Slap Happy

By on September 1, 2008
RoadKing Mag

WITH THEIR EYE-POKES, slaps, vaudeville humor and knockabout slapstick, the Three Stooges are unquestionably one of the most famous film trios of all time. They have been the subject of several books, a made-for-TV movie, and a merchandising line that spreads from toys and comic books, to beer bottles and golf bags.

With all that fandom and support, it was only a matter of time before someone decided to build a museum dedicated to the Three Stooges. No, you haven’t been conked on the head by Moe; there really is such amuseum — the “Stoogeum,” just 25 miles away from Philadelphia, birthplace of original Stooge Larry Fine.

From the moment you enter the Stoogeum, and hear the “Hello… HELLO… HELLO!!” door greeting of Moe Howard, Larry Fine and Curly Howard, you experience a three-story building stuffed with all things Stooge — the largest collections of Three Stooges artifacts, memorabilia, personal effects and autographs ever assembled.

For Gary Lassin, the creator of the Stoogeum and the president of the Three Stooges Fan Club, the Stoogeum is the realization of a lifelong dream, as well as a place to assemble his own growing Three Stooges memorabilia collection. “I built the Stoogeum in 2004, but came up with the idea 20 years before then,” he says. “I once visited the man who runs the Marx Brothers fan club, and his townhouse was a living Marx Brothers museum, with props and costumes and memorabilia. I wanted to put something like that together, and 20 years later I purchased this building and converted it to the Stoogeum.”

Among the Stoogeum’s holdings are dozens of original movie posters, with some dating back to the Stooge’s earliest Depression-era filmwork; several costumes, including the tunics the Stooges wore in their 1963 full-length film Snow White and The Three Stooges; promotional stills and candid photographs of the Stooges, both in the studio and relaxing at home; and even the Stooges’ personal effects — cancelled checks, driver’s licenses, passports and studio ID cards. The Stoogeum also contains a display wall featuring promotional photos — many of them autographed — of the actors and actresses who co-starred with the Stooges in their Columbia shorts and feature films, along with photographs of many of these surviving actors and actresses who eventually were able to visit the Stoogeum in person.

“Once a year the Three Stooges Fan Club has an annual meeting here,” says Lassin, “and we try to bring in supporting actors and actresses who are still alive and worked with the Stooges. Some of them are in good enough health to make a coast- to-coast trip from California. Film critic Leonard Maltin (who has also visited the
Stoogeum) is a big fan of the Stooges, he was the first person who ever wrote anything serious about the Stooges back in the 1970s, when he acknowledged that the Stooges made contributions to film comedy.”

And far from being just a haven for Stooge fans, the Stoogeum has hosted visits from civic organizations and tour groups both far and wide. “The Stoogeum has been very enthusiastically received,” says Lassin. “I think my miscalculation was that only a hardcore die-hard Stooges fan would be be interested in coming out here. What I’ve found is that I’ve gotten an interest from all different groups that are not only Stooge fans per se — we’ve gotten church groups and Rotary clubs and little old lady antique groups, motorcycle clubs, all of them have visited the Stoogeum.”

Hardcore fans can test their Stooge knowledge on an electronic Stooge trivia game,  or their “Stooge moves” on a Stooge-themed console video game. The Stoogeum also hosts a small movie theater, where fans can watch classic Three Stooges films the way they were originally meant to be seen — on a big movie screen. Meanwhile, the Stoogeum’s third floor features artwork and drawings by and about the Stooges, as well as appearances by the Stooges in newspaper comic strips and editorial cartoons.

While the comedy team itself is honored in the Stoogeum, there are several exhibits devoted to Stooge solo film work. Shemp Howard, who replaced his ailing brother Curly from 1947 until his death in 1955, starred in several films with W.C. Fields and Abbott & Costello, as well as in a series of “Joe Palooka” movies. The walkway to the Stooge theater is decorated with vintage Shemp Howard posters and promotional stills.

“Shemp was the most prolific of the Stooges who did solo work,” says Lassin. “He appeared in over 100 films on his own. I try to acknowledge the accomplishments of all the Stooges and their solo work in the Stoogeum. Some of those solo films are readily available, and have been circulating among collectors, while others are never seen, maybe once in a while someone locates a 16mm copy, but were never released on videotape or on DVD.”

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