The Three Stooges are comedy gods: Enduring confessions from baby boomer Scott Reboul
Savannah River Site radiochemist Scott Reboul met, corresponded, and traded laughs with four of the individuals comprising the Three Stooges as a bound and determined high schooler in the 1970s. He examines their nearly 90-year legacy of well-honed tomfoolery in the last installment of an interview exclusive to this “Jeremy’s Three Stooges Menagerie” column. Reboul comes to grips with whether parents feel apprehensive about the Stooges’ violent antics, Curly Joe DeRita, the walking contradiction who claimed he did not find the boys funny, unsuccessfully booked personal appearances with an all-new lineup, and spoke with an unmistakable sense of ownership of the team, the Farrelly Brothers’ big screen homage, Paul Howard’s expansive documentary Hey Moe! Hey Dad!, and the subtleness and believability of another vintage comedy act he cherishes, Laurel and Hardy.
The Scott Reboul Interview, Part Three [Conclusion]
What about the time Curly Joe DeRita tried to regroup the Stooges as Moe Howard and Larry Fine’s health began declining? While there were some personal appearances, I wonder if resentment built up when that act failed to catch on.
I’ll have to do some digging in my files to recall all the details of the New Three Stooges act, which featured DeRita, Frank Mitchell, and Mousie Garner. But here’s how Brent Seguine summarized it on the ThreeStooges.Net website several years ago:
“With Moe’s permission, they played a few nightclub dates in 1974, but soon disbanded. Reviews were mixed, although Mousie said audiences loved them. Regardless, Joe’s health was not up to the rigors of touring, and the act disbanded primarily because of that. There are several publicity pics of this team-up, not rare to find.”
I wasn’t able to find much more information regarding the New Three Stooges nightclub appearances of 1974. The little bit I did find included: [a] the initial appearances were in the Boston area, [b] the show was an extension of Mousie’s nightclub act with him on the piano and a lot of quick jokes mixed with amusing musical numbers somewhat akin to his contributions on The Spike Jones Show, and [c] DeRita quickly realized he was no longer up to the strain of live performing between his various age-related physical limitations and failing eyesight.
Although Larry was still alive when the New Three Stooges made their appearances, it isn’t clear whether or not he was aware of the act, as his health had been declining over the latter half of 1974, and he was “in and out of it” during that period.
Curly Joe was a walking contradiction once the Stooges stopped performing, claiming he was unable to find humor in the Stooges brand of comedy.
That’s something DeRita stated over and over again in various interviews and even told me point blank during my second visit. But he didn’t hesitate to tell me that he enjoyed working with Moe and Larry, and he liked the stability of the Stooges from the standpoint of it being a paying gig. And he clearly liked cracking jokes and getting laughs.
From all accounts, DeRita was a fun guy to work with. Larry’s brother-in-law Nate Budnick said that he always liked being with DeRita, and that DeRita was a cut-up while not on camera, cracking jokes and seemingly having fun.
So the negative comments from DeRita are a bit confusing. It might be that DeRita just felt being a Stooge at the end of his career was a bit beneath him and not exactly what he had hoped for. It might also be that his comments were colored a bit by age and declining health, putting a more negative spin on the act than is completely accurate. Clearly, the Stooges level of comedy during the bulk of the DeRita era was dimmer than at their prime.
I do wonder if there’s any chance that DeRita’s frequent statement about not finding the Stooges comedy funny was done solely for the purpose of eliciting a certain response from the listener as opposed to providing his literal assessment of the team. There’s no doubt that DeRita was a bit of a joker and could enjoy “pulling one’s leg.”
Given the right material, DeRita was not a bad actor. Just before he joined the Stooges, his brief, serious role alongside Gregory Peck in the revenge-laden The Bravados  was a nice departure from his normal vaudeville style of histrionics. He played the hangman very effectively.
DeRita’s performance in the Stooges “stand-in” sketch from The Steve Allen Show in 1959 is definitely one of his funniest. There is a lot of similarity between the sketch and the Bugs Bunny-Daffy Duck Looney Tunes cartoon A Star Is Bored . Then battling the flu, it doesn’t seem that Moe let illness get in the way of any of his performances.
On page 139 of Stooges Among Us, you reveal that three years after the deaths of Moe and Larry that Curly Joe “spoke with an unmistakable sense of ownership of the team.” Why do you feel this way?
DeRita’s sense of ownership of the team seemed to stem from the fact that it kept him employed over a several year period, his involvement with the Stooges was the primary thing he was remembered for at the end of his career, and he was pretty much the last Stooge standing following Larry and Moe’s deaths. So DeRita felt like he was the spokesman for them.
Besser was still around at that time, but from most perspectives was less of a fixture than DeRita due to Besser’s very short time as a Stooge.
Two specific things suggesting DeRita’s ownership to me were: [a] his comments such as, “You know, I performed with Moe and Larry for 10 years” and “I did movies, television appearances, and live stage shows with Moe and Larry” — these comments surely made it sound like he was proud of his time as a Stooge, and [b] after his time with the Stooges, he typically signed autographs in the pen name of his Stooge role “Curly Joe,” instead of his stage name “Joe DeRita.”
Having never interviewed a radiochemist before, what were some of your day to day chores at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina?
A radiochemist is a chemist of radioactive elements. During the Cold War, the Savannah River Site [SRS]’s primary mission was to produce special nuclear materials. In doing so, 36 million gallons of radioactive liquid waste were created.
Since the end of the Cold War, the site’s primary mission has shifted to safety stabilizing the existing waste and then dispositioning it. Over the past several years I have performed Research and Development [R&D] supporting characterization, stabilization, and disposition of the SRS radioactive liquid waste.
Day to day activities included planning and conducting laboratory experiments, evaluating the results of the experiments, and developing technical documents reporting the experimental objectives, methods, results, conclusions, and recommendations.
Given that the experiments were typically performed on highly radioactive samples, a large portion of the work was performed remotely in a Shielded Cells facility, using robotic manipulators to handle the samples located behind a three-foot depth of leaded shielding glass.
In total, I worked at the SRS for 24 years, with my initial assignments focusing on development of high sensitivity radioanalytical methods and on nuclear environmental engineering solutions ensuring long term SRS environmental safety. I retired from the SRS in July of 2018.
If you’re interested, you can access many of my recent R&D reports online on the OSTI information bridge. Once you’re on the bridge, just search Reboul and you’ll find many of my documents. You might also find one or two of my dad T. Todd Reboul’s old publications from the early 1960s. He was a research physicist for DuPont and RCA in their glory days.
Did any of your colleagues at the Savannah River Site share your enthusiasm for the Three Stooges?
I didn’t generally advertise my love of the Stooges in the workplace. However, after working at the site for 24 years the word got out, and several of my peers showed genuine interest in hearing about the experiences.
I never brought up the Stooges amongst my bosses, but if they heard about it and asked about it, I would share my stories with them. One boss in particular, a very sharp woman with a great sense of humor, took great joy in hearing about my Stooges experiences and sharing the word with others.
The only clue about my Stooge interest that was available to my colleagues at work was the wallpaper on my computer screen, which just happened to be the picture of Moe and me taken outside the Harwan Theatre.
Occasionally, when I was having computer issues, the IT people at work would access my computer to resolve the problem, and a couple of times, they recognized the older individual on my wallpaper and would ask, “Is that Moe?” Obviously, those particular IT folks are very discerning individuals.
Some of my colleagues were big Stooges fans and got very excited when they learned about my 1970s Stooges adventures. In fact, just yesterday I ran into a site colleague from 20 years ago. When I told him I was now retired, he asked if I was participating in any Stooge-related activities in my spare time.
I told him yes, mentioned my upcoming article in the winter edition of The Three Stooges Journal as well as this interview. My old colleague enthusiastically reacted with the words, “The Stooges are gods!”
Do parents in the 21st century have an issue with their kids watching the Stooges?
It has always struck me that some portion of parents in the 1960s forbade their kids from watching the Stooges shorts on television, worrying that seeing the Stooges antics would somehow turn their child into a bad egg.
Nowadays with all the gore, violence, sex, nudity, and profanity that’s become significant in mainstay television, I’m just wondering if any current parents have the same attitude about potential “harmfulness” of kids viewing Stooges comedies.
The same thing strikes me about recent political correctness being such an important subject these days, while there surely doesn’t seem to be any organized movement against the majority of the clear junk that’s routinely broadcast. I do wonder if the change in parental attitudes and political correctness would have any bearing on how parents now perceive “acceptability” of the Stooges antics.
Did The Three Stooges, the Farrelly Brothers’ 2012 film, properly honor the legacy of their source material?
I think in this day and age, the Farrelly’s did a reasonable job of resurrecting the Stooges and honoring their legacy. I certainly give them an A for effort.
Was everything about their film faithful to the original source material? No. Was the writing and execution on par with the original? No. Is there any possible way a different group of writers, actors, cinematographers, props personnel, sound personnel, and other technical individuals could recreate and capture the specifics of the original Three Stooges shorts? No.
Nonetheless, there’s no doubt that the Farrelly Brothers had high admiration for the Stooges and wanted to pay tribute to them in the best possible way. And I guess they wanted to make a little money from their film, too.
Were you involved in any aspect of Paul Howard’s expansive 2015 Stooges documentary Hey Moe! Hey Dad!?
Paul is a wonderful guy, and I have nothing but admiration for him. He is talented, intelligent, thoughtful, and articulate. Paul makes himself completely available to Stooges fans, telling his personal stories answering any question.
I really like Hey Moe! Hey Dad! because it captures Paul’s enthusiasm for telling the story and for providing his unique perspective of having had Moe as a father. I like that the documentary is told methodically and not rushed, with first person narration by Paul. Paul is very passionate about this subject and that shines through.
I believe the primary author of the script for Hey Moe! Hey Dad! was someone other than Paul, so some of the historical “facts” presented in the documentary may not be entirely accurate. I’m not up on all the historical details, so I’m not a very good judge of these things. Stooge experts have identified a couple of inaccuracies. Nonetheless, I found the documentary very entertaining and informative, holding my attention from start to finish.
I was not involved in this production in any way. I thought I might be, as Steve Cox had provided my name to the producer as a potential source of original photos and/or motion picture coverage. But I never heard from the producer, so they obviously already had everything they wanted.
A Hollywood Reporter review about the 2018 biographical film Stan & Ollie finds Todd McCarthy writing, “Even though Laurel and Hardy [a big screen comedy duo from the late 1920s through the mid-‘40s preceding Abbott & Costello and Martin & Lewis] remained household names for years after their heyday due to TV reruns of their many comedy hits, they are no doubt little-known to millennials.” In the past decade we’ve seen the Farrelly Brothers unleash a big screen Stooges treatment, Paul Howard narrate a mammoth documentary, Larry profiled in book form, Stooges Among Us, and you and I are conducting this interview. Obviously the Stooges are not forgotten and have widespread appeal nearly 50 years since their final TV appearances. Why do you think that is?
Laurel and Hardy and the Three Stooges are my two favorite classic comedy teams. Their styles and pacing are very different from one another, but both teams can make me laugh harder than anyone else.
I was introduced to both of these teams at a very young age, and as such, their comedies have no doubt become ingrained in me over time and have influenced my perspectives on humor found in life.
I recognize that critics tend to place Laurel and Hardy on a higher aesthetic level than the Three Stooges, but for me, both teams are hysterically funny, despite the differences in their approaches to comedy.
I agree that Laurel and Hardy are subtler and more believable, and I understand that the highly energetic and physical interactions of the Stooges do not necessarily appeal to everyone, but to me, both teams are extremely charismatic and entertaining.
Having said that, I think there are a couple of primary differences that set the Stooges apart from Laurel and Hardy, such that people today are more familiar with the Stooges, and that fans are typically more likely to watch the Stooges comedies repeatedly than those of Laurel and Hardy.
Part of it probably stems from the high visibility and high frequency of Stooges television viewings during the 1960s and 1970s, which tended to condition baby boomers to get into the habit of watching the Stooges shorts daily.
In contrast, 1960s television showings of the Laurel and Hardy comedies were typically reserved for weekends — once per week — and by the late 1960s were no longer provided on a regular basis. For this reason alone, it seems that a much smaller portion of baby boomers were likely to have been in the habit of watching Laurel and Hardy routinely.
This “loyalty” that baby boomer fans have for the Stooges translates to an uncontrollable urge for introducing the Stooges comedies to new generations of children and grandchildren — the new kids coming up through the ranks. My guess is that for every 10 baby boomers sharing the Stooges comedies with their kids and grandkids, there may be only one baby boomer sharing the Laurel and Hardy comedies.
The fast pace of the Stooges comedies is certainly much more compelling to young viewers, many of whom have become accustomed to seeing fast action split second scenes changing at a frenetic rate.
In contrast, a lot of young viewers may not have the patience to stick with Laurel and Hardy. Of course, there are exceptions, but many current viewers have a very limited attention span in this ever-quickening digital computer/cell phone age.
The fact that the Stooges endured over a four decade period, with Moe and Larry still making appearances into the first half of the 1970s, does make them seem more like a part of our life, at least to older fans who witnessed their contributions first-hand.
I believe it is these “first-hand” fans who drive the market for the majority of new Stooges reincarnation acts, documentaries, books, conventions, and other Stooge-related activities. In comparison, the number of surviving fans who witnessed Laurel and Hardy first-hand is becoming diminishingly low and is reflected in their loss of visibility.
I do wonder if over time, as the baby boomer Stooge fans reach old age and depart, the popularity of the Stooges comedies will dim significantly. Arguably, the Stooges comedies are timeless and will remain funny forever — comic timing and well-conceived antics do endure.
However, without the proper visibility, does a mechanism exist to assure the comedies reach fans? Particularly in this advanced technical age, when hundreds of cable channels and hundreds of thousands of entertainment options exist, is it possible that the Stooges comedies will eventually get lost in the shuffle? I hope not, but who knows?
The only thing certain is that I have been lucky enough to have laughed at the Stooges comedies for most of the years of my life, and to have met and corresponded with four of the individuals comprising the Three Stooges comedy team. For these things, I will always be grateful.
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