Showing posts with label The Stoogeum. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Stoogeum. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

A Summer Day with the Stooges

I have a friend who is a Three Stooges fan. Over the years, he'd remind me of this by remarking on my Facebook posts with various Stooges comments, or short clips from the well-known comedians, so when I heard of the Stoogeum in Ambler, Pennsylvania, I decided to "take one for the team" and visit with my husband, Jim (the fan) Gordon and his wife Cheryl.  

To prepare myself for what I was about to observe, I tuned into a very interesting podcast on the drive down called "For Keeps," which featured an interview with Gary Lassin, Stoogeum Curator. The podcast narrator, David Peterkofsky, who refers to the trio as the "clown princes of pratfalls" and the "sultans of slapstick," reveals early on how Lassin came to amass such a vast collection of Stoogeabilia.  

The podcast explains that Lassin enjoyed the Stooges as a kid and his enthusiasm was re-ignited when he met his now wife--whose grandfather was Larry Fine's brother, Moe Feinberg. Feinberg gave Lassin a few Stooge-related items and a collector was born. "That's what really set me off," he said, explaining that collecting pre-internet was difficult, but he enjoyed the chase. Lassin reports that one of his techniques was to overpay for items. "That turned out to be a very good strategy for getting the best stuff," he said. Lassin also became aware of items that were available when he took over the position of Fan Club President when Feinberg retired in 1986. 

At the Museum

What we discovered first was that there wasn't a lot of signage for the place and when we pulled up to a sprawling office building located off the main road, we were a bit confused until we saw the museum tucked away behind a large office complex.

Once inside, we learned that the three-story Stoogeum, which opened in 2004, is comprised of 100,000 pieces of memorabilia spanning 10,000 square feet, with 3,500 on display at any given time. It is also the headquarters of the Three Stooges Fan Club, which touts itself as one of the nation's oldest and largest fan clubs, with 2,000 members.

One thing I should also mention is that photos are forbidden in the Stoogeum, likely because people may decide against visiting if they could simply see everything online, so all photos, (minus the exterior photo), are courtesy of the Stoogeum.

The Stoogeum is tucked away in an office complex in Ambler.

The tour starts on the second floor where visitors have the opportunity to relax on a stool in front of touchscreen panels to learn more about the Stooge's early days--from advertisements announcing their arrivals in certain towns, to digitized articles related to their lives. What I found most helpful is that visitors, after poking their own fingers in Curley's eyes, nyuk, nyuk, can view articles and advertisements by state. So, of course, I searched in Pennsylvania and it turns out the Stooges were quite popular in my state, which makes sense since they are, after all, native sons.

Information which I found particularly interesting was the early origin of the Stooges--something that fans know, but people like me are unaware of. It turns out that their humble beginnings were when they started working for vaudeville performer, comedian and actor Ted Healy as hecklers. The act started with Moe Howard and Healy and expanded to include Moe's brother Shemp Howard and Larry Fine.

Wax figures are remarkably real looking.

As one continues through the collection it appears that anything ever branded "Stooges" has been hunted down and given a place in the Stoogeum.

A wall dedicated exclusively to comics.

Items of "home decor" were particularly fascinating--like Three Stooges lamps, cabinets and even a stained-glass door. Lassin said that his wife drew the line when it came to decorating the house with such items, (which I totally understand), and is why he opened the museum in the first place.

The Stoogeum is chock-a-block with posters.

An exhaustive collection of posters, if not hung on the walls, exist in swinging panel-flip poster displays. What tickled me were the ones in foreign languages like "Les Tois Stooges," which seemed to somehow elevate them to highbrow status.

Mass-Marketed Morons display with items targeted to kids.

I also enjoyed the display titled, "Mass-Marketed Morons," where everything from colorforms, to puppets, Pez dispensers, cereal, bowling balls, beer, trading cards, lighters, Halloween costumes, plates, mugs, hot sauce and more were featured.

Personal items like tax returns and contracts are also on display, with artifacts like scripts, clothing and costumes. Story boards give an overview of each of the men so that by the time you leave, you are comfortable that you have an idea of who they were as entertainers and as human beings. When Lassin was asked to name his favorite item in the collection, he reported that it is Shemp Howard's 1918 discharge from the army. Visitors can also read fan mail and correspondence that Moe and Larry wrote. (They were known for personally answering their fan mail.)  Lassin said that many of the personal items came from the relatives. "Shemp Howard was a pretty good saver and his wife sold off a bunch of things over the years," said Lassin. 

Guests can also take a seat in the 85-seat theatre to view any of 190 shorts the Stooges made in their lifetime.

The tour ends on the third-floor in a gallery which showcases a collection of art, featuring, of course, the Three Stooges, done in a variety of mediums, from pencils, to oils, pastels and more. 

One of the newer items at the Stoogeum is a book written by Gary Lassin called "Tour de Farce," which is an extensive account of the Stooges time on the road, which evidently paid better than their television gigs. The book was published in April 2023 and chronicles five decades of personal appearances.

I suggest spending about an hour to an hour-and-a-half in the Stoogeum to see and read all the exhibits and was surprised at the fact that I can honestly say that I enjoyed the Stoogeum. In the end, I felt that it was time well spent and even inspiring. 

Rabid fans may wish to stay even longer and really get into the weeds when it comes to Stooge history. I have to admit that I underestimated Jim Gordon's level of fandom, that is until I learned that he owned many items that Lassin displays in his Stoogeum. I think that he could have spent the entire night there and been very happy. In fact, when I was ready to go, he was having a grand time playing "Whack a Stooge," like Whack a Mole, but with Stooges, so he could still be there for all I know.

If you go:
The Stoogeum attracts between 4 and 5,000 guests a year and is available by appointment only.
Location: 904 Sheble Lane, Ambler, Pa. 
Telephone: 267-468-0810