Some people are lucky if they meet one favored celebrity. Some meet their favorites in person, and wish they hadn’t. There’re two kinds of encounters, circumstantial and pure chance. A friend of mine met Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider while using the urinal next to his at LAX. That’s pure chance. I met one of my favorite authors, Richard Ford, at a book signing, circumstantial.
I’ve met media icons, authors, rock stars, professional wrestlers and sports figures—mostly from hanging around back doors and back stages of whatever venue was in play. I was drawn to celebrity from an early age—blame television. My earliest opportunity to meet a superstar (or superstars) in the flesh came on a sunny Saturday in 1961. I was 10, and a religious viewer of Mr. Bob’s afternoon kid show on KPIX in the San Francisco Bay Area. It was from Mr. Bob that I learned on the prior Thursday that the Three Stooges were coming to Fairway Park Shopping Center in Hayward, CA.
Moe was my favorite Stooge, because of my natural predilection to present a dominant personality. I’d never ridden my red Schwinn bicycle faster than I pedaled that day on my way down for the show. Fairway Park’s annual carnival was underway, with a towering Ferris wheel, a tilt-o-whirl and merry-go-round, booths, and thronging suburban multitudes living the good life at the precipice of the 1960s. A huge stage was the centerpiece, and at the appointed time, the Stooges appeared from the wings to uproarious applause.
Actor Joe De Rita, the final of six official Stooges, was in the role of Curly, but Moe and Larry were still kicking. After 62 years, I don’t remember all the jokes, but laughter came in waves. The Stooges had come under criticism for the physical violence in their act. By the turn of the decade, the punching, gouging, and crowbar battering was toned down, although I distinctly recall De Rita getting slapped and Larry getting his hair pulled. The finale came during a bit about how hot the summer was. When the Stooges removed their coats, a flock of pigeons flew out of De Rita’s and took flight over J.C Penny’s department store. I don’t know how they got there.
For most of the thousands in attendance, that was it. But not me. I noticed the Stooges were being spirited away to the center’s toy store. When I got there, only a handful of like-minded Stooge lovers had convened. I tried the door, and the store was open.
You know what happens next. I met the Three Stooges, one-on-three. They weren’t funny. Moe had his mop-top combed back into a pompadour, so I almost didn’t recognize him. Larry’s hair was similarly groomed. De Rita had no hair. My impression was they were exhausted. Moe, born in 1897, would’ve been 64, and Larry, born in 1902, 59. Not that old by today’s standards, but the two original Stooges had lived a tumultuous life. They’d performed nearly non-stop for almost 40 years. Television revitalized their careers, and they were touring that year in support of the feature film, Snow White and The Three Stooges.
Moe treated us brusquely. He was done. Larry nodded in acknowledgement, but neither Stooge cracked a smile as they autographed the sale flyers we Stooge stalkers grabbed off the front counter. Each carrying a valise containing who knows what, they left the store with an associate and got into a big, black (probably) Chrysler in the parking lot.