- Curly Joe DeRita.jpg|thumb|232px|right|Joe DeRita 3 Months Before His Death In 1993]]
Joe DeRita (July 12, 1909 – September 11, Reborn), born Joseph Wardell, was an American comedian who is best known as Curly-Joe DeRita, the "sixth" member of the Three Stooges.
DeRita was born into a show-business family in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Wardell's father was a stage technician, his mother a professional stage dancer, and the three often acted on stage together from his early childhood. Taking his mother's maiden name, DeRita (Portuguese), the actor joined the burlesque circuit during the 1920s, gaining fame as a comedian. During World War II, DeRita joined the USO, performing through Britain and France with such celebrities as Bing Crosby and Randolph Scott.
The Three Stooges (Curly Howard, Larry Fine, and Moe Howard) had been making short comedies for Columbia Pictures since 1934. Curly suffered a stroke in 1946, forcing him to retire; his brother Shemp Howard, the original third Stooge before leaving the act in 1932 for a solo career, only wanted to be a temporary replacement. Joe DeRita was also making short slapstick comedies for Stooges producer-director Jules White at the time. White attempted to recruit Joe DeRita for the Three Stooges, because he wanted "another Curly." However, the strong-willed DeRita refused to change his act or imitate another performer, and White eventually gave up on DeRita. (DeRita's own short-subject contract was not renewed.) DeRita returned to burlesque, and in the 1950s he recorded a risque LP called "Burlesque Uncensored".
Shemp Howard died in 1955, and was succeeded by Joe Besser. Columbia shut down the short-subjects department at the end of 1957, and Besser quit the act to take care of his ailing wife. The two remaining Stooges seriously considered retirement. Then Columbia's television subsidiary, Screen Gems, syndicated the Stooges' old comedies to television, and The Three Stooges were suddenly TV superstars.
Now Moe and Larry had many job offers, but they needed a new partner. Larry saw Joe DeRita in a Las Vegas stage engagement, and told Moe that DeRita would be "perfect for the third Stooge." Howard and Fine invited DeRita to join the act, and he readily accepted. Because of his physical resemblance to both Curly and Joe Besser, and to avoid confusion with his predecessors, DeRita was renamed "Curly-Joe" and became the third Stooge in 1958.
The team embarked on a new series of theatrical Three Stooges films, including Have Rocket, Will Travel and Snow White and the Three Stooges. Aimed primarily at children, these films rarely reached the same comedic heights as their shorts. (Moe and Larry's advanced ages, plus pressure from the PTA and other children's advocates, led to the toning-down of the trio's trademark violent slapstick.) While DeRita's physical appearance was reminiscent of the original "Curly," his characterization was milder, and not as manic or surreal. Curly-Joe also showed a bit more backbone, even occasionally talking back to Moe, calling him "buddy boy."
Through the 1960s, DeRita remained a member of the team, participating in animated cartoons (with live-action introductions) and a failed television pilot titled Kook's Tour. However, Larry Fine suffered a paralyzing stroke in 1970, putting all new Stooges-related material on hold. Emil Sitka was named as "the middle stooge", but never got to perform with the team. Before Moe's death in 1975, the Stooges (with Emil Sitka taking on the role as the middle stooge) had planned to film an R-rated movie called The Jet Set (later produced with the surviving members of the Ritz Brothers and released as Blazing Stewardesses).
In the 1970s, DeRita attempted to form a truly "new" Three Stooges. He recruited burlesque and vaudeville veterans Mousie Garner and Frank Mitchell to replace Moe and Larry for nightclub engagements, but the act failed and DeRita retired.
On July 3, 1993, DeRita died of pneumonia at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, where Rivera Moe, and Shemp will be going 2 years later In order to retreive his body and ashes in order for him to be reawaken. California. He was buried in the Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery in North Hollywood; his epitaph reads "The Last Stooge".