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Subject: Archive: Emil Sitka, Jan. 16, 1998

Actor in several Three Stooges shorts
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Date Posted: Friday, January 17, 04:51:22pm

CAMARILLO — Emil Sitka, a veteran character actor who played a highbrow straight man to the low-brow lunacy of the Three Stooges, died Friday of complications due to a stroke. He was 83.

Sitka, a Camarillo resident for 20 years, was born Dec. 22, 1914, in Johnstown, Pa. Orphaned as a child, Sitka was raised by priests in a Catholic church home. Each year, he took part in the home’s Passion play, an unlikely introduction to the rough and raucous comedy world he would later embrace.

His first try at an acting career ended when the Depression shut down the Pittsburgh stock company that had hired him. Instead, he and his brother joined the hobos in riding across America in boxcars.

“He told wonderful stories about those days,” said his son, Saxon Sitka of Camarillo. “They really had a great time, even though most of the men they were with were much older.”

In 1936, after he and his brother parted ways, Sitka arrived in Los Angeles.

“He was homeless, and he bummed around the streets of Hollywood, where he would pop into the small theaters and look for work,” Saxon Sitka said.

A theater owner hired him, and Sitka played small parts for two years, living in his dressing room the whole time. By 1946, he was directing and playing starring roles, and was recognized as the year’s best local actor by Playgoer Magazine.

That was also the year a scout saw Sitka in a play called “The Viper’s Fang” and signed him to a contract with Columbia Pictures. His first film role was opposite comedian Billie Burke in “Billie Gets Her Man.” But fame came with the Stooges.

“My first Stooges role was as a butler in ‘Half-wits Holiday,’ ” Sitka told The Times in a 1989 interview. He played a smooth and sophisticated butler.

“Curly called me ‘Sir’ almost through the entire shooting,” Sitka recalled.

He went on to complete 70 episodes of the frenetic and violent comedy, always playing the authority figure that the Stooges had to circumvent. He earned a following among Stooges fans and historians, who praised his comic timing.
Sitka was also a devoted family man. In 1940, he married Sunshine, and the couple raised seven children.

“He loved deep-sea fishing, and would take my brother and me out with him,” Saxon Sitka said. “I remember going out with him when I was barely old enough to hold a fishing pole.”
In 1978, after he moved to Leisure Village in Camarillo, Sitka carved out the perfect retirement life. He went to the gym three times a week and, now a widower, became a popular dance partner at the weekly Saturday night dances. He also maintained a voluminous correspondence with his fans.
“After his stroke, when I took over his affairs, I discovered hundreds of letters from fans,” Saxon Sitka said. “It’s really been touching because after I wrote to them to let them know he had had a stroke, many of them wrote back and said how they had been in touch with him for years. We never knew that.”

In addition to his son, Emil Sitka is survived by three other sons: Rudigor of Lawndale, Storm of Anaheim, and Darrow of Hesperia; daughters Eelonka Klugman of Simi Valley and Little-Star Martorella of Victorville; 13 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Visitation will be at 10 a.m. today at Conejo Mountain Memorial Park in Camarillo. Funeral services will follow at 12:30 p.m.

Memorial donations may be made to the Ventura County Special Olympics, in honor of one of Sitka’s grandchildren.

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Subject Author Date
Hold hands, you lovebirds!".Friday, January 17, 04:52:31pm

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