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TRIBUTE TO OFFICER JOE BOLTON


by Ronald L. Smith

COPS? The 3 Stooges had no use for cops! In their movies (or the Marx Bros.' Abbott & Costello, Chaplin...) it was: Comedians vs Cops!

But we all liked Officer Joe.

When Stooges shorts were sold to TV, the 20-minute length was awkward. Local stations needed kiddie show hosts to keep things moving with live comedy, songs or a few added cartoons.

In New York, this was a job for.... Officer Joe Bolton!

To have an "Officer" sanctioning our three larcenous pals was, in a word, amazing! After all, in so many Stooges shorts the boys were stealing everything from watermelons to fish, and huckstering all kinds of products including "Brighto."

The friendly Joe Bolton didn't seem to mind at all. Born in September of 1910, he first gained some attention as an announcer for New York Giants football games, and for appearances in sports newsreels. (Bolton fan and keen observer to my pages, Kevin S. Butler confirms that you can see Officer Joe in various Warner Bros. Sports newsreels and Paramount Pictorials, including "Home Run on the Keys" with Babe Ruth, Zez Confrey (of "Kitton on the Keys" fame) and the fabulous DeMarco Sisters.)

Joe was also a sportscaster in Philadelphia, but in 1950 he was hired by WPIX as a weatherman. Kids seemed to really love the guy, so when some execs at WPIX asked kids who they'd like to see hosting "Our Gang" shorts, the surprising choice was Joe Bolton! Joe was willing, but didn't like the execs' idea of being a comical hobo. He favored the idea of being the genial, respectable neighborhood policeman. And so in January of 1955, "Officer Joe" began his kiddie hosting duties. "The Clubhouse Gang" featured the "Little Rascals" shorts, and sometimes appearances by grown up members of the group who'd come to New York for a special visit.

When WPIX lost the rights to the shorts, Officer Joe had to find something new. In September of 1958, "The Three Stooges Funhouse" premiered with Officer Joe's cheerful and genial hosting.

Meanwhile, WPIX's sportscaster, Jack McCarthy, was now "Captain Jack" hosting Popeye cartoons).

Having the Stooges on in New York was vital for the trio's visibility and popularity, and Officer Joe's personality definitely helped the show become a success. Soon Columbia decided to stitch together some of the Stooge shorts into a feature film...and they naturally decided Officer Joe should somehow be involved in the newly shot sequences. You can see him in full Officer regalia in "Stop, Look and Laugh."

For some reason, Officer Joe was pulled off the Stooges beat in the Fall of 1961, and was handed a new assignment; hosting Dick Tracy cartoons. A less than thrilling replacement, "Fireman" Todd Russell hosted the new "Three Stooges Firehouse." About his only achievement was presiding over the first airings of Shemp shorts. Yes, the Stooges had become so popular, and the demand so great, Columbia had unleashed their Shemps!

In 1963, Russell was replaced with a few WPIX staffers and hopefuls, from "Captain" Jack McCarthy (the combo "Three Stooges/Popeye Hour," to "Old Philosopher" Eddie Lawrence, who hosted his own "Eddie Lawrence Show" for a few months, doing sketches and screening the Stooges. Happily, in February of 1964 Officer Joe Bolton was called back to active stooge duty. And, he brought Joe Besser with him. Yes, for a while there, Besser even had his own day of the week. You'd get Curly shorts on certain days, Shemp shorts on others, and one day a week for Besser.

Officer Joe was great to fans, as I found out first hand. Dozens of times Officer Joe typed out letters to me (always signed with a flourish using an amazing aquamarine-blue fountain pen). Until Leonard Maltin's "Movie Comedy Teams" book in 1969, no author gave more than a cursory mention to the Stooges. Film history books never gave "the boys" their due. Fortunately, through the 60's Officer Joe was around to help! In fact around 1966, after fielding so many questions from me, and other pie-faced kids, he wrote a little mimeographed bio on the Stooges. Wow! We found out Moe, Shemp and Curly were brothers!

And for the stupendously and even putrid devotees, he sometimes sent out an autographed photo!

Here's one he sent me of himself and the boys. (Usually MOE was responsible for signing all Three Stooges names on the 4x5's but sometimes Larry and Curly-Joe went to woik and signed batches of 'em too.)

Sensing a sincere Stoogist, Officer Joe eventually gave me home addresses for various surviving Stooges. How thrilled I was to correspond directly with MOE, and get handwritten letters! One time, when Larry visited the WPIX-TV studios, I actually got a phone call from "the stooge in the middle." It was one of the greatest moments of my childhood. (Which, as you can tell, ain't over!)

How happy I was to get 8x10's from Joe Besser

and Joe DeRita

and a whole bunch of photos from Moe (he even sent me autographed pix of himself with Curly or Shemp, and he added their signatures! Why that forger...). The photo I've included of Moe is a blow-up from a film still...just wanted you to see the signature up close.

If you're wondering what happened to my autographed Larry...well, so am I. It was stolen from me in college. If you ever see someone flash a "To Ronald..." horizontal 8x10 signed by Larry, MOIDER' EM! On second thought, just pull out his esophagus. He probably only bought it off the weasel that pinched it from me back in the 70's. That mongoose, that turnip-head, that...

Where was I? Oh yes... back to the story...I still wrote to Officer Joe Bolton, of course, and was happy to see him get a chance to make a cameo film appearance with the newly revitalized Three Stooges in "THE OUTLAWS IS COMING." As most of you know, all the "outlaws" in the film were played by the kiddie show hosts who were running Stooge shorts in various cities. What a great bunch they were: adults who actually LIKED the Three Stooges and encouraged us to watch them!

When the Friedman Brothers autographed their brilliant "Persons Living or Dead" cartoon book for me (the one with the hilarious panels on Joe DeRita among many others), Drew Friedman added, "Joe Bolton made you what you are today!" And you know, he wasn't far wrong. Because kindly Officer Joe's letters marked "the start" of my career in corresponding with celebrities and becoming a writer.

I wondered if Joe would make more films after "The Outlaws is Coming," but he wrote back to say he was very comfortable as a staffer for WPIX, and content to remain just where he was. (In a letter to Kevin S. Butler, the Officer mentioned that in the 40's he did a few screen tests but nothing came of it. One studio "didn't do too badly, they hired Cornel Wilde instead." Our gain. Cornell Wilde hosting the Stooges show in New York?? We were glad to have Officer Joe. Moe would turn up on the show, sometimes Joe would play his guitar to end a show, and sometimes another WPIX staffer would drop by, like the lovely Carol Corbett. New generations enjoyed Officer Joe and his friends.

Moe kept in touch with Joe and since Moe's fingers were in such good shape from all the eye-poking, he never used a typewriter. Here's an example of one of Moe's letters to Officer Joe...

If you can't make out the words (and this scan is a quickie that's more for effect than for reading) it basically says...Trust that you and yours are all in excellent health...
"I read all the letters you sent from the fans and I enjoyed them very much. It really was an impact, my being on the show in person. I enjoyed being on the show with you along with the rest of the nice people at your studio. I really look forward to repeating my visit in the not too distant future. We will be appearing in person in Honoulu for about 2 weeks. That is as things now stand. Our feature film has been postponed due to story difficulties but will get back to it soon. By the way Joe can you send me some of those photos that you that you have with your picture and all the stooges across the bottom. I get requests (for them).
No more at this time Joe I'll keep in touch and keep you posted as to when I am supposed to be on the Joey Bishop show. Helen joins me in all good wishes and warm regards...

Moe appeared at least once a year on Bolton's show in 1967, 1968 and 1969. It was a dark day (May 7, 1970) when all the outraged parent-teacher protests about Stooge violence finally caught up to Joe and the boys...and the show was taken off the air.

Our favorite Officer retired in 1975 and moved to Santa Monica. It was there, in August of 1986, that he passed on to that great pie in the sky where "the boys" now dwell. He was 75 years old. A son and a daughter survive, and perhaps one day they'll contact this website (cykottick@hotmail.com) to supply more info for all of Officer Joe's fans!

I hope the words and pix on this website help other fans recall with great fondness Officer Joe Bolton, a genuinely nice guy, and the only cop who'd never think of arresting Moe, Larry and Curly no matter what...

UPDATE
Several folks have written in asking about the theme song Officer Joe used on his show. Oh...wiseguys. Well, just for you, here's an extra page all about THE WHISTLER AND HIS DOG. (And I hope you enjoy the whistler & dog animation...it takes a few seconds to load...)