Saturday, March 15, 2008

Louis Feinberg ----- WHO???

You don't know Louis Feinberg? Sure you do! He's Larry Fine, the frizzy-haired member of The Three Stooges comedy team, my all-time favorites.

I was introduced to The Three Stooges comedies in the late 1950s, when the short movies were packaged for tv broadcast. In New York, they were shown on WPIX Channel 11, and hosted by 'Officer' Joe Bolton. I became a fan very quickly, and eventually saw the entire output of the Stooges, as their movies were shown many times over the next several years, with various hosts ('Captain' Jack McCarthy and 'Fireman' Todd Russell being two others).

During the third week of August of 1973, I took my first solo long-distance vacation (previous vacations were always with family, and never actually more than a hundred or so miles from home base). I went to Los Angeles for a week, staying at the famous Ambassador Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard.

Among the many things I crammed into that week, was a visit to Larry Fine, who was residing in the Motion Picture Country Home in Woodland Hills, in a private room in the Lodge section. He'd been there for a few years, since suffering a stroke which left him with paralysis of his left side and somewhat slurred speech. Larry was very open to visits from fans, and when I called him and asked when I could visit, he said "Any afternoon is ok." He then proceeded to give me driving directions from downtown Los Angeles to Woodland Hills!

My visit with Larry was very pleasant. I was expecting to see him as he appeared in the movies, with his "frizzy hair", and was taken aback when I saw him with his hair combed back smoothly, sitting in a wheelchair, slightly slumped to his left. But he stood up upon my entering the room, shook my hand and welcomed me, and then sat down again, and I felt better, that I wasn't being an intrusion. We had a very nice talk, about many things - the history of the Stooges, vaudeville, other movie comedians, some of the supporting players in the Stooges movies, personal appearances, etc.

I told Larry I'd seen the Stooges in person twice, when they toured nationwide with a couple of their features in the 1960s. I mentioned the name of the cinema, Proctor's, in my hometown of Mount Vernon, and he said "We played there in vaudeville with Ted Healy in the 1920s and '30s. We also played the Proctor's in New Rochelle, Yonkers, and White Plains." Those are nearby cities, and I was amazed at his memory of the geography. The stroke affected him physically, but apparently it did not impair his mental faculties, not during my visit.

I'd brought with me a 35mm Nikkormat camera, loaned by my good friend Jack. I took a couple of pictures of Larry, and asked a passing nurse to take a picture of Larry and me. When I returned home, I sent him copies of the snapshots, but it wasn't until I moved to Los Angeles in 1974, that I visited him again, and he signed the 8x10s I printed in the photo lab at my workplace. Here's a close-up, a shot showing the wall of pictures in his room, and Larry and me.

I told Larry I had some of their movies in 16mm format, and one title that interested him was "Three Little Pigskins". He asked me if I'd make a copy for him, as he occasionally would go to local high schools and colleges and show a couple of movies, after which he'd talk to the audience.

I gladly had a duplicate made and sent it to Larry as a gift, my way of thanking him for his cordiality when I visited him. He sent me this letter, which is not dated, but was written in October of 1973, shortly after his birthday:
Here's a transcription, since it may be a bit difficult to read as shown:

"Dear Bill,
Received the film 'Three Little Pigskins' today and was surprised and very pleased. I never realized you meant to give me the film as a gift, and I am very very grateful. Believe me I didn't act gracious to you for any ulterior motive, but because you seemed genuinely interested in the 3 Stooges, and therefore deserved my attention and respect as a loyal fan. Am looking forward to the pictures you took, and sincerely hope you get out to California again.
Nice of you to remember my birthday.
How do you like the stationery. That was drawn by and made for me, by a fan in Seattle, Washington. I guess I'm just lucky.
Again thank you for the film, and if there is anything I can do for you, please let me know.
Gratefully yours, Larry Fine"

Below are Christmas cards I received from Larry, in 1973 and 1974, respectively.

The latter was mailed to me when I was living in North Hollywood. Larry's handwritten note inside the card reads:

"Dear Bill, Not writing any fan mail lately. Wrote this to you so you would know why you don't hear from me. Don't feel so good. Wishing you a Happy New Year. Sincerely, Larry".

Larry's health was declining, and he died little more than a month later, January 24, 1975, from a massive stroke.

In 1994, at a Three Stooges Fan Club Convention, I had the pleasure of meeting Larry's sister Lyla, and her husband Nate Budnick.


Devin said...

What a warm and thoughtful person he was. So were his sister Lyla and her husband Nate. I'm glad you had the privilege of knowing them. May they all rest in peace!

Anonymous said...

Being a big Stooges fan myself, it's nice to see that he really cared about his fans. I've had the opportunity to meet a few of today's celebs and can honestly say I don't think any of them would take the time to send me a Christmas card.

catsafterme said...

Larry Fine certainly must be the 'prize' of all of your celebrity encounters!

Anonymous said...

Is it really Larry Fine who appears on this album? Or is it an imposter?

Bill Cappello said...

Yes, that's really Larry Fine on that "Three Stooges Christmas Album".
Not an impostor. And that's really Moe Howard and Curly Joe DeRita on the album too, in the photo and on the vocals.

Todd Carver said...

Dear Mr. Cappello,

Here is an appearance of Larry Fine and the other Stooges on the Ed Wynn Show. I hope you enjoy it.



Anonymous said...

You did a nice thing for Larry, even though I'm sure you're the one who felt lucky to be able to visit him.... I think you made a great impact on his lonely life. It's amazing how forgotten legendary performers became at the end of their lives. VERY sad. One day they're in demand -- always working and impossible to meet, and then suddenly they're waiting for a fan to visit "any afternoon."
Sounds like he was a nice man. And the same goes for you, too.