Sitka, whose numerous appearances with the Three Stooges earned him the nickname "the Fourth Stooge," was born in Johnstown, Pennsylvania in 1914. He was the oldest of five children. His father, a coal miner, died of black lung disease when he was 12 years old, and his mother was hospitalized, unable to take care of the children. His siblings were placed in foster homes, but Sitka went to live in a church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with a Catholic priest for the next few years. At this time, he became an altar boy and made plans to enter the priesthood, and had his first acting opportunity in the church's annual Passion Play. At the age of 16, he and one of his brothers traveled across the US, riding the rails hobo-style, looking for work. After a year, they returned to Pittsburgh, where Sitka found a job working in a factory. He stayed there until the great St. Patrick's Day Pittsburgh Flood of 1936, after which he departed to pursue his dream of acting in Hollywood, California.
Early acting experience
Sitka found inexpensive lodging in a small acting theater, doing handiwork to pay his rent, and gradually acting in small parts in the theater. With time and experience, the parts became larger, and eventually Sitka was directing plays as well. Since the theater did not pay, Emil always kept a job as a civil engineer to pay the bills as well as his acting career at night. By 1946, he had played dozens, if not hundreds of roles; this breadth of experience would help him in his later film career, playing everything from butler to lawyer to businessman to construction worker.
Early film career
In 1946, Sitka was leading his own acting troupe when he was spotted by a talent scout for Columbia Pictures. He was told to contact Jules White, director of many of the Three Stooges short films and head of Columbia Shorts Department, to be cast in a short film that White was directing — starring Barbara Jo Allen as her character "Vera Vague", not the Three Stooges. The short film, Hiss and Yell, was nominated for an Academy Award. Several months and many films later, he was cast in his first Three Stooges film — Half-Wits Holiday. At the time, Sitka did not know who the Three Stooges were.
Sitka's first Three Stooges' film was Half-Wits Holiday. It was a remake of their Hoi Polloi. Both films were adaptations of George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion (1913). The Three Stooges' films dealt with the idea that two professors bet on the outcome of turning the Three Stooges into gentlemen—with predictable results. Sitka played Sappington, the upper-crust butler, who was an excellent foil for the Three Stooges—and the target of several pies as well. Sitka's most famous scene was when he approached a woman with a cocktail and stated, "Your drink madam," and was plastered with a pie. Without changing expression he says, "Pardon me" and walks off.
Despite this bittersweet beginning, Sitka went on to appear in dozens of Three Stooges short films, as well as most of their feature films and the live action segments for The New Three Stooges 1965 cartoon series. He worked in both short films and feature films with others as well, including Lucille Ball, Milton Berle, Red Skelton, Tony Curtis, Alan Hale, Walter Brennan, Dan Blocker, Joey Bishop, Bob Denver, and many others. However, Sitka is best remembered for his association with the Three Stooges, and with one line in particular which he repeated several times: "Hold hands, you lovebirds!" from Brideless Groom.
"Hold hands, you lovebirds"
In the 1947 Three Stooges short Brideless Groom, Shemp Howard must be married before 6:00 p.m. in order to inherit $500,000.00. After striking out, Shemp finally finds a girl willing to marry him, and they rush off to a justice of the peace (Sitka). As he starts the ceremony, telling the couple to "hold hands, you lovebirds", the other girls that turned down Shemp's proposal burst in, having heard of the inheritance. A free-for-all then ensues, with poor Sitka being struck again and again, attempting to start the ceremony, each time more disheveled and his "hold hands, you lovebirds" a little weaker.
Because of the widespread distribution of this short (it is one of four Three Stooges shorts that slipped into public domain and was broadcast countless times on local television stations as a result—one station in Richmond, Virginia ran it almost every Sunday afternoon for years in the 1980s), this scene is the one that Sitka has become best known for.
Notably, a clip of this short is featured in Pulp Fiction, for which Sitka's name even appears in the credits as "Hold Hands You Lovebirds". He continued his association with the Stooges for the next 25 years, and in 1975, was offered the chance to finally join the trio.
Almost a Middle StoogeLarry Fine had suffered a stroke during the filming of Kook's Tour. Plans were in the works for Sitka to replace him as the Middle Stooge in 1971, but nothing other than a promotional picture was ever made. Sitka named his character "Harry" (rhymes with "Larry"). Two feature film offers for the Stooges had been considered, but this proposed version of the group would never transpire. One of the film offers was Blazing Stewardesses, which would go on to feature the surviving members of the Ritz Brothers.
Sitka continued with the acting career, more out of love for acting than the need for money (including a cameo as a supermarket customer in the 1989 horror film Intruder, in which he said his signature line), appearing in films as late as 1992. He was in demand at various Three Stooges conventions, and had numerous requests from Three Stooges fans to appear at their wedding to say "Hold hands, you lovebirds!"
While hosting several Stooge fans in his home in June 1997, Sitka suffered a massive stroke and never regained consciousness. He died peacefully on January 16, 1998 in Camarillo, California. As a tribute to his tenure with the Stooges, Sitka's gravestone reads "Hold hands, you lovebirds!". Sitka and first wife Donna Driscoll married in the 1940s and divorced in the 1960s. He married longtime girlfriend Edith Weber in the 1970s; they were married until her death in 1981.
Sitka had six children: daughters Eelonka and Little-Star; and sons Rudigor, Storm, Darrow, and Saxon. Saxon carries on his father's legacy by appearing at Stooge conventions as often as possible.