By Renée S. Gordon
Larry: “Oooh I can’t see I can’t see!”
Moe: “What’s the matter?”
Larry: “I’ve got my eyes closed”.
–from the Three Stooges short “Ants in The Pantry”
T. S. Eliot said that April was the cruelest month but I think most east coasters would disagree. January and February can be pretty mean-spirited with seemingly perpetual gray skies and ever-present snow warnings. Fortunately, the Philadelphia area offers a host of one-day excursions that are affordable or free and within a thirty-mile radius.
Among the most outstanding of these one-day wonders is the “Stoogeum,” a museum featuring Gary Lassin’s Three Stooges memorabilia, the largest collection in the world. Lassin, though a fan from his youth, wed a grandniece of Larry Fine and began his collection after being given a few family pieces. More than 19,000 objects and 50,000 photographs and clippings later, he opened a specially created museum in 2004 to share his love of the Stooges with the world.
This is a museum that defies you not to have a great time and the hilarity begins as you enter. The moment you step inside you are welcomed with the Stooges traditional, “Hello! Hello! Hello! Hello!” Displays are on three levels, all handicapped accessible, and visitors take the “Stairway to the Stooges” to begin on the second level.
Guests are given an opportunity to test their knowledge at an interactive station aptly called “Stoogeology 101.” A second computer station is dedicated to the biographies of the supporting players. One of the most interesting players was Dudley Dickerson, an African American who appeared in ten different shorts including “A Plumbing We Will Go.” Also on this level is an 85-seat theater, the “Hall of Shemp,” Stooge-themed arcade games and hundreds of Three Stooges products including glasses, figurines, magazine covers and posters.
On a landing leading to the lower level, you meet the Stooges themselves, or at least an incredible likeness. The three life-sized wax figures are exact copies of a photograph from the 1944 production of “Idle Rumors.” The riotous trio are garbed as bellhops.
The history of the Three Stooges begins in vaudeville in the 1920s with straight man Ted Healy whose act was constantly disrupted by three raucous guys. Healy’s partners, Moe and Shemp Howard and Larry Fine, were never referred to as Stooges but took the name later. They went on to make 190 short films, the largest body of work of this type.
It should be noted that there were different Stooges at different times. His brother Curly who he then replaced in 1946 after Curly had a stroke replaced Shemp. Shemp died in 1955 and several others stepped in until they finally settled on Joseph Wardell who assumed the role of Curly-Joe. Philadelphia’s own Larry Fine’s career as a Stooge spanned fifty years.
The galleries on the lower level are absolutely fantastic. Display cases are placed so that visitors wind in and out and are totally immersed in the experience. Here you encounter personal items, posters, costumes, props, photographs and mass-marketed novelties based on their films and characters. Highlights of this area include Lobby Card Lane, sound effects instruments, the original puppet from Snow White and a showcase dedicated to their international fans. In this “Stooge-A-Holic” photographic display are Buddhist monks and African tribesmen.
The third floor gallery is filled with artistic depictions of the Stooges. The most notable pieces are a mural on the ceiling of Moe, Larry, Shemp and Curly peering at their fans from heaven and a print by noted “Playbill” illustrator Al Hirschfield. My personal favorites are a large triptych of the three as Roman gods and the breath-taking stained glass office door created by actor Stanley Livingston, Chip of “My Three Sons.”
Fans can join 2,000 members in The Three Stooges Fan Club, Inc. while visiting. Lassin is the president and membership privileges include a quarterly newsletter and an invitation to the annual convention. The club began in 1958 and is one of the oldest fan clubs in the nation.
This award-winning museum, voted “Best of Philly” in 2008”, is open one day each month and admission is free. Upcoming dates are February 28, March 13, and May 8th, from 10 AM to 3 PM. The Stoogeum is located at 904 Sheble Lane, just off Bethlehem Pike.www.stoogeum.com
Larry Fine was born in 1902 at 3rd and South Streets. In 1999, a 20-foot mural was unveiled at the site. In 2005 it was removed and the following year it was repainted this time with Larry playing the violin. In homage to his Central HS attendance in October of 2009, he was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame.
Each of eight of the Brandywine Valley’s best attractions will be hosting their annual free Open House on the 23rd of January. The museums include Brandywine River Museum, Delaware Art Museum, Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts, Delaware History Museum and the Read House & Gardens, Delaware Museum of Natural History, Hagley Museum & Library, Rockwood Museum and Winterthur Museum & Country Estate. This is a wonderful opportunity for a family winter excursion. Information on individual sites, addresses, directions and hours of operation are available online. www.brandywinetreasures.org
“Entertainment Weekly” deemed “Becky Shaw” one of the top ten stage productions of 2009 and noted that it is one of the finalists for the Pulitzer Prize. The play, penned by Gina Gionfriddo, is currently on an extended run at Philadelphia’s Wilma Theater and tickets will be available until February 7th. Regular tickets are priced from $36-$65. Some student tickets may be purchased for $10 and senior discounts are also available. (215) 546-7824. 265 S. Broad Street. www.wilmatheater.org.
No matter what the season there are always adventures. Embark on any one of these excursions and I guarantee it will lift your spirits.
I wish you smooth and hilarious travels!