Editor's note: "Streaming Time Capsule," assuming the name sticks, is going to be a semi-regular feature on The TV Professor, looking at some of the unusual and maybe worthwhile, and maybe not worthwhile, TV show oddities that you can find online.
During the worst of the pandemic, I found myself watching some really strange programming on streaming services late at night, and one of the stranger ones was Kook’s Tour, the final "film" of the Three Stooges, which was shot in 1969 and 1970.
A review of Kook’s Tour somehow probably belongs on The TV Professor. After all, this final “film” was actually a failed approximately one-hour TV pilot, and if it’s a footnote in TV history, it’s a pretty significant one... well, at least for Three Stooges' fans.
So, yeah, I’ll offer up some sort of review.
But I’ll warn everybody now, before I spend a lot of time discussing Kook’s Tour, it is not easy to watch.
It’s not particularly funny. In many ways, it’s barely interesting.
And yet, I found myself kind of riveted, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. That said, I watched it in about five to ten minutes bites a night until I was done because that’s all I could take. And yet I was sorry when it was over.
So, let me give you a tour of the Three Stooges’ Kook’s Tour.
Today's "TV Lesson" Breakdown:
Where You Can Watch The Three Stooges’ Kook’s Tour
Usually, I say at the bottom of each blog post (unless I forget to mention it) where you can find a TV show that I write about, but I’ll mention it here – TubiTV.com. It’s a free streaming channel, with some advertising. I don't remember seeing any ads when watching Kook's Tour, which probably tells you something. I really like TubiTV, for what it's worth. The entire Columbo series is on here, at least at the time of this writing. A bunch of James Bond movies. The entire Here’s Lucy series. The entire Fantasy Island series. A lot of classic TV.
But some really weird stuff, too.
And the Three Stooges’ Kook’s Tour is among them.
What is The Three Stooges’ Kook’s Tour?
As noted, it was a failed TV pilot. The idea was that Kook’s Tour would be a thirty-minute travelogue weekly TV series, and if you think of how popular travel shows are now, and how many series have been done by people who aren’t always thought of as travelers, like the actor Stanley Tucci who recently did a four-part travel series on CNN, Stanley Tucci: Search for Italy, you could say that Kook’s Tour was ahead of its time.
Unfortunately, the series never actually materialized. In September of 1969, the Three Stooges filmed their pilot episode, written and directed by Norman Maurer, at various national parks and fishing holes in Idaho and Wyoming. The Stooges at this point were Moe Howard, Larry Fine and Joe DeRita.
A Little Backstory on Joe DeRita (and the Stooges In General)
The original trio were Moe Howard, Larry Fine and Curly Howard, Moe’s younger brother. While Moe got into vaudeville during the 1920s, the three began working together during the 1930s, with 1934 being when their movie shorts, usually about 15 to 20 minutes long, really started taking off.
The titles of the shorts were generally short and punchy, like, A Gem of a Jam, A Plumbing We Will Go, Three Missing Links and Healthy, Wealthy and Dumb. The Stooges were short and punchy, too. Moe would often take Larry and Curly and conk the two men in the head, and the sound effects made the cracks of the skulls sound kind of ghastly. In fact, I definitely get why people don't like the Three Stooges, but I admit, once I turn on one of their films, it's hard to turn off.
Curly had a stroke in 1946, which essentially ended his career, and he died in 1952. He was only 48.
After Curly left the group, Shemp Howard (another brother) joined the team, and while Curly is the sentimental favorite, there are definitely a lot of Shemp fans. Just as there are James Bond fans who think Sean Connery was the best Bond and others who love Roger Moore or think Daniel Craig was by far the best – some fans say that Shemp was better than Curly, which would be considered fighting words among some Curly fans.
Anyway, Shemp Howard died in 1955 after a massive heart attack. He was 60.
After that, Moe Howard wanted to do the act as the Two Stooges, but Columbia Pictures, which made the Stooges movie shorts, wasn’t too keen about that idea. The studio insisted on a third Stooge, and that’s how Joe Besser came into the picture. He didn’t last long – he did Three Stooges movie shorts in 1956 and 1957, with the last of them being released in 1959.
Besser left the Stooges to take care of his wife, Erna (short for Ernestine) who suffered a heart attack. She did recover, fortunately. She passed away in 1989.
(You might remember Joe Besser as the voice of Babu on the cartoon Jeannie, based loosely on the TV series, I Dream of Jeannie. I remember being probably four or five, in our family basement in the early 1970s, watching Jeannie on TV. The TV Professor does a deep dive on the Jeannie cartoon if you click here.)
In 1959, the Three Stooges movies started up, and that’s when Joe DeRita joined the trio. Throughout the 1960s, the Three Stooges had a pretty good run, making six Three Stooges feature films (actual movies instead of movie shorts that generally ran 15 to 20 minutes), with titles like Snow White and the Three Stooges (1961) and The Three Stooges Meet Hercules.
The Three Stooges did a TV cartoon series called The New Three Stooges (156 episodes!) and appeared as guest stars in various TV shows and specials. Really, in many ways, because of television, the Three Stooges were never bigger or more popular than the 1960s.
The Three Stooges Face Old Age
By the time Kook’s Tour came about in 1969, however, the Three Stooges were up there in years, sort of. I think it’s fair to say that in 1969, when you were in your 60s, you were probably thinking about packing it, and going off to tend your garden. Now, when you’re in your 60s, especially if you’re in good health, you’re still kind of a youngster. I mean, Harrison Ford has been filming the fifth Indiana Jones movie, and he is almost 79 years old.
But in 1969, Moe Howard was 64 years old, and Larry Fine, 67. Joe DeRita was the kid of the group, 62.
Today, they’d not only be considered pretty young, as long as they were making Hollywood movies, it’s easy to imagine them doing comedy action feature films without anyone batting an eye.
Anyway, given how “old” the Three Stooges were, it sort of explains “the plot” of Kook’s Tour, such as it was. Kook’s Tour was a travelogue because, you see, the Three Stooges had retired, and so the series would follow them every week visiting intriguing places around the world.
It probably would have worked, except for the fact that on the night of January 9, 1970, Larry Fine had a devastating stroke.
It paralyzed him on the left side of his body and forced him into a wheelchair. He was able to eventually walk again, with the help of a cane, but the idea of the Stooges doing a travelogue was finished.
So What Happens in Kook’s Tour?
If you’re a fan of the Three Stooges, and I mean a serious fan, it’s worth a look, for sure. If you’re a middle of the road fan, your entertainment value may vary.
If you hate the Three Stooges… well, who knows? You might actually enjoy it. They aren’t pulling each other’s noses and hitting each other with hammers and rough housing much.
Kook’s Tour opens with a lengthy explanation of what’s to come, explaining that this is a pilot episode for what would have been a thirty-minute travelogue. It shares how Larry Fine came down with a stroke near the end of filming, before close ups were going to be shot. It definitely suggests to the viewer that the pilot won’t be necessarily easy to watch.
After that, the show starts off promising. It opens with a lot of black and white footage of the Stooges involved in their usual mayhem…
Then the camera reveals the Three Stooges in color, an opening shot of Moe, Larry and Joe DeRita.
“Hi, remember us?” Moe asks, and then referring to the aforementioned footage where the Stooges are clobbering each other and getting into jams: “That’s how we made our living for 50 consecutive years.”
“We’ve got the scars to prove it,” Larry says.
“I’ve still got a few of the aches and pains,” Joe says. (Yeah, I know; he often went by Curly Joe, but I'm going with Joe.)
As Moe explains to the audience, “Suddenly we realized that although our work took us around the world, we never saw anything but the inside of our dressing room…”
“So what do you think we did?” asks Joe.
And they all say in unison: “We quit!”
And so, with some upbeat music playing in the background, the Three Stooges pack up a camper, with a boat attached, and they call for their dog, which looks to be a furry black mutt named Moose, and they drive away.
So far, so good.
And don’t worry. I’m not going to go through the hour minute by minute. But a few observations of what you’ll find in Kook’s Tour:
It really is a travelogue. As in, it kind of feels like you’re watching a 1969 home movie made by Moe Howard, Larry Fine and Joe DeRita. Much of that is because there aren’t closeups. The director, who was Moe's son-in-law, by the way, pretty much put a camera somewhere and filmed the Stooges doing their thing, and so most of the time, they’re kind of far away from the viewer.
They go fishing. Boating. Camping. And you pretty much see them doing exactly that. If your idea of a fun time is watching somebody fish, well, you're going to love this. There isn’t really a plot in Kook’s Tour, other than these are three retired Stooges who want to get in some R&R.
There’s a little comedy here and there. Joe DeRita falls into a lake, fully clothed. There’s a running gag throughout where Larry struggles to catch a fish while his two pals catch a lot of them.
At one point, sort of early on, when the Stooges are trying to get their boat launched, Moe asks, referring to DeRita: “Where’s that fatso with the instruction book?”
DeRita comes up to him, looking insulted. “I was paid a lot of money to put up with your insults, but no more, buddy boy, no more.”
Larry says, "He’s right. We’re ex-Stooges. We ought to start acting like ex-Stooges.”
Moe looks chagrined, and then he looks mock horrified, as their boat drifts away. Moose, the dog, swims after it and grabbing the rope tied to the boat, pulls it back to shore.
It’s definitely a time capsule. If you want to see what nature parks looked like in 1969, or what the fashions were from the occasional other anonymous strangers we see pop up, this is your film.
Is it Worth Watching Kook’s Tour?
For me, absolutely. But I grew up, loving the Three Stooges – and generally all of the comedians of old Hollywood.
For most people, is it worth it? Probably not. It’s a pretty boring hour of television, and yet kind of fascinating, and so I’m glad that it can be watched in its entirety, after years of not being seen.
What I found the most thought-provoking and poignant was watching Moe Howard introducing and ending Kook’s Tour and just thinking about the differences in how society looks at "old age" back then versus today. Howard indicates in the final moments of the TV pilot that wasn't that they were going to travel to Japan next. His gentle, low-key delivery contradicted his words, though, suggesting that he knew the Stooges had probably come to the end of its run. But what a run it was.
The next streaming time capsule: Decoy (1957-1958), the first TV crime drama to focus on a police woman.