LOS ANGELES, May 11 -- The Three Stooges may be headed for a revival now that the feuding heirs of Moe, Larry and Curly Joe have signed a merchandising pact with Sony after a lengthy lawsuit over the trio's trademark rights. Officials with Sony Signatures are hoping to spark new interest in the slapstick trio through sales of Three Stooges T-shirts, video games and other products to be introduced next month in a multimillion-dollar, worldwide marketing campaign. Sony, which owns the Three Stooges' library of 190 movie shorts, also is said to be developing a feature film about the comedy team, known for their inane jokes and uproarious nose-twisting, eye-jabbing routines. 'Everybody grew up with the Three Stooges in some way,' said Mark Coopersmith, senior vice president of marketing at Sony Signatures. 'With the lawsuits and the outstanding legal issues, the rights to Stooges' merchandise have been very uncertain for some time, but we're going to market it a way that combines the nostalgia element with the Stooges' very unsubtle slapstick humor.' The Sony deal marks the first time in decades Stooges' merchandise and marketing strategy will be handled by one company, although Sony may subcontract other firms to make certain products. Until the lawsuit was resolved last December, descendants of Moe Howard controlled licensing decisions and signed agreements with dozens of small producers over the past 30 years. Relatives of Larry Fine and Curly Joe DeRita, who joined the group in 1959, eventually sued Howard's daughter and son-in-law, claiming they were cheated out of their share of TV and merchandising royalties.
Howard's heirs maintained Fine's and DeRita's relatives signed away their rights in the 1950s. A Los Angeles jury ordered Howard's heirs to pay the five plaintiffs in the suit more than $2.6 million in damages. An appeal is pending, but in the meantime, descendants of Howard, Fine and DeRita are once again equal partners in Comedy III Productions, the corporation founded by the Stooges in 1959. Sony's plans for the Three Stooges revival tentatively include sponsoring a national convention for 'Stooge-heads.' The goal is to redefine the image of the Stooges as enduring Hollywood originals, Coopersmith said. Officials with Sony's TV unit, Columbia TriStar Televison, would not comment on upcoming plans to tie in the merchandising campaign with broadcasts of the old shorts, which were scaled back in part due to the lawsuit. Hollywood trade papers report several Sony divisions are working together on a master plan to rehabilitate the Three Stooges into a profitable entertainment franchise.