Last Three Stooges print has the last laugh

A garden shed in a northern-beaches suburb of Sydney, Australia, may sound like a remote connection to a Three Stooges film festival being held at Glendale’s Alex Theatre on Nov. 30, but the rare find by a film collector there has fans of the zany comedy trio rejoicing.

The Three Stooges, a former Vaudevillian troupe, made 190 short films in their long Hollywood career. One film, the Technicolor “Hello Pop,” an MGM 18-minute backstage musical made in 1933 was thought lost forever when a fire at MGM studios in 1967 destroyed what was then thought to be the last print.

That was until earlier this year when 78-year-old Malcolm Smith, a keen film collector from Sydney who had amassed hundreds of classic Hollywood films over the years, decided it was time to start clearing out his inventory. Hollywood studios would regularly send their prints to be screened in Australia by boat which would take six weeks.

“Not many of them ever found their way back. It was just too expensive,” says Smith, who worked in the film industry most of his life. “When they decided to destroy them, collectors like me would often get them before they were sent to the garbage. We didn’t think of it as stealing, but just saving them. We just didn’t let the bosses know.”

Smith bought “Hello Pop” from another collector in the early 1950s for the princely sum of one pound (the equivalent of $2) and it had remained on his property since then.

“I’m getting to an age when I thought there was no point hanging onto them any longer,” Smith says on the phone from his home in Sydney. “When I saw ‘Hello Pop,’ I suspected it may have been a lost film. I have never used a computer so I had a friend email to check with a vintage film expert.”

“There was never any hope of finding this film,” says Ron Hutchinson, founder of the New Jersey based nonprofit film preservation organization, The Vitaphone Project, who received the inquiry from Smith. “This was like finding the Holy Grail for Three Stooges fans, because it was the only film of theirs that did not exist.”

The 35mm nitrate, two-color Technicolor short — still in remarkable condition — was handed over to Ned Price, chief preservation officer at Warner Bros. in Burbank for restoration. A preservation copy was made that could be screened, and gets its West Coast premier at the Alex Theatre during the Three Stooges annual festival.

“After 16 years of our festival this is probably the most exciting one we have held. This will be the first West Coast screening of ‘Hello Pop’ in 80 years,” says Frank Gladstone, a member of the Alex Film Society, which stages the annual Stooge Fest. “When we began we did it more as a fun thing, something to do on the Thanksgiving weekend, but our event became so popular. It’s amazing how many Three Stooges fans there are.”

Besides “Hello Pop,” five other shorts featuring the slapstick trio will be screened under the theme of “Stooge Family Values”: “Three Dumb Clucks” (1937), “We Want Our Mummy” (1939), “Three Smart Saps” (1942) and “Sock-A-Bye Baby” (1942).

Many remaining Stooges family members will attend the event which screens twice on Nov. 30 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. “It’s sometimes hard to get people out the door, the fans love to hang around and chat,” Gladstone says with a laugh.

“It’s a wonderful theatre — a great picture palace to see the film, and the best way to see their work,” says Eric Lamond, the grandson of original Stooge Larry Fine. Lamond recalls seeing his grandfather practice many of the stunts with fellow Stooge Moe Howard as a child. “None of the family have ever seen ‘Hello Pop,’ so we are so excited to be there next Saturday to watch it.”

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