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Curly Joe DeRita biography

Biography of Curly Joe DeRita (July 12, 1909 – July 3, 1993) – the final third stooge of the Three Stooges

Curly Joe DeRita’s early years

Curly Joe DeRita, born as Joseph Wardell, was the last of the Three Stooges. Curly Joe was born in Philadelphia on July 12, 1909 in a stage family, with his mother Florenze a dancer and his father Frank a stage technician.  He first performed on stage at the age of 7, with his mother and sister in a dancing act, “The DeRita Sisters and Junior”.  By 1921, Joe struck out on his own as a comedian on the vaudeville circuit.

Curly Joe – entertaining the troops in the USO

During World War II, Joe joined the USO, and entertained Allied troops in France and England, sharing the stage with such stars as Bing Crosby and Randolph Scott.   After the war ended, Joe returned to entertaining in America in burlesque (although avoiding risque material).  He also appeared on radio and television, with movie appearances as well.  Including making short films for Columbia Pictures, the same studio that produced the Three Stooges movie shorts.  Curly Joe was seen by Larry Fine while performing in Minsky’s Follies of 1958.  At the time, the Three Stooges were looking for a new “third Stooge” to replace the departing Joe Besser.  And Joe DeRita was offered the position.  Just as Columbia put an end to the making of short movies, the Three Stooges’ bread and butter.

Joe becomes Curly Joe

Larry, Curly Joe DeRita, and Moe in a scene from The Three Stooges Meet HerculesDespite the seeming bad timing, Joe DeRita joined the Three Stooges as “Curly Joe” – due to his resemblance to Curly Howard.  The Stooges kept busy with nightclubs, personal appearances, and television appearances.  Until Columbia’s releasing of their old movie shorts to a television audience opened the door to full-length Three Stooges movies.  The first, Have Rocket, Will Travel, was followed by Snow White and the Three StoogesThe Three Stooges Meet HerculesThe Three Stooges Go Around the World in a DazeThe Three Stooges in Orbit. , The Outlaws is Coming, as well as in cameos in 4 for Texas and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

In addition, he co-starred with Moe Howard and Larry Fine on their own cartoon show, with each episode starting and ending with a live action sequence. The character of Curly Joe was an interesting mixture.  Although heavy, his dancing background made him acrobatic, and he was very good natured and gentle, making him sympathetic to the audience. At this stage, the Stooges were visibly aging, and the slapstick became more subdued, although ever present.  And Curly Joe’s character fit into the trio like a glove.

Curly Joe – later career

Joe DeRita married Jean Sullivan in 1966, and continued to play Curly Joe until Larry Fine’s stroke forced the ending of the trio.   With Moe’s blessing, Curly Joe formed an act called The New Three Stooges with Mousie Garner and Frank Mitchell.  But the act only made a few appearances before disbanding.  Curly Joe DeRita, the last of the Three Stooges, died of pneumonia on July 3, 1993, at the Motion Picture Hospital in Los Angeles.

One thought on “Curly Joe DeRita biography

  1. Danny Troxel says:

    I was 8 years old when I saw “Have Rocket Will Travel”. This was Joe DeRitas’ first feature with the Stooges. The old films with the original Curly had been released recently on television,and I remember being bewildered at the time. The new guy looked like Curly,and had a lot of his mannerisms,but it was definitely not yhe same person. I do remember laughing my tiny little head off at this film. I particularly remember how hilarious the “spring on the butt” routine was,and the segment where the Stooges were being pursued by the giant flame breathing spider. Eventually,I learned that the real Curly had died some years prior,and because of the immense popularity of the Stooges on TV, the Stooges had regrouped and Joe DeRita became the third Stooge. Later,the shorts of Shemp Howard and Joe Besser were released and things really got confusing! Like the title of one of the Besser shorts, this situation was a “Merry Mix-Up”! Anyway,thanks for the great review,and long live the Three Stooges! (all of them!) Danny Troxel

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