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Wednesday, Feb 28, 2024


WADE DANIELS Staff Reporter They haven’t made a film for more than 30 years; in fact, they’re all dead. But comedy giants the Three Stooges are making more money than ever, according to the Glendale-based company that owns the threesome’s licensing rights. Comedy III Entertainment Inc., which is owned by descendants of the Stooges, is raking in five to 10 times the amount of licensing-fee revenue it did in 1995, when the company was formed to manage Stooge business, said Earl Benjamin, vice president of business and legal affairs. “The Stooges are popular nationally and internationally, and there’s a lot of growth going on,” said Benjamin, the stepson of Stooge “Curly” Joe DeRita. Images of Moe, Larry and Curly can be found on hundreds of items ranging from clothing to golf club covers to Stooge slot machines that are slated to go on sale beginning next year. Three Stooges beer hits the shelves on the East Coast this month and will roll out nationwide in the fall, and Interscope Pictures is developing a new movie that would have actors portraying the Stooges. There are so many Stooges goods on the market that Comedy III last year opened a store in the Glendale Galleria, called Knuckleheads, to sell them. Benjamin said the company intends to establish a chain of Knuckleheads, and business people from such far-flung places as Buenos Aires and Hong Kong have expressed interest in setting up franchises. “The Stooges have been shown for a long time in many countries and they have a lot of fans overseas,” Benjamin said. He said Comedy III mainly promotes Stooge licensing by attending trade shows and by pitching various companies on Stooge-related merchandising ideas. Also, as part of its effort to promote the licensing of the threesome, the company will hold the first Three Stooges West Coast Convention on Aug. 21-23 at the Burbank Airport Hilton and Convention Center. The event will feature Stooge tributes, film screenings and appearances by supporting actors from their films (DeRita, the last living Stooge, died in 1993). First formed as a vaudeville act in 1923, the Three Stooges are best known for their 200 short films, which are shown daily on cable television. The popularity of the Stooges is a boon for licensees such as Monson, Mass.-based Rainbow Connection, which makes clothing accessories like neckties, suspenders and hats that bear the likeness of Moe, Curly and Larry. “The Three Stooges outsell by far the other things we license such as Looney Toons and the Beatles,” said Mark Schwartz, the company’s president. “I find that people from every generation, down to 12-year-olds, know in a hundreth of a second who the Three Stooges are.” Benjamin declined to discuss revenue figures for Stooges merchandising. He did say Stooge merchandising couldn’t have taken off if the licensing rights for the comedy team hadn’t been brought under one roof in 1995. A firm called Comedy III Productions Inc. was first formed in 1959 by Moe Howard, Larry Fine and DeRita, Benjamin said. However, the deaths of Fine and Howard in 1975 and subsequent disagreement among heirs about royalty shares made it difficult for companies to obtain rights to use the images. “After the deaths, (the heirs) went off in different directions,” Benjamin said. “Licensees used to have to approach each heir for permission. It was complicated and sometimes they would just give up.” A 1995 court decision determined that descendants of Howard, Fine and DeRita owned equal shares of the Stooge legacy, and the management of the threesome’s business and licensing affairs was consolidated under the new entity called Comedy III Entertainment Inc. Comedy III is headed by DeRita’s widow, Jean, and his stepsons Earl and Robert Benjamin. Also, the company’s head of corporate/property acquisition is Bela Lugosi Jr.; Comedy III also owns the licensing rights for Bela Lugosi Sr. and his Dracula image.

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