There was once a time when The Three Stooges ruled the late-night roost with a series of TV marathons that ensured the Vaudeville-era comedians would have a longer reach than many of their contemporaries. For decades, TBS owned this little niche.
Even now, cable networks like IFC and AMC run the Stooges at odd times, in the middle of the night, mostly on weekends, as fillers between other movies. In some ways, their broad brand of slapstick humor has grown into a niche endeavor in the modern day—in part because more sophisticated takes on physical humor (think the eyerolls and subtle cringeiness of The Office and its variants, or Paul Rudd’s cafeteria scene from Wet Hot American Summer) have made the pokes and prods of Moe Howard and his second bananas seem a little dull.
But they were trailblazers whose shorts crucially were perfect for the television era, and their fast-paced humor won them a lot of fans. Perhaps the most dedicated of these fans, as it turns out, is a man who died a decade ago. James Bechtold, a longtime resident of Metuchen, New Jersey who spent decades as a firefighter in the town, was by all accounts a well-loved guy whose sense of humor was shaped by The Three Stooges.
When he died in February 2007 at the premature age of 50, he specifically asked for a gravestone design in his will that honored that appreciation of the Stooges, along with a simple message about what the Stooges meant to him: “Laugh, don’t weep, it feels better!” The result is that Bechtold is the only deceased person in the world with a gravestone featuring The Three Stooges.
“It was in his will, that’s what he wanted,” noted Robert Donnan, the Metuchen fire chief, in comments to CBS New York. “When you go to visit him, rather than sitting there with a tear you see the Three Stooges looking at you, and you can’t help but laugh.”
The hard part about the gravestone was that many U.S. stone-carvers would not take on the gig because of the copyright infringement necessary to sculpt Moe Howard, Larry Fine, and Curly Howard to last for hundreds of years. So, Bechtold’s family had a Chinese factory take it on.
While Curly Joe DeRita, the later replacement for Jerome “Curly” Howard during the television era, wasn’t featured in Bechtold’s sculpture, DeRita’s face can be seen on another gravestone elsewhere—his own, located in Pierce Brothers Valhalla Memorial Park in North Hollywood, California. DeRita outlived every other Stooge, making it until 1993.