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
Despite 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 Stooges, The Three Stooges Meet Hercules, The Three Stooges Go Around the World in a Daze, The 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.