I thought this would be an appropriate 'Fourth of July' posting, honoring 'The Fourth Stooge'.
Emil Sitka was a veteran comedic actor who appeared in nearly a couple of hundred movies and tv shows from the 1940s into the early 1990s. He is best known, however, for his many appearances (more than three dozen) with The Three Stooges, earning him the title of 'The Fourth Stooge'. He had the distinction of working with all six of the Stooges (Moe, Curly, and Shemp Howard, Larry Fine, Joe Besser, and Curly-Joe DeRita).
Sitka's most famous role was in "Brideless Groom" (1947), as a justice of the peace who begins every service with the words, "Hold hands, you love birds". It brought him lasting fame among Stooges fans, and the words are even inscribed on his grave marker.
When the Stooges were filming "Kook's Tour" (1970), Larry suffered a stroke, and couldn't continue in the act. Sometime afterward, Moe asked Emil if he would be the new "stooge in the middle" to replace Larry, and Emil accepted. There were some publicity photos circulated, but the new team never made any movies because Moe became ill and soon died, and Emil's membership as one of The Three Stooges ended.
In 1974, when I was living in North Hollywood, I'd heard that Emil Sitka was living in Hollywood and liked hearing from fans. I looked him up in the phone directory, and one Saturday afternoon, I called. Mr. Sitka was more than cordial - he was very open to hearing from fans, as he appreciated each and every one. We had a long conversation, and it was the first of many calls.
During my two years in California, I worked in the photography lab of a major defense company, and had access to all of the printing facilities. I had one very nice scene still of Emil with the Stooges, from the 1947 short "Hold That Lion". I made a negative and then printed several 4x6 photos. I sent them to Emil, asking him to sign one and he could keep the others to give to other fans. Emil signed the front of one photo with his name, and wrote on the back: 'To Bill, Let's "Hold That Lion' of friendship forever!" and signed it again.
We talked usually once a month, sometimes briefly if he was on his way out, and sometimes at length if he had many topics to discuss. When he got to know me better, he surprised me by sending me this composite photo, inscribed as: 'To Bill Cappello, My most special fan and friend-Emil Sitka'.
When Larry Fine died in January of 1975, Emil attended the funeral service, and when it was over, a woman walked up to him and hugged him, saying "Oh Emil, it's good to see you again!". He didn't recognize her at first, but when she'd gone away, he realized she was Christine McIntyre, whom I had located just a few months earlier. He always said he'd call her some day, but never got around to it.
I finally met Emil in person, on April 25, 1976, shortly before I left California to move back to New York. My friend Dick Baldwin came out to Los Angeles a couple of weeks earlier, and together we would drive back east. The three of us met at a Carl's Jr. hamburger restaurant in Hollywood, and enjoyed a light lunch and fun conversation. After the meal, we went outside and took some pictures. The three of us are in this photo, and here is one of Emil and me.
Below are two more photos taken that day, taken with my 35mm camera. Emil liked to do character poses, hence the 'strangling' photo below and the 'coffee cup' photo further down.
Here are two more photos, taken by Dick, with Emil's little Kodak Instamatic camera.
Over the next several years, I continued my friendship with Emil. We exchanged Christmas cards each year, of which a few randomly selected ones can be seen below.
This one is not dated, but from some time in the 1980s:
Emil suffered a stroke in the mid-1990s, and while he recovered somewhat, his handwriting became a bit 'shaky'. This is evident in the card shown below:
Over the next few years, Emil's activities were limited, but he still kept in contact as much as possible with his fans. In January of 1998, Emil suffered another stroke and died. He is very much missed by his legion of fans.
His son Saxon has created a website devoted to Emil, and it can be viewed here. It has had over 250,000 visits to date, and while it is not often updated, it is worth visiting.
Here is a photo of Emil's grave marker: