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Stooges museum not just for knuckleheads

September 10, 2007|Kathy Matheson | Associated Press

SPRING HOUSE, Pa. -- Posing for a picture with life-size replicas of the Three Stooges, Gary Lassin smiled but didn't say "cheese." "Woob-woob-woob-woob-woob!" he trilled in a Curly-like falsetto before breaking into a grin.

The statues of Larry, Moe and Curly are near the entrance to the Stoogeum, home of Lassin's priceless collection of memorabilia, with some 3,500 items on display, such as Stooges bowling balls and cereal boxes, Shemp Howard's Army discharge, Larry Fine's driver's license and the flying submarine from "The Three Stooges in Orbit."

Lassin, 52, opened the Stoogeum three years ago in a renovated architect's office that looks like a large house. It's a gold mine for fans of the old-time knucklehead movie-and-TV trio, but its off-the-beaten-path location in Spring House -- about 25 miles north of Philadelphia -- has made it a fairly well-kept secret.

"People sort of have to work to find me," Lassin said. "I do want people to see it, but I want them to see it on my terms."

Those terms include no photographs of the memorabilia. And admission is by appointment only because Lassin, who has a day job as an executive with a mail-order catalog company, is the Stoogeum's sole employee.

The museum-quality exhibits occupy three stories totaling 10,000 square feet, including an 85-seat theater. There are props, posters, toys, artwork, figurines, scripts and even a video game, and TV screens replay all the eye poking, pie throwing and general mayhem that made the Stooges famous.

The act started out in vaudeville in the 1920s as support for comic Ted Healy. The first Stooges film, alongside Healy, was 1930's "Soup to Nuts." The last one released was "The Outlaws Is Coming," in 1965. Shemp and Moe Howard and Fine were the earliest Stooges. Curly Howard replaced brother Shemp for many years. Later Stooges included Joe Besser and Curly Joe DeRita.

The Stoogeum has "more stuff than I even imagined existed," said Peter Seely, editor of the book "Stoogeology: Essays on the Three Stooges." "Going through there is sort of like a trip through the history of pop culture in the 20th century."

Yet what visitors see is only a sampling of Lassin's estimated 100,000 items. His collection is both historical and personal, documenting the slapstick performers' indelible place in entertainment but also preserving a family legacy: Lassin's wife's grandfather, Morris Feinberg, was the brother of Stooge Larry (born Louis Feinberg).

Lassin was already a Stooges fan -- "Soitenly!" he said -- when he married into the family in 1981. He later became a sort of self-appointed guardian of Stooges keepsakes, which included items Morris Feinberg had received from his brother.

As the collection grew, Lassin kept it in drawers, boxes, notebooks and file cabinets above his garage. He opened the Stoogeum in 2004, self-financing it at an undisclosed cost; he called it part real estate investment, part tax shelter and part "complete waste of money."

It's likely the first museum of its kind, said Eric Lamond of California-based C3 Entertainment Inc., a production company created by the Stooges that still owns the brand.

"Gary's collection is enormous," said Lamond, who's Fine's eldest grandchild. "I would think his is the largest."

Lamond said that C3 Entertainment is considering building its own museum.

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