Two Readers Recall The Three Stooges in Johnson City in 1947
My recent Yesteryear column on The Three Stooges from Robert Gardner and William Brown brought quick responses from Lou Thornberry and Don Sluder.
Lou, a retired history teacher who initially taught at Unicoi County High School and later University High School, currently hosts a 3-4 minute Wednesday radio history broadcast titled, “WEMB Looks Back,” (www.wemb.com/inside/looksback.asp). The series began in 2002 and has aired nearly 400 episodes. Lou published a book bearing the same name that contains 250 of his stories.
The Unicoi County native recalls a chance meeting with The Three Stooges at the age of six in downtown Johnson City on Oct. 25, 1947. The encounter was not at the Tennessee Theatre where the Stooges were performing, but instead at a downtown restaurant on the south side of E. Main Street where his mother had taken him.
According to Thornberry: “My family was in Johnson City that evening and I remember crying about something so my mother took me into the restaurant. The Three Stooges were sitting at the lunch counter and my screaming either touched a nerve or caused concern with them. It was either Moe or Shemp who purchased a Coke for me and brought it over to my mother.
“I knew who The Three Stooges were, but I don't recall the conversation between my mother and them or even if I drank the Coke. The three of them finished their meal uninterrupted and left. I do not think there we any fans around the Stooges at the time nor have I found any interviews with them in the newspaper documenting their appearance in town. It wasn't until the television reruns of the 1950s and 60s that I knew of Curly Howard, an earlier member of the Stooges, whom Shemp replaced in 1946.
“Johnson City was a booming city after World War II with city streets packed with cars and people day and night. At this young age, I was already a veteran of Saturday morning westerns at the Capitol Theatre in Erwin and I thoroughly enjoyed the comedy shorts that accompanied the westerns.
“Research reveals that The Three Stooges made more movies than any other comedy team in history. I agree that those goofy men were the ‘kings of comedy.’ We didn't know which comedy short would play at the theatre on any given Saturday. I can still hear the shouts of approval and applause from the packed theater crowd when the picture of The Three Stooges introduced their 15 minutes of laughter. The Little Rascals and Edgar Kennedy brought a similar reaction, but for my generation, The Three Stooges won the Academy Award for humor.”
Don Sluder (shown above with his heroes) next replied saying that he attended the Stooges’ stage show at the Tennessee Theatre on that Oct. 1947 afternoon when he was ten years old. Afterward, he had his picture taken with the eccentric entertainers. “It's amazing,” said Don, “how many different views of the same event come forth after 60 years or so. Although I don't remember much about the stage performance, I do recall the picture-taking portion of it. Photos, using natural light and very poor processing, were taken outside on the sidewalk. My picture is fading fast and now looks sepia. I was glad to know the date of their visit because I didn't remember it.”
Don recalls the Stooges telling him a yarn about Curly not being there, saying that he had been attacked by a lion while he was filming a movie. That was likely their way of acknowledging his ill-fated absence without revealing the major stroke he suffered several months prior.
Thanks, Lou and Don, for sharing your Stooge memories.