For 25 years, fans of the Three Stooges have gathered in North Tonawanda’s historic Riviera Theater to watch a selection of pratfalls, puns, slapstick and side-splitters.
That’s a lot of years for a comedy festival, but it pales in comparison to the Stooges devotion of the Marinaro family of South Buffalo and West Seneca.
The family patriarch, Joseph Marinaro, born in 1929, grew up watching the comedy trio puncture pomposity and enmesh themselves in ridiculous situations in more than 200 short films on the silver screen. “He was the first one to fall in love with them, and he just thought they were the funniest thing,” said Joe’s daughter-in-law, Sarah Marinaro of South Buffalo. Joe Marinaro passed the love of the Stooges on to his 10 children before dying in December.
The oldest of Joe’s children, Dan Marinaro, now 59, made a Stooge fan out of his wife, Sarah. They shared their appreciation of the manic, quick-quipping trio with their son, Dan Jr., who has a young Stooge fan of his own in son Derek, 6.
Three generations of the Marinaro family will attend the 25th anniversary of Stoogefest, a Three Stooges film festival, which starts with an organ concert at 3:30 p.m. Sunday in the Riviera Theatre.
The festival has been held since 1991 at the Riviera, and for a few years before that as an informal get-together for friends organized by super Stooge fan Lenny Potwora
“My father-in-law Joe was the first one to fall in love with them, and he just thought they were the funniest thing,” said Sarah Marinaro, who didn’t pay much attention to the Stooges until she began dating Dan when she was 18 and they would go to see the Stooges in midnight shows at the Seneca Mall. “My husband likes the slapstick, which is comical too, but I love listening to what they say,” she said. “They are hysterical.”
The couple’s children, who include Jennie, 30; Margaret, 24, and Sarah, 21, grew up as fans too thanks to TV reruns, Stoogefest and their parents’ collection of VHS tapes and DVDs of the Stooges. To this day, “When we can’t agree on what to watch, we watch the Stooges,” said Sarah.
The Marinaros are not only faithful fans of Stoogefest – Dan Sr. has missed only a few – but are known for the depth of their loyalty to the comedy trio. For quite a while, a life-size cutout of the Stooges dressed in golf gear from the famous “Three Little Beers” episode stood in the front window of their house. But they are far from the only family in which grandparents and youngsters will sit side-by-side, said Potwora.
“There are several multigenerational families attending among the diverse audience,” he said. “We see people of all ages, backgrounds and walks of life. I think families like to do things that all of them can enjoy together. ... There’s something special about a dad sharing his memories with his child, saying, ‘This is what I watched when I was your age,’ and then both of them enjoying it together.”
After the organ concert, The Knuckleheads, a classic rock band in which Potwora plays drums, will take the stage. After that, the immediately recognizable, lilting “Three Blind Mice” tune will play to the roars of the crowd.
Seven shorts, which were made between 1935 and 1947, will be shown, Potwora said. “Besides being crowd favorites, I picked my personal favorites to celebrate the 25th anniversary. The final film is my No. 1 episode of all.”
The Marinaros will be introduced at the 25th anniversary event, as well as Pat Wheeler, who, along with Potwora, has attended every festival.
Stooge fans are bitterly divided over the changing lineup of the trio. Moe and Larry stayed in the group from the 1920s until 1971, but other comics joined them in the early days and again after Curly had a stroke while filming “Half-wits’ Holiday” in 1946. The replacements included Moe and Curly’s older brother, Shemp, Joe Besser and “Curly Joe” DeRita. Sunday’s festival will include one episode featuring Shemp, Potwora said.
Joe Marinaro, his son Dan and another son, Paul, attended a Three Stooges convention in Philadelphia in 1988, and around the same time Paul Marinaro led a campaign to get the Stooges commemorated on a U.S. postage stamp.
For the first few years of the Stoogefest at the Riviera, just the men in the family went, said Sarah Marinaro. “Then I spoke up and said, ‘I want to go too!’ Now you’d have to do a head count to find out whether there are more women than men. It’s close. And people range from real young kids to people in their 90s.”
The Marinaro children started attending at age 2 or 3, and always behaved, staring wide-eyed at the screen, said Sarah. “They were very good, they would pay attention and clap at the end.”
“It’s like a big family, you see everybody that you see every year,” said Dan Jr. “They don’t show the same stuff, there’s always something different, but it’s a tradition.
Dan Jr. said the youngest family Stooges fan, his son, Derek, “will notice things that are really goofy, and he’ll say, ‘Don’t do that!’ and of course they do it.”
Doors open at 3 p.m. Aug. 21 in the Riviera Theatre, 67 Webster St., North Tonawanda. Tickets are $12 for adults and $7 for children 12 and younger at the door, World Hollywood Entertainment in the McKinley Mall (828-0139) and via rivieratheatre.org.