Films of Emil Sitka: FUELIN' AROUND (1949)
by Saxon E. Sitka
Two months after working in SHEEPISH WOLF
, Emil was back again at Columbia Pictures, performing in his twenty-ninth short subject comedy for the studio in two and a half years. This was also Emil's seventh role with the Three Stooges, with whom he would go on to make another twenty-eight movies over the next ten years.
In FUELIN' AROUND, Emil plays "Professor Sneed," a scientist who invents a super rocket fuel, only to become the target of a kidnapping plot by a foreign government that wants the formula. The Three Stooges are workmen making repairs at the Professor's house, and the foreign agents mistake Larry for the Professor. Thinking Moe and Shemp are the professor's assistants, they kidnap all three and take them to a laboratory back in their own country, "The State of Anemia."
Pretending to be the Professor and his assistants, the Stooges fumble around in the lab until the foreign agents realize their mistake and capture the real Professor and his assistant, played by Christine McIntyre.
Professor Sneed/Emil can't remember the formula, though, so he and his assistant are placed in a dungeon cell. As a beautiful lab assistant, Christine charms and distracts a guard, played by Jock Mahoney, while the Professor steals his cell keys. They then escape with the Stooges and all ends well.
"Professor Sneed" was the first of several "old, sympathetic" eccentric inventor/doctor characters Emil would enact with the Three Stooges over the years. Other memorable roles include the hypnotist "Dr. Gezundheit" in SCRAMBLED BRAINS (1951), museum curator "B. Bopper" in STONE-AGE ROMEOS (1955), and astronaut "Professor Jones" in OUTER SPACE JITTERS (1957). Emil perfected this type of eccentric yet sympathetic zany scientist character in his role as "Professor Danforth" in the feature-length Stooge film THE THREE STOOGES IN ORBIT (1962).
Of course, by 1948 Emil was accustomed to playing older gentlemen. Despite being cast as "old, sympathetic Professor Sneed," Emil was only 33 years old, making him the youngest actor on the set of FUELIN' AROUND. Even Christine McIntyre, who was playing his daughter, was three years older than Emil.
FUELIN' AROUND is regarded as one of the top ten funniest Stooge comedies and ranks amongst the best work of both Stooge writer Ellwood Ullman and Stooge director Ed Bernds. Many of the most popular Stooge supporting actors also appeared in FUELIN' AROUND, with Vernon Dent, Phil Van Zandt, and Harold Brauer joining Emil, Christine McIntyre, and Jock Mahoney (as Jacques O'Mahoney) in the cast. It was "re-made" in 1956 by adding several new scenes and re-titling it HOT STUFF, but all of Emil's scenes in the re-make were from the original.
Jacques O'Mahoney, who plays the dungeon cell guard, went on to have an interesting career in Hollywood. O'Mahoney, who later changed his name to Jock Mahoney, did stunt work for notable actors such as Gregory Peck, John Wayne, and Errol Flynn, prompting Leonard Maltin to call him "one of the greatest stuntmen who ever lived." O'Mahoney began acting as well and appeared in over seventy movies, several TV series, and played Tarzan in TARZAN GOES TO INDIA (1962) and TARZAN'S THREE CHALLENGES (1967). O'Mahoney was also step-father to Sally Field and appeared in THE END (1978), in which Field co-starred with Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise.
When Emil got the call to work in FUELIN' AROUND, he was still suffering from the injuries he'd sustained three months earlier while filming BILLIE GETS HER MAN
. Although he had been given some slapstick action in SHEEPISH WOLF, his first film since the injury, perhaps Emil's headaches and lingering pains in the neck compelled director Ed Bernds to minimize the physical humor of Emil's role in this film.
Emil's diary entry for Friday, April 2, 1948:
As I neared Columbia Studios once again on a call for work my spirits rose higher. When Marvin Schmall cheerfully handed me a script and "four day's work" I almost leaped with joy!
At the office of Ed Bernds were Hugh McCollum and Ellwood Ullman. I explained the X-rays, the admonishings of Lester Sweeney (the doctor) to "let time do the curing." (my wife) Sunshine's anxiety for treatment, the continuation of pain in the head & neck, etc. We both shook our heads affirmatively when I concluded: "Now we hope action comes from Sweeney."
In the light rain I bumped into Harold Byer who had me trail along into NBC studios. After Arthur Q. Bryan left him I got the most severe headache ever. By the time I left Harold & got to Leo Brown's apartment in Hollywood I was almost "blind with pain" in the forehead.
Never, in all my whole life, have I suffered such a severe pulsating pain in my head. I phoned Sunshine & almost passed out. Later Leo told of a chiropractor who should be able to relieve my misery. I went to Dr. H. Hause. New fangled electric massage & vibrations cost $3.00 - but still have headache.
Arthur Q. Bryan, mentioned incidentally in above diary entry, was an accomplished radio actor who played "Dr. Gamble" on FIBBER MCGEE AND MOLLY for over ten seasons starting in 1943, and who achieved a measure of fame as the voice of "Elmer Fudd" in dozens of Warner Brothers cartoons.
Emil's diary entry for Tuesday, April 6, 1948:
Once again I was eagerly watching the scenery going by the windows of Leo Brown's car as we neared the Columbia Ranch in Burbank.
It's another Stooge comedy, and I'm to portray old Professor Sneed - all without violence! There isn't one act written in my role that calls for a fall or hit or slip - the bits that get the audience to laugh.
"It's just a straight part, Emil" said Ed Bernds, the director, and not a laugh anywhere in it. But it's important to the story and sets up the laugh-getting for the Stooges.
To my surprise I was let off at nearly 3 P.M. and even Hans Schumm (who also works in this picture) asked "going home already."
Emil's diary entry for the next day, Wednesday, April 7, 1948:
This morning Leo Brown was late, and a good thing I wasn't working at the Columbia Ranch in Burbank, but rather at the nearer stages at Sunset and Vermont.
I had but one scene today wherein I spoke one line! That's all - and I was sent home at noon! Good thing, most Hollywood actor's think when this happens - but I'd rather act. I like to act more than any other thing - especially at making people laugh.
My role was done by me "respectfully, sympathetically, simply" - that's all.
Emil's diary entry for Thursday, April 8, 1948:
The three Stooges accept me by now as "one of the company" that goes with making their comedy shorts at Columbia. Shemp Howard clowns with me "off the set," while Moe Howard confides his "secret plans" for a Hollywood Stock company. Larry Fine, still leery & suspicious of other "funny men," even chummily works out a scene with me. But above and beyond all this "kinship" & liking for me they are overly careful about my doing any trick of laugh-getting that might be a topper over theirs.
Of course, I understand this, and feel complimented.
My role is, as Ed Bernds keeps reminding me, only for atmosphere & plot.
Today I didn't get to actually act until after lunchtime. It was that part of the story that takes place inside a dungeon & I am imprisoned with my daughter (lovely Christine McIntyre) until a silly guard is robbed by me of his keys to the cell! It was fun, only the Stooges doing all the comedy! I was almost like in a straight-jacket with my "straight" role - and my head ached some. So did my neck.
Emil's diary entry for his last day of work on FUELIN' AROUND, Friday, April 9, 1948:
It's almost like God's work, this week! Here I am on my fourth day in this Columbia comedy with the Stooges, at $75.00 per day! And last Monday I was almost without a dollar!
Today I was through with my small scenes by noon, but hung around anyway for a while. I like to watch expert comedians like these Howard brothers. I certainly can learn a lot, and grow in my admiration for their art & perfect timing.
Ed Bernds said that in the next comedy I'll get some funny things to do. I somehow always rest confident in Bernds & ever hopeful. He assures me, with his manner, that all is being done right for my welfare in regards the injuries and future career.
I am always mindful of Bernds & McCollum & rest faithfully in feeling these employers who vowed: "We did it, and will fix it," will see it is done.
Despite this optimism and commencing a series of "short wave diathermy" ("heat pad") treatments at Columbia Studios Hospital, Emil's condition worsened. Emil's diary for Wednesday, April 28, 1948:
When I reported to Columbia Hospital I said something to the assistant about that peculiar twitching of nerves or muscles or (?) at various parts of my body getting a little more out of control...
Already my total eccentricities from this mess include ever-present crackling in my neck, the ache over and as if through my right eye, headaches, tight & taut painful ligaments or (?) on right of neck, a funny but frightening numbing of hands, a pain in my shoulder and now - twitching!
This condition persisted month after month for years, but Columbia Pictures' doctors couldn't determine the cause. Emil suffered these and other symptoms for five years until, in 1953, his condition was finally properly diagnosed: a cracked vertebra in his neck! Proper treatments were begun and within months he regained his health.
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