The comedy was VAGABOND LOAFERS, Emil's thirty-seventh Columbia Pictures short subject and his ninth acting job with The Three Stooges. For this film, Emil enacted a role that would become another fan favorite: "Mr. Walter Norfleet," a dignified and wealthy gentleman of society.
Written by Ellwood Ullman, VAGABOND LOAFERS was directed by Edward Bernds and produced by Hugh McCollum. In addition to Larry, Moe, Shemp and Emil, the cast includes Symona Boniface, Kenneth MacDonald, Christine McIntyre, Dudley Dickerson, and Herbert Evans. The title is a take-off of a 1929 musical comedy called VAGABOND LOVER, which starred Rudy Vallee and Marie Dressler, although there appears to be no other connection between the two films.
Emil's diary for the following Wednesday, January 26, 1949:
Emil does in fact insert some humorous ad-lib's into his performances. For instance, in the scene he describes in his diary in which a chandelier disappears into a wall, the script merely calls for him to react by "muttering in bewilderment." In the film, though, this scene concludes with one of Emil's most memorable and classic Stooge lines. After Emil and a lady party guest watch the lamp fixture disappear into the wall with a loud crash and leaving a gaping hole, Emil peers into the hole, turns his head and calmly says, "Short circuit, no doubt."
In another scene, "Mrs. Norfleet" attempts to entertain her party guests with the television, saying, "It's the very latest set, you know. We get the most amazing results."
But the Stooges have connected the house's plumbing to the electrical system, so there's no picture on the TV set even though the sound is working. An announcer's voice comes on saying, "Our special feature tonight is Glimpses of Scenic America. First we take you to Niagara Falls."
As Mrs. Norfleet fiddles with the dials a huge gush of water bursts through the television screen, soaking her and several nearby guests. Emil, who has no action or lines in the script, rushes over to help and dabs his handkerchief on Mrs. Norfleet, saying, "Clarabelle, dear, you're all wet!" He then turns to the TV set and shouts, "I say, you television people!" These are very funny ad-lib's for a scene in which there are no line or actions for Emil's "Mr. Norfleet."
With these and numerous other memorably funny lines, "Mr. Walter Norfleet" went on to become another of Emil's classic Stooge characters, joining "Sappington, the Butler" from HALF-WITS HOLIDAY (1947)
, the "justice-of-the-peace" in BRIDELESS GROOM (1947)
, "Amos Flint" in ALL GUMMED UP (1947)
, and "old man Goodrich" in WHO DONE IT? (1949)
While VAGABOND LOAFERS was only Emil's ninth role with the Three Stooges, and he would go on to appear in another 26 shorts with the trio, it turned out to be the final Stooges film for two other well-known supporting players: Symona Boniface and Dudley Dickerson.
As with Emil, both Boniface and Dickerson appeared in more Columbia shorts with other stars than with the Stooges, including Andy Clyde, Hugh Herbert, Vera Vague, Schilling & Lane, Billie Burke, Harry Von Zell, Joe DeRita and Sterling Holloway.
Symona Boniface was a dignified-looking woman who was often cast as a dowager or mother-in-law, and her part in VAGABOND LOAFERS was typical. As "Mrs. Norfleet, a society woman," Boniface played a convincing snob. When the Stooge plumbers come in through the front door, she tells them, "How dare you come in here and mingle with my guests!" and follows up with, "Such impertinence! Wilks, get them out of here and put them to work!"
Perhaps Symona's most memorable role came in the Stooge comedy HALF-WITS HOLIDAY (1947)
in which she played "Mrs. Smythe-Smythe," a wealthy lady attending a fancy party celebrating the transformation of Larry, Moe and Curly into gentlemen. At one point, she attempts to question Moe about it, but unknown to her, he's just thrown a pie up onto the ceiling that stuck there. As Boniface tries to engage him in conversation, Moe squirms uncomfortably, knowing that the pie on the ceiling above him was starting to come loose.
Noticing his agitation, she says to Moe, "Why, what's wrong with you, young man? You act as though the Sword of Damocles is hanging over your head." As Moe walks hurriedly away, Mrs. Smythe-Smythe glances upward, just in time for the pie to fall squarely into her face. She of course reacts with shock and horror, and when she wipes her eyes, she flicks pie-filling into the faces of several other party guests, thereby starting one of the biggest pie fights in Stooge history.
After acting in VAGABOND LOAFERS, Boniface, who had appeared in nearly two dozen Stooge comedies, made one more Columbia short and half a dozen feature film appearances before succumbing to cancer in September 1950. Through the re-use of earlier film clips in later productions, she appeared in several Columbia two-reelers years after her death.
Emil and Symona, who had worked together in over a dozen Columbia comedies, were good personal friends and often acted together on stage in plays, including The Viper's Fang
. After making VAGABOND LOAFERS, their careers crossed paths again in the Columbia short TWO ROAMING CHAMPS (1950)
starring Max Baer and Maxie Rosenbloom, as well as BEWARE OF BLONDIE (1950)
with Penny Singleton and Arthur Lake.
The other supporting cast member working for the last time with the Stooges was Dudley Dickerson, and as one of very few black supporting actors at Columbia's Short Subjects Department, he was nearly always typecast as a cook, porter or waiter. He nevertheless enacted his roles convincingly and very humorously. He was especially adept at conveying fear, as his eyes would bulge and his mouth would freeze in a silent scream. In VAGABOND LOAFERS, this served him well when, as "Henry, the Cook" trying to prepare dinner for the Norfleet's party guests, he reacts to a water faucet spinning around out of control, an electric light bulb filling with water, and a stove top spewing water showers out of the burners. Finally, in response to the chaos, he declares, "This house has sho' gone crazy!"
Dickerson began his film career in the early thirties and remained busy for more than two decades, appearing in over a hundred movies. Though most of his roles were small and many went uncredited, he worked in dozens of films that featured some of Hollywood's biggest stars, such as Clark Gable, Errol Flynn, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Bette Davis, Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, the Little Rascals, Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers, Jean Harlow, Lionel Barrymore, John Wayne, Johnny Weissmuller, Jack Benny, Frederic March, Claudette Colbert, Abbott and Costello, and more. Dickerson also appeared in a number of episodes of the Amos 'n' Andy
television series in the early fifties.
Dickerson began appearing in Columbia's short subjects in 1939, and his first Three Stooges comedy, A PLUMBING WE WILL GO (1940), was an early version of VAGABOND LOAFERS that featured Curly as the third Stooge instead of Shemp. In fact, many of Dickerson's scenes were actually taken from this earlier short and "re-used" by splicing them into the later film. This became a common practice at Columbia Pictures, and much of VAGABOND LOAFERS was re-used years later in yet another re-make titled SCHEMING SCHEMERS (1956)
Although VAGABOND LOAFERS was the last Stooge film Dickerson worked in, he made a few more Columbia shorts featuring other stars. He also appeared in several succeeding two-reelers that re-used footage from earlier shorts. After bit parts in a handful of feature films, he retired from show business.
Emil and Dudley worked together numerous times, sharing credits in eight Columbia comedies. They also both worked in THE BEAUTIFUL BLONDE FROM BASHFUL BEND (1949)
with Betty Grable and, later, KILL THE UMPIRE (1950)
starring William Bendix.