YOUNGEST MEMBER of the Three Stooges, Joseph DeRita-whose real name
was Joseph Wardell-was born July 12, 1909, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Of French-Canadian and English ancestry, he is the only one of the
Stooges who came from a show business family. His mother, Florenz
DeRita, was a dancer and his father, Frank Wardell, was a stage technician.
age seven, Joe accompanied his parents on tour, going with them from
theatre to theatre across the country. He made his stage debut with
his sister Phillis at a Topeka Kansas, Red Cross benefit during World
War I. Joe remembers this act: "We did an esthetic dance. I had
a wreath around my head and a toga and gave her a rose...that kind
of stuff. I was quite small in those days. Of course, they called
for seven seasons, Joe played the title role in a stage version of
Peck's Bad Boy with his mother and father. By age eighteen,
with his mother retired and his sister married, Joe decided to do
a comedy single in which he sang and danced. As DeRita recalls: "I
originally started out as a dancer because my mother was a dancer.
Then I went into burlesque in 1921 because vaudeville was just about
gone. At least my type of vaudeville was gone. I never worked too
continued to play the New Columbia Burlesque Circuit until 1942, after
which he went to California to headline in a show at the Music Box
Theatre in Hollywood. His notices were so good that MGM signed him
to a contract. His actual film debut, however, was in The Doughgirls
(1944) with Ann Sheridan for Warner Brothers. During this same period
of his career he made two other feature films, The Sailor Takes
a Wife (MGM, 1945) and People Are Funny (Paramount, 1946).
He performed in shows for the USO and in 1946 starred in a series
of two-reel comedies for Columbia; he made four shorts in all.
speaking of his Columbia shorts, DeRita has 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 bus boy to
do it and it would have been just as funny."
World War II, Joe started working for the USO and toured the South
Pacific with his good friend Randolph Scott as his straight man. He
made several tours, going overseas with Bing Crosby to entertain servicemen
in England and France, this time with Crosby as his straight man.
After returning to the States, Joe played the Hollywood Casino in
Los Angeles and made guest appearances on two radio shows with Crosby,
Philco Hall of Fame and Cavalcade of America. He also
appeared on radio with Burns and Allen, Andy Russell, Ginny Simms
and appeared for 13 weeks on The Fred Brady Show, a summer
replacement for Bob Burns. Before joining the Stooges in 1958, he
had a major role as the hangman in The Bravados for 20th Century-Fox,
which starred Gregory Peck. DeRita ran the gamut in films, as well
as making guest appearances on such television shows as The Desilu
Playhouse, This Is Alice, and Bachelor Father.
to this point, Joe DeRita's name was far from a household word. It
was his 12-year association with the Three Stooges that catapulted
him to stardom. As director Norman Maurer explains, "He was the
best Curly replacement the Stooges ever had. Joe was great on adlibs.
He was like Curly in several respects, with his weight and his ballet-like
grace despite his weight. Joe could do a little shuffle-not quite
like Curly-but just as graceful, and it was hard to believe a guy
that big was doing it."
the set, however, there were times Curly-Joe had his share of bad
days. "Every now and then Joe would become tempermental, but
it was a passing thing." Maurer recalls. "In most cases,
Joe was a good sport and got the job done."
his career as a Stooge, Curly-Joe led a rather quiet life. Even during
his years as a Stooge, Joe recalled that he seldom saw Moe and Larry
off the set. "We never socialized much, unless it was a film
promotion, a premiere or a business meeting. Moe knew judges, doctors,
wealthy people-he had his circle of friends. Larry had his friends.
And DeRita recalls: "I knew some people out of Hollywood-friends
of mine that I was fond of, and I enjoyed their company. But I didn't
go out of my way to meet people."
lived in North Hollywood the last part of his life, with his wife,
Jean Sullivan, whom he married on December 28, 1966. He spent most
of his time reading and watching television, but his favorite pastime
was listening to classical music. As to Joe's likes and dislikes:
He conisdered Hollywood's three worst actors to be George Raft, Buster
Crabbe and Johnny Weismuller. His favorite Stooge's film was The
Three Stooges Go Around the World in a Daze (Columbia, 1963).
Joe passed away July 3, 1993.