Curly Joe DeRita is an infamous figure amongst fans of the Three Stooges. The comedic performer came from a burlesque background and was the very last person to join the beloved troupe before its disbandment. Today, Curly Joe considers being the least beloved of the six men that acted as members of the Three Stooges over the course of the troupe’s lifespan. Perhaps because of this, Curly Joe didn’t speak very highly of the troupe in the years leading up to his death. Join Facts Verse as we explore why Curly Joe DeRita bad-mouthed the Stooges until he died.
Curly Joe DeRita was the Worst Stooge Ever
The Three Stooges was an incredibly popular comedy troupe that was around for nearly half of a century in one form or another, with the first iteration of the troupe appearing in the early 1920s and the last iteration of the troupe not disbanding until 1970. All iterations of the Three Stooges shared two members in common, those two members being Moe Howard and Larry Fine. Initially, Shemp Howard, who was Moe’s brother, joined Moe and Larry in their comedic exploits. There are six members of the Three Stooges over the course of the troupe’s lifespan, and the remaining three members are all performers that bring in to replace Shemp Howard as the third Stooge. Of these three performers, Joe DeRita is the one that Three Stooges fans generally agree was the worst Stooge ever.
Joe DeRita was Shemp’s Last Replacement
The first person that brings on to replace Shemp Howard is his and Moe’s other brother, Curly. Curly Howard became a beloved part of the troupe and many fans consider the Stooges’ work with Curly to be even more iconic than their work during their earliest days. Shemp comes back to replace Curly later into the troupe’s lifespan, and then the remaining two members of the troupe bring in afterward to replace him. However, the last two replacements that bring in are much less beloved.
Following the Three Stooges’ second loss of Shemp, the third Stooge became Joe Besser. Today, many fans consider Joe Besser to be the worst member that ever performed with the Three Stooges. However, that’s only because Curly Joe DeRita was such a forgettable late addition to the troupe that there are many fans who either continue to forget that he even exists or who simply don’t consider him to be a real member of the group! Curly Joe came into the Three Stooges just after the troupe had ceased production of their classic shorts. Because of this, he only appears in the group’s widely maligned theatrical films, as well as in the live-action intros for the cartoon show.
Joe DeRita Started Out as a Burlesque Comedian
Curly Joe DeRita was born on July 12, 1909, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At the time of his birth, Joe went by his father’s last name of “Wardell”. His mother’s maiden name was DeRita, and she was a professional dancer. When it came time for Joe to start performing on his own as an adult, he took his mother’s last name to stand out. Joe’s mother wasn’t the only one of his parents who are a part of the entertainment industry. His father was a stagehand, and being at the theater during the early years of his life led Joe to start performing at a young age. As an adult, Joe made the decision to transition over into burlesque comedy.
Joe Joins the USO During World War II
Joe DeRita made his entry into the burlesque circuit as a comedian in the 1920s, and World War II was just around the corner. The fledgling comedian feared that the war might put an end to his aspirations. However, it actually opened up some new opportunities for the aspiring star! Joe ended up joining the USO, which allowed him to tour the globe and perform alongside such notable luminaries as Bing Crosby.
Joe’s Time with Columbia Pictures
Following Joe DeRita’s return to America, the burlesque comedian continued honing his act while dreaming of bigger things. In the 1940s, Joe slowly started transitioning into filmed entertainment. In 1944, he had an uncredited role in the comedic film the name of The Doughgirls. A few years later, he snatches up Columbia Pictures to film a series of comedic shorts. Joe filmed several shorts with the studio during the latter half of the 1940s, with him even receiving headlining billing on a few of them. Joe would not speak fondly of these comedic shorts during his later life. Of course, somewhere else on the Columbia Studios lot, the Three Stooges were filming their own comedic shorts.
Did the Three Stooges Approach Joe Before?
Rumor is that the Three Stooges approached Joe to become the fourth Stooge during his days filming short subjects for Columbia Pictures and that the burlesque comedian turns them down because he isn’t interested in changing his style to fit with theirs. Before his death, Joe DeRita denied these rumors, but it stands to reason that the Three Stooges would’ve been well aware of his existence!
It wouldn’t be until 1959 that Curly Joe DeRita would finally make his debut as the new third member of the Three Stooges, and that debut would come in the film Have Rocket, Will Travel. If you’re enjoying this video so far, be sure to hit the like button to show your support! Also, subscribe to the channel if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!
Joe DeRita Never Wanted to Change
Joe DeRita allegedly despised the short subjects that he had filmed for Columbia Pictures. They featured slapstick-oriented comedy, while Joe preferred his own brand of burlesque humor. According to Joe, anyone can perform in those Columbia Pictures shorts and get a laugh just as well as him due to the basic nature of the material. Once Joe’s contract with Columbia Pictures came to an end, the burlesque comedian was free to start doing what he loved once more. Sadly, burlesque comedy would fall out of fashion over the course of the 1950s and the end of the decade would find Joe changing his image completely in order to fit in with that of the Three Stooges.
The Three Stooges’ Classic Line-Up Falls Apart
According to many, the most classic lineup of the Three Stooges consisted of Moe, Larry, and Curly. However, as established, the original lineup was Moe, Larry, and Shemp. Shemp left the Three Stooges during it’s early years because he wanted to pursue a solo career. That’s when Curly was brought on, solidifying the troupe’s most iconic lineup. Curly became the third Stooge in the early 1930s, and continued performing in the role until 1946. That year, the comedic performer suffered a debilitating stroke.
Curly Howard would go on to pass away in 1952, making him the first of the six Three Stooges to do so. From 1946 until his own death in 1955, Shemp Howard acted as the third Stooge once again, reuniting the troupe’s original lineup. Following Shemp’s death of a heart attack in 1955, a man by the name of Joe Besser replaced him, with Joe being another comedic performer that had a history of filming short subjects with Columbia Pictures. As we’ve already mentioned, this new third Stooge was not a hit with fans.
The New Third Stooge
Joe Besser became the new third Stooge in 1956, and the Three Stooges continued filming comedic shorts for Columbia Pictures until the following year. While this meant that the troupe was out of a steady gig on the screen, they still had their stage performances to get by on. However, in 1958, Joe quit the troupe in order to take care of his sick wife. Once Joe quit, Moe and Larry seriously kicked around the idea of calling it quits on the Three Stooges. However, a chance encounter would remind Larry of the existence of Joe DeRita. Burlesque comedy was no longer as lucrative as it had been previously, and Joe was looking for new work. Finally, the stars aligned for Joe to become the third Stooge.
The Three Stooges Become a Hit with the Kids
Although the Three Stooges were no longer successful enough with adult audiences to warrant Columbia Pictures creating new short subject features starring the troupe, the studio began airing the group’s classic shorts on television in 1958. As a result of this television exposure starting in the late 1950s, the Three Stooges found that they’d become incredibly popular amongst children. With Joe DeRita as their new third Stooge, the troupe got the idea to make feature-length theatrical films aimed predominantly at kids.
The first of the Three Stooges’ theatrical films aimed at kids was the aforementioned Have Rocket, Will Travel, which was released in 1959. The infamous Snow White and the Three Stooges, which was released in 1961, followed up that feature. In order to fit in with the Three Stooges, Joe DeRita shaved his head and became Curly Joe DeRita. The group hoped that the kids they were aiming their new work at wouldn’t be discerning enough to realize that Curly Joe DeRita wasn’t Curly Howard. Given that they were aimed at kids, these later works greatly toned down the slapstick violence featured in the classic Three Stooges shorts.
Curly Joe Becomes the Last Remaining Stooge
The Three Stooges continued performing on stage with Joe DeRita until 1970, when Larry Fine suffered a stroke. He would go on to pass away in 1975. Joe DeRita and Moe Howard kicked around the idea of replacing Larry Fine, but nothing ever came of it. Moe ended up passing away only a few months after Larry. When the Three Stooges got their star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1983, Curly Joe was sick so Joe Besser was the only surviving member of the troupe that could make it. However, Joe Besser would end up passing away before Curly Joe. Joe Besser died in 1988, while Curly Joe lived until 1993. Because of this, Curly Joe will always be remembered as the last of the Stooges to die.
Even if Curly Joe DeRita was considered the most unloved of the six Three Stooges, he’s notable for being the last member of the troupe to die. Now it’s time to hear from you: did you know that the final member to join the Three Stooges is also considered by fans to have been the least talented, and that three of the six members were brothers? As always, like this video to show your support, and subscribe and hit the notification bell if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!