Biography of Emil Sitka, the fourth Stooge – “Hold hands, you lovebirds” (December 22, 1914 – January 16, 1998)
Emil Sitka, the veteran actor who appeared in hundreds of movies, short films, and television shows, is best know for his numerous appearances with the Three Stooges– nearly 40. He is the only individual to have worked with all of the Stooges on film, in the various incarnations of the group. And the one phrase he is remembered by comes from the Three Stooges short, “Brideless Groom“. He appears as the Justice of the Peace attempting to marry Shemp — “Hold hands, you lovebirds.”
Emil Sitka early years
Emil Sitka, whose numerous appearances with the Three Stooges earned him the nickname “the Fourth Stooge,” was born in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, USA on December 22, 1914. He was the oldest of five children. His father, a coal miner, died of black lung disease when he was 12 years old. His mother was hospitalized, unable to take care of the children. So, his siblings were placed in foster homes. But Emil came to live in a church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with a Catholic priest for the next few years. At this time, he became an altar boy and made plans to enter the priesthood.
He had his first acting opportunity in the church’s annual Passion Play. At the age of 16, he and one of his brothers travelled across the U.S.A., riding the rails hobo-style, looking for work. After a year, they returned to Pittsburgh, where Emil found a job working in a factory. Emil stayed there until the Great Flood of 1936. He departed to pursue an acting dream in Hollywood, California.
Emil Sitka – early acting experience
Emil Sitka found inexpensive lodging in a small acting theater, doing handywork to pay his rent. And gradually acting in small parts in the theater. With time and experience, the parts became larger, and eventually Emil was directing plays as well. Since the theater didn’t pay, Emil always kept a “day job” to pay the bills as well as his acting career at night. It was during this time that he met and married Donna Driscoll, and they began raising a family. By 1946, he had played dozens, if not hundreds of roles. This breadth of experience would help him in his later film career, playing everything from butler to lawyer to businessman to construction worker.
Emil Sitka in films
In 1946, Emil Sitka was leading his own acting troupe when he was spotted by a talent scout for Columbia Pictures. He was told to contact Jules White, director of many of the Three Stooges short films. To be cast in a short film that White was directing. Starring Vera Vague, not the Three Stooges. The short film, “Hiss and Yell,” was nominated for an Academy Award. Several months and many films later, he was cast in his first Three Stooges film – Half-Wits Holiday. At the time, he didn’t even know who the Three Stooges were; that was about to change.
Emil Sitka’s first Three Stooges film — and Curly Howard‘s last
Half-Wits Holiday dealt with the idea of two professors betting on the outcome of turning the Three Stooges into gentlemen …. With predictable results. Emil Sitka played Sappington, the upper-crust butler, who was an excellent foil for the Three Stooges. And the target of several pies as well. Sadly, Curly Howard suffered a stroke during filming. This is why he’s not seen in the second half of this short film. Despite this bittersweet beginning, Emil Sitka went on to appear in dozens of Three Stooges short films. As well as most of their feature films and their live-action segments before and after their cartoons.
He worked in both short films and feature films with others as well. These include Lucille Ball, Milton Berle, Red Skelton, Tony Curtis, George Peppard, Johnny Weismuller, Betty Grable, Robert Young, Eddy Arnold, Fred MacMurray, Mickey Rooney, Ray Milland, Tyrone Power, Broderick Crawford, Janet Leigh, Jack Lemmon, Gale Storm, Glenn Ford, the Bowery Boys, Brian Keith, Robert Culp, David Jansen, Alan Hale, Walter Brennan, Dan Blocker, Joey Bishop, Bob Denver, and many others. But he is best remembered for his association with the Three Stooges, and with one line in particular.
Emil Sitka – “Hold hands, you lovebirds”
In the Three Stooges short, Brideless Groom, Shemp must be married before 6:00 p.m. in order to inherit $500,000.00. After striking out, Shemp finally finds a girl willing to marry him. They rush off to a justice of the peace – played by Emil Sitka. As Emil starts the ceremony, telling the couple to “hold hands, you lovebirds” … The other girls that turned down Shemp’s proposal burst in, having heard of the inheritance and a free-for-all ensues. With poor Emil being struck again and again, attempting to start the ceremony. Each time he’s more disheveled and his “hold hands, you lovebirds” a little weaker. It’s a hilarious scene, and the one that Emil, despite his volume of work, has become best known for.
Emil Sitka – personal life
Sadly, Emil and Donna were divorced, and Emil became a single father, raising his household of children. Due to the uncertainty of his acting income, his kept working his “day job” until the last child was grown and moved out. After this time, Emil re-married a former girlfriend, and became a full-time actor. He continued his association with the Three Stooges. In the early 1970’s was offered the chance to finally join the trio officially.
Emil Sitka – the middle stooge
Sadly, Larry Fine had suffered a stroke during the filming of “Kook’s Tour”. Moe Howard asked Emil if he could create a character to become the new “middle stooge” to replace the ailing Larry. Emil was delighted, but the planned feature film never came to be. The Three Stooges ended for all practical purposes with the death of Moe Howard in 1975.
Emil Sitka – later years
Emil Sitka continued with the acting career, more out of love for acting than the need for money, appearing in films as late as 1992. He was in demand at various Three Stooges conventions, and had numerous requests from Three Stooges fans to appear and their wedding to say — what else — “Hold hands, you lovebirds.” Emil Sitka passed away on January 16, 1998, in Camarillo, California, USA, from complications from a stroke. He is survived by 4 daughters and 2 sons. One of his sons, Saxon, has created the official Emil Sitka website in his honor – www.emilsitka.com. On his tombstone is engraved “Hold hands, you lovebirds.”