Stooges' heirs free to cash in at last

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The Independent Online
Los Angeles (Reuter) - A bankruptcy court has confirmed that the heirs of the Three Stooges - Larry Fine, Joe "Curly Joe" DeRita and Moe Howard - own the rights to their work.

Judge Alan Ahart's ruling ends years of litigation which held up lucrative film and merchandising deals. The Three Stooges, with a routine based on violent and vulgar slapstick, were a huge draw in vaudeville, television and films from the 1930s to 1960s. Re-runs remain popular television fare.

The original members were the brothers Moe and Shemp Howard and Fine. Shemp was replaced by his younger brother Jerome (Curly) and recalled in 1946 when Jerome had a stroke. He was replaced after his death in 1955 by Joe Besser, then by DeRita in 1959.

Their output included 200 shorts and films such as Snow White and the Three Stooges (1961). Fine died in 1974, Moe Howard in 1975 and DeRita in poverty in 1993.

Legal challenges began in July 1993, when Fine's grandchildren and DeRita's widow,represented by Bela Lugosi Jr, son of the horror-film actor, said the heirs of Moe Howard, who owned the rights to the characters, owed them more than $5m (pounds 3.26m) in profits from merchandising and marketing deals.

A court last year ordered Howard's heirs to pay $4.3m, of which $1.6m was to go to Jean DeRita, and to hand over all rights to the characters to a company controlled by the heirs of all three. The Howard heirs, his daughter Joan Maurer and grandson Jeffrey Scott, subsequently declared bankruptcy and sought an appeal.

Mr Lugosi said a settlement had been reached allowing for a payment schedule and affirming the transfer to Comedy III Productions, which wastalking with Columbia Pictures about a feature film and also considering other options such as an animated television series and a television special.

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