– January 16
) was a veteran American actor
who appeared in hundreds of movies, short films, and television shows, is best known for his numerous appearances with the Three Stooges
—nearly 40. He is one of only two actors to have worked with all six Stooges (Shemp Howard
, Moe Howard
, Larry Fine
, Curly Howard
, Joe Besser
, Curly Joe DeRita
) on film in the various incarnations of the group (Harold Brauer
was the other). In fact, Emil Sitka became one of the Stooges himself, although briefly. He is remembered mostly for a line of dialogue he keeps repeating in the Three Stooges short, Brideless Groom
, where he appears as the justice of the peace attempting to marry Shemp and Dee Green
: "Hold hands, you lovebirds!"
Emil Sitka, whose numerous appearances with the Three Stooges earned him the nickname "the Fourth Stooge," was born in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, USA on December 22, 1914. He was the oldest of five children. His father, a coal miner, died of black lung disease when he was 12 years old, and his mother was hospitalized, unable to take care of the children. His siblings were placed in foster homes, but Emil went to live in a church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with a Catholic priest for the next few years. At this time, he became an altar boy and made plans to enter the priesthood, and had his first acting opportunity in the church's annual Passion Play. At the age of 16, he and one of his brothers travelled across the U.S.A., riding the rails hobo-style, looking for work. After a year, they returned to Pittsburgh, where Emil found a job working in a factory. Emil stayed there until the great St. Patrick's Day Pittsburgh Flood 1936, after which he departed to pursue his dream of acting in Hollywood, California.
Early Acting Experience
Emil Sitka found inexpensive lodging in a small acting theater, doing handiwork to pay his rent, and gradually acting in small parts in the theater. With time and experience, the parts became larger, and eventually Emil was directing plays as well. Since the theater did not pay, Emil always kept a "day job" to pay the bills as well as his acting career at night. It was during this time that he met and married Donna Driscoll, and they began raising a family. By 1946, he had played dozens, if not hundreds of roles; this breadth of experience would help him in his later film career, playing everything from butler to lawyer to businessman to construction worker.
In 1946, Emil Sitka was leading his own acting troupe when he was spotted by a talent scout for Columbia Pictures
. He was told to contact Jules White
, director of many of the Three Stooges short films and head of Columbia Shorts Department, to be cast in a short film that White was directing — starring Barbara Jo Allen
as her character "Vera Vague", not the Three Stooges. The short film, Hiss and Yell
, was nominated for an Academy Award
. Several months and many films later, he was cast in his first Three Stooges film — Half-Wits' Holiday
. At the time, he did not even know who the Three Stooges were; that was about to change.
Emil Sitka's first Three Stooges film—and Curly Howard's last
dealt with the idea of two professors betting on the outcome of turning the Three Stooges into gentlemen—with predictable results. Emil Sitka played Sappington, the upper-crust butler, who was an excellent foil for the Three Stooges—and the target of several pies as well. Sadly, Curly Howard
suffered a stroke
during filming, which is why he is not seen in the second half of this short film. Despite this bittersweet beginning, Emil Sitka went on to appear in dozens of Three Stooges short films, as well as most of their feature films and the live action segments for The New Three Stooges
1965 cartoon series. He worked in both short films and feature films with others as well, including Lucille Ball
, Milton Berle
, Red Skelton
, Tony Curtis
, George Peppard
, Johnny Weismuller
, Betty Grable
, Robert Young
, Eddy Arnold
, Fred MacMurray
, Mickey Rooney
, Ray Milland
, Tyrone Power
, Broderick Crawford
, Janet Leigh
, Jack Lemmon
, Gale Storm
, Glenn Ford
, The Bowery Boys
, Brian Keith
, Robert Culp
, David Janssen
, Alan Hale
, Walter Brennan
, Dan Blocker
, Joey Bishop
, Bob Denver
, and many others. However, Sitka is best remembered for his association with the Three Stooges, and with one line in particular ("Hold hands, you lovebirds!").
"Hold hands, you lovebirds"
In the 1947 Three Stooges short Brideless Groom
, Shemp Howard
must be married before 6:00 p.m. in order to inherit $500,000.00. After striking out, Shemp finally finds a girl willing to marry him, and they rush off to a justice of the peace, played by Emil Sitka. As Sitka starts the ceremony, telling the couple to "hold hands, you lovebirds", the other girls that turned down Shemp's proposal burst in, having heard of the inheritance. A free-for-all then ensues, with poor Sitka being struck again and again, attempting to start the ceremony, each time more disheveled and his "hold hands, you lovebirds" a little weaker. Because of the widespread distribution of this short (it is one of four Three Stooges shorts that slipped into public domain
), this scene is the one that Sitka has become best known for. Notably, a clip of this short is featured in Pulp Fiction
, for which Sitka's name even appears in the credits as "Hold Hands You Lovebirds".
Emil and Donna were divorced, and Emil became a single father, raising his household of children. Due to the uncertainty of his acting income, his kept working his "day job" until the last child was grown and moved out. After this time, Emil re-married a former girlfriend, and became a full-time actor. He continued his association with the Three Stooges, and in the early 1970's was offered the chance to finally join the trio officially.
The middle stooge
Larry Fine had suffered a stroke during the filming of Kook's Tour. Moe Howard asked Sitka if he could create a character to become the new "middle stooge" to replace the ailing Larry. Sitka accepted the invitation and became an official member of the Three Stooges; publicity photos of Sitka in this capacity with Howard and Curly Joe DeRita were circulated. Sitka named his character "Harry" (rhymes with "Larry") and thought of him as being extremely conscientious to the point of ridiculousness. Two feature film offers for this reconstituted Three Stooges were considered, but this version of the group never acted together on film (one of the film offers was Blazing Stewardesses, which featured the surviving members of the Ritz Brothers after the Stooges were forced to bow out). The Three Stooges officially ended with the death of Moe Howard in 1975.
Emil Sitka continued with the acting career, more out of love for acting than the need for money, appearing in films as late as 1992. He was in demand at various Three Stooges conventions, and had numerous requests from Three Stooges fans to appear at their wedding to say "Hold hands, you lovebirds!" Emil Sitka died on January 16, 1998 in Camarillo, California, USA, from complications from a stroke
. He is survived by four daughters and two sons. One of his sons, Saxon, has created the official Emil Sitka website in his honor —- http://www.emilsitka.com. Saxon carries on his father's legacy by appearing at Stooge conventions as often as possible. On his father's gravestone, the engraving "Hold hands, you lovebirds!" appears.
- The Columbia Comedy Shorts by Ted Okuda with Edward Watz, , (McFarland, 1986). (Introduction by Sitka, with his commentary throughout)
- Moe Howard and the Three Stooges; by Moe Howard , (Citadel Press, 1977).
- The Complete Three Stooges: The Official Filmography and Three Stooges Companion; by Jon Solomon , (Comedy III Productions, Inc., 2002).
- The Three Stooges Scrapbook; by Jeff Lenburg, Joan Howard Maurer, Greg Lenburg (Citadel Press, 1994).
- The Three Stooges: An Illustrated History, From Amalgamated Morons to American Icons; by Michael Fleming (Broadway Publishing, 2002).
- One Fine Stooge: A Frizzy Life in Pictures; by Steve Cox and Jim Terry , (Cumberland House Publishing, 2006).