Joe DeRita

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Joe DeRita
Curly Joe DeRita in 1962
Joseph Wardell

(1909-07-12)July 12, 1909
DiedJuly 3, 1993(1993-07-03) (aged 83)
Resting placeValhalla Memorial Park Cemetery
  • Actor
  • comedian
Years active1920–1975
Bonnie Brooks
(m. 1935; died 1965)
Jean Sullivan
(m. 1967)

Joseph Wardell (July 12, 1909 – July 3, 1993), known professionally as Joe DeRita, was an American actor and comedian, who is best known for his stint as a member of The Three Stooges in the persona of Curly Joe DeRita.

Early life[edit]

DeRita was born into a show-business family in Philadelphia, the son of Florenz (née DeRita) and Frank Wardell, and of French-Canadian and English ancestry.[1] He was the youngest of 5 brothers. Wardell's father was a stage technician, his mother a professional stage dancer, and the three often acted on stage together from his early childhood. Taking his mother's maiden name, DeRita, the actor joined the burlesque circuit during the 1920s, gaining fame as a comedian. During World War II, DeRita joined the USO, performing throughout Britain, France, and the Pacific with such celebrities as Bing Crosby and Randolph Scott. In the 1944 comedy film The Doughgirls, about the housing shortage in wartime Washington, D.C., he had an uncredited role as "the Stranger", a bewildered man who repeatedly showed up in scenes looking for a place to sleep.[citation needed]


Joe DeRita short subjects[edit]

Curly Joe DeRita in 1959
Joe DeRita and Randolph Scott (center) on Guadalcanal ca. 1942–43

In 1946, DeRita was hired by Columbia Pictures Short Subjects Division head/director Jules White to star in his own series of comedies. The first effort, Slappily Married, was released under the studio's All-Star Comedy series. The three remaining entries—The Good Bad Egg, Wedlock Deadlock (both 1947) and Jitter Bughouse (1948)—billed DeRita as the headliner. Regarding his Columbia shorts series, DeRita said, "My comedy in those scripts was limited to getting hit on the head with something, then going over to my screen wife to say, 'Honey, don't leave me!' For this kind of comedy material, you could have gotten a busboy to do it and it would have been just as funny."[1] After his contract with Columbia ended, DeRita returned to burlesque and recorded a risque LP in 1950 called Burlesque Uncensored.[citation needed]

Larry, Moe and Curly Joe[edit]

When Shemp Howard died of a heart attack on November 22, 1955, the Three Stooges were still making short comedies for Columbia Pictures. Shemp was succeeded by Joe Besser in 1956; both Shemp Howard and Joe Besser had starred in their own separate short subjects. Columbia eventually shut down the short-subjects department at the end of 1957, and Besser quit the act in 1958 to take care of his ailing wife. The two remaining Stooges seriously considered retirement. But Larry saw DeRita in a Las Vegas stage engagement and told Moe that DeRita would be "perfect for the third Stooge." Howard and Fine invited DeRita to join the act, and he readily accepted. At first, they had difficulty drawing an audience. But Columbia began releasing their shorts to television through their Screen Gems subsidiary, and their popularity with children put them back on top.[citation needed]

Larry, Moe and Curly Joe (1962)

It was rumored that Jules White had attempted to recruit DeRita for the Three Stooges in 1955 because he wanted "another Curly", but that strong-willed DeRita had refused to change his act or imitate another performer, and White eventually gave up on him.[2][page needed] DeRita himself debunked the rumor, saying that it "added a romance to the story".[1] When he first joined the act, shortly after appearing in a dramatic role in the Gregory Peck Western, The Bravados, DeRita wore his hair in a style similar to that of former Stooge Shemp Howard and did so during initial live stage performances. However, with the restored popularity of the Three Stooges shorts on TV featuring Curly Howard, it was suggested that Joe shave his head in order to look more like Curly. At first, DeRita sported a crew cut; this eventually became a fully shaven head. Because of his physical resemblance to both Curly and Joe Besser, and to avoid confusion with his predecessors, DeRita was renamed "Curly Joe".[citation needed]

Theatrical feature films[edit]

The team embarked on a new series of six feature-length theatrical Three Stooges films, including Have Rocket, Will Travel (1959), DeRita's on-screen debut with the Stooges, and Snow White and the Three Stooges (1961). These recycled routines and songs from the older films. Moe and Larry's advanced age, as well as pressure from the PTA and other children's advocates, resulted in milder forms of their trademark slapstick. While DeRita's physical appearance was vaguely reminiscent of Curly, his characterization was different.[citation needed]

Gradual decline[edit]

DeRita remained a member of the team through the 1960s, participating in a full workload of television appearances and commercials, a multiyear movie contract, and The New Three Stooges animated cartoons series, which included live-action introductions. In January 1970 Larry Fine had a stroke during the production of Kook's Tour, a pilot for a planned TV series, which put all new Stooges-related material on hold. Emil Sitka was twice named as "the middle stooge", but never got to perform with the team. Shortly after Larry's stroke, Moe, Emil, and Joe were going to appear in a movie written by Moe's grandson, but financing fell through. Before Moe's death on May 4, 1975, the Stooges, with Sitka, had planned to film a movie called The Jet Set. This was later produced with the surviving members of the Ritz Brothers and released as Blazing Stewardesses.[citation needed]

In the early 1970s, with Moe's approval, DeRita attempted to form a "new" Three Stooges. He recruited burlesque and vaudeville veterans Mousie Garner and Frank Mitchell to replace Moe and Larry for nightclub engagements. Their act was poorly received, thereby ending the group.[citation needed]

On August 30, 1983, the Three Stooges received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Joe Besser was the only Stooge to show up at the ceremony because of DeRita's illness; Stooges longtime supporting player Emil Sitka spoke for him. Besser later fell ill and died from heart failure on March 1, 1988, at age 80.[citation needed]

Personal life[edit]

DeRita was married twice. His first marriage was to a chorus girl named Bonnie Brooks, born Esther M. Hartenstine. They were married from July 13, 1935, until her death on September 6, 1965; they had no children.[3][1] DeRita married his second wife, Jean Sullivan, the following year on December 28.[4]

DeRita was the only member of the Stooges who was not Jewish.[citation needed]


DeRita died of pneumonia on July 3, 1993. He was residing at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California, at the time of his death. He was the last surviving member of the Stooges.[4] DeRita is interred in a grave at the Pierce Brothers Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery in North Hollywood, California. His tombstone reads "The Last Stooge".[citation needed]


Curly Joe DeRita with Moe Howard and Larry Fine in 1959

Although DeRita enjoyed working with Moe and Larry and made a living doing it, he was not a fan of the Stooges' humor. He once told an interviewer the following:

I don't think the Stooges were funny. I'm not putting you on, I'm telling the truth—they were physical, but they just didn't have any humor about them. Take, for instance, Laurel and Hardy. I can watch their films and I still laugh at them and maybe I've seen them four or five times before. But when I see that pie or seltzer bottle, I know that it's not just lying around for no reason. It's going to be used for something. I was with the Stooges for 12 years and it was a very pleasant association but I just don't think they were funny.[5]

On April 24, 2000, ABC aired a television movie about the Stooges, with actor Peter Callan playing DeRita.[6]


Year Title Role Notes
1943 Thank Your Lucky Stars Meek Man Uncredited
1944 The Doughgirls The Stranger Uncredited
1945 The Sailor Takes a Wife Waiter Uncredited
1946 People Are Funny Mr. Hinkley Uncredited
The French Key Detective Fox
High School Hero Tiny
Slappily Married Joe Bates Short film, Joe DeRita series
1947 The Good Bad Egg Mr. Priggle Short film, Joe DeRita series
Wedlock Deadlock Eddie Short film, Joe DeRita series
1948 Jitter Bughouse Joe Short film, Joe DeRita series
Coroner Creek Jack, Bartender Uncredited
1953 The War of the Worlds MP in jeep Uncredited
1958 The Bravados Mr. Simms Uncredited
1959 Have Rocket, Will Travel Curly Joe
1961 Snow White and the Three Stooges
1962 The Three Stooges Meet Hercules
The Three Stooges in Orbit
1963 The Three Stooges Go Around the World in a Daze
The Three Stooges Scrapbook Short, Unsold TV pilot never released
It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World Fireman Curly Joe Cameo, credited as part of 'The Three Stooges'
4 for Texas Curly Joe Uncredited
1965 The Outlaws Is Coming
The New Three Stooges TV series
Danny Thomas Meets the Comics TV movie
1966 The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet Man with Lollipop TV series, Uncredited
1967 Off to See the Wizard "Three Men in a Tub" TV series
1968 Star Spangled Salesman Curly Joe Short film
1970 Kook's Tour Unsold TV series pilot, (final film role)


  1. ^ a b c d Maurer, Joan Howard; Jeff Lenburg; Greg Lenburg (2012) [1982]. The Three Stooges Scrapbook. Citadel Press. pp. 52–59. ISBN 978-1-61374-074-3.
  2. ^ Forrester, Jeff (2004). The Three Stooges: The Triumphs and Tragedies of the Most Popular Comedy Team of All Time. Donaldson Books. ISBN 0-9715801-0-3.
  3. ^ Reighter, Frank. The Three Stooges Journal #133 (2010) p. 5
  4. ^ a b Pace, Eric (1993-07-05). "Curly-Joe DeRita, 83, Last of the Three Stooges". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-08-07.
  5. ^ Lenburg, Jeff; Howard Maurer, Joan; Lenburg, Greg; (1982, rev. 2012). The Three Stooges Scrapbook, p. 59, 93, Citadel Press. ISBN 0-8065-0946-5.
  6. ^ Oxman, Steven (2000-04-24). "Review: 'The Three Stooges'". Variety. Retrieved 2020-03-10.

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