary Lassin author of A Tour De Farce

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