Like many other twelve year-old American boys who grew up during the 1950’s and 60’s, I had been a fan of The Three Stooges from the first moment I saw them poking, gouging, and slapping each other across the television screen. After seeing them make a guest appearance on Joey Bishop’s late-night talk show in May of 1968, little did I know that I would soon be corresponding with the head Stooge himself, Moe Howard. That first letter led to twenty-seven more between 1968 and 1975. After corresponding for over five years, I had the good fortune to meet Moe and his wife Helen at their home in Los Angeles in July of 1973.
This web site chronicles that experience by featuring letters, photos, videos, radio interviews, and memorabilia that I collected over those years. It happened a lifetime ago, but I hope you enjoy the story as much as I enjoyed recalling it.
Late one evening in May of 1968, my mother awakened me to tell me that the Three Stooges were on television. They were guests on the Joey Bishop Show, who had a late night talk show on ABC that ran opposite the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. A little groggy, I staggered to the television surprised to see the familiar trio throwing pies and creating mayhem – and in color. I noticed that they had aged a little since the old black and white days, but I was glad to know that they were still performing. It was a pleasant surprise to know they were still going strong. I was now anxious to know when I could see them on television again. One way to find out, I figured, was to write them and ask. Soon after writing a letter simply addressed to: “The Three Stooges – Hollywood, California,” I received an answer in the mail. This letter was special. It was handwritten and from the head Stooge himself, Moe Howard.
The letter was appreciative, but matter-of-fact, stating when I could expect to see them on television again. I could hardly believe that I had received a personal letter from one of my favorite film stars. I was so proud. I could hardly wait to show the letter to my summer baseball buddies and friends from school. But when I did, many of them tried to tell me that someone as important and busy as Moe did not have time to answer fan letters. Instead, they insisted, the letter must have been written by someone who worked for him. I refused to believe that and continued to write.
I figured if Moe answered the first letter, he just might answer a second. More than twenty-five letters later, I had the special opportunity of finally meeting my famous pen pal during the summer of 1973. After graduating from high school in May, a friend of mine by the name of Bill Janin and I decided to take a road trip to California that summer. I had friends and family to stay with along the way which helped make the trip affordable for someone just out of high school. Besides, gasoline was only thirty-one cents a gallon in 1973! Hoping for an outside chance to meet Moe while in Los Angeles, I wrote and told him of my plans. I soon received a reply that included a telephone number suggesting that I call when I arrived in Los Angeles. If he were in town, Moe said in his letter, he would be glad to arrange a meeting. Needless to say, I was soon on my way to California.
The journey unraveled into a series of events that I would never have imagined possible. We made arrangements to stay with relatives between Dallas and Los Angeles. After some side trips to Albuquerque, the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas, we finally arrived in Los Angeles. We stayed with some family friends who lived in Brentwood just off Sunset Boulevard. It was a beautiful part of the city and not far, I was to soon learn, from Moe’s home.
Not long after arriving, I decided to call the telephone number that Moe had given me. The number belonged to Joan Maurer, Moe’s daughter, who was helping to manage Moe’s busy schedule. Fortunately, she was home when I called. It was an exciting moment when she answered. Trying to remain calm and intelligible, I explained who I was and why I was calling. I was not prepared for her reply, “Oh, yes,” she said with a pause. “I believe Dad has mentioned you before. The young man from Texas.”
She knew who I was! At that moment, I felt as if all those letters had suddenly come to life. I was getting close to meeting the the person I had been writing for the past five years.
Joan asked how long I planned to be in town. I wanted to say, “Until I get to meet your Dad,” but I restrained myself and told her that I planned to be in town for about ten days.
“Dad’s not here at the moment, but he should be in town during your visit.” I was thrilled.
“Why don’t you give me the telephone number where you are staying,” she suggested, “and I will call you back when I know more about his schedule.” I was all too anxious to accommodate. After exchanging good-bye’s, all kinds of thoughts entered my mind. Would I really be able to meet Moe? If so, would I meet him at an office? A studio? A restaurant? What would he look like? Would he be the same Moe I had grown up watching on television and in the movies? I decided not to fret over those concerns. I was seventeen years old and in Los Angeles to have a great time no matter what happened. Somehow, I knew that things would work out.
A couple of days passed while my friend Bill and I stayed busy exploring Los Angeles for the first time. The beach was one of the first places on the list to visit, so we drove west on Sunset Boulevard until we found it. The Pacific Ocean was unexpectedly cooler than the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico that I was familiar with in Texas. About all I remember was a crowded beach scattered with beautiful people and a shark warning that scattered them even further.
We also spent some time driving up and down Hollywood Boulevard and Sunset Boulevard between Beverly Hills and the Hollywood Freeway gawking at all the sights that were so familiar from the movies and television. I remember Sunset Boulevard being lined with billboards advertising current movies. I had never seen films advertised on billboards before. This was 1973. That marketing angle had not reached Dallas yet.
On our way home from comparing our hand prints and shoe sizes in the cement at Graumann’s Chinese Theater one night, an exotic maroon and chrome-laden automobile rolled up to the right of us at a red light on Sunset Boulevard. I did not recognize this make of car. After driving alongside this unusual car for a couple of miles, I noticed that the license plate read, “DRUNKY.”
I was in the passenger seat and was curious to steal an unsuspecting glance at this flamboyant driver. At the next opportunity, I looked to my right and suddenly found myself eye-to-eye with Dean Martin! “That’s Dean Martin!” I blurted out.
“You’re kidding!” said Bill as we maneuvered through the winding curves on Sunset Boulevard.
We kept even with Martin for the next few blocks long enough to become pests. We surmised that the person sitting next to him was his new young wife. When he realized that we had recognized him, he quickly sped away like a rocket.
Coincidentally, we saw the car parked in front of the Bel-Air Country Club the very next day. The valet allowed me to snap a photo of it. We later learned that it was a custom built Stutz Blackhawk. There were very few made.
The Telephone Rings
Three or four days had passed since my telephone conversation with Joan Maurer. We had all just sat down for breakfast when the telephone rang. The lady of the house left the table to answer the phone in an adjacent room.
“Hello,” I heard her say. “Yes, he’s here. Just a moment.” I assumed the telephone call was for her husband, but she was looking at me. “Bobby,” she called out as she waved me to the phone. “I think it’s Moe.” There was no time to panic. She handed me the receiver. “Hello,” I said.
“Bobby?” I heard the familiar voice say on the other end of the line. “This is Moe. How are you?”
It had finally happened. I was actually talking to the head Stooge himself, Moe Howard! The man I had only imagined getting the chance to meet. It was all coming true.
The telephone conversation was short. We made arrangements to meet on the following Saturday at one o’clock at his house. Moe spent the remainder of the conversation giving me directions. He also gave me his telephone number in case we got lost. I now had directions to Moe’s house. It was only Thursday and we were not scheduled to meet for another two days. Bill and I decided to drive to Moe’s house that day so that we would be sure to find it on Saturday. It turned out to be a good idea because it took several twists and turns to get there. We also discovered that we were staying just fifteen minutes away from Moe. It would be two more days before we would make that memorable trip.