Emil Sitka was a prodigious Hollywood actor who was most well known for his supporting roles in numerous Three Stooges shorts. In fact, Sitka was slated to replace Larry Fine in the Stooges act after Fine had suffered a stroke in 1970. The Stooge projects starring Sitka never got off the ground and were eventually cancelled after the death of Moe in 1975.
Emil Josef Sitka was born in Johnstown, Pennsylvania on December 22, 1914. He was the oldest of five children of a young immigrant couple from Eastern Europe. His father was a coal miner that died of black lung disease in 1925 and his mother eventually died one year later. Emil was adopted by a Catholic priest and grew up in a church in Pittsburgh. An altar boy on his way to joining the priesthood, Emil caught the acting bug while playing a role in the church’s Passion play.
Emil left the church at the age of sixteen hoping to find an acting job. It was the Depression in America and Emil rode the rails living the life of a hobo. Through it all he kept a diary recording his travels and the numerous shantytowns he lived in. Emil eventually returned to Pittsburgh and got a job in a factory, but he left town again in 1936 to go make his fortune in Hollywood.
Upon arriving, Emil took odd jobs and lived as cheaply as he could. He found a room available in a small stage theater and lived there doing whatever work he could to pay the rent. He was offered small roles at first in the theater's productions, and as he gained experience, confidence and skill, the roles got bigger and better. Within ten years, Emil wasn’t only starring in the plays, he was directing them. Still, he made very little money at the theatre and worked as a laborer during the day in order to support his new wife and family.
In 1946 Emil was signed to a contract by Columbia Pictures and began making short film comedies. It was in this same year that he made an appearance as a stuck-up butler in the Three Stooges short “Half-Wits Holiday”, which was the final one to star Curly and is probably most well-known for its massive pie fight at the end. Over the next twenty years, Emil Sitka would appear in over 40 more Stooge shorts, usually playing roles of dignified men such as lawyers, professors, and ministers. His most famous role was as a justice of the peace in the short “Brideless Groom.” Sitka was attempting to marry Shemp and his bride, but was repeatedly being interrupted by the antics of the other two Stooges, so he could never get past the opening line of “Hold hands, you lovebirds.” This line became so popular that Sitka was asked to repeat it at the weddings of Stooge fans for the rest of his life.
He didn’t only work with the Stooges, as Emil appeared in almost 100 other shorts and features during his career. Although he did a lot of work in films, he always maintained a "day job" as a civil engineer to pay the bills and support his seven children.
Stooge fan Sam Raimi directed Emil in his final film roles in the movies Crimewave and The Nutt House, where everything came full-circle for Sitka as he played a butler for the last time.
Emil Sitka died of a stroke on January 16, 1998. Inscribed on his tombstone is his famous phrase “Hold hands, you lovebirds.”