Ten years ago, I joined thousands of Three Stooges fans in an effort to get the classic comedy team its own commemorative U.S. postage stamp.
Our goal was a tough one, I wrote: "The Post Office has more miles of red tape for issuing commemorative stamps than Moe had slow-burns and double-takes."Well, the U.S. Postal Service still requires a fair amount of bureaucracy, but rejoice. Things have loosened up in the old commemorative stamps department. These days, the Postal Service actually wants the likes of you and me to vote on stamps. Right now.
As part of a Celebrating the Century program, commemorative stamps will be issued for each of the past 10 decades. The Postal Service already has chosen stamps from 1900 through 1949. Now it wants ordinary Americans to help pick the 15 most significant people, events and trends of the '50s.
The Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee has narrowed down the list of candidates. Among them: rock 'n' roll, the move to suburbia, hula hoops, polio vaccine, Dwight Eisenhower and Bobby Thompson's shot heard 'round the world.
Ballots are in all U.S. post offices and thousands of February Time magazines. About 300,000 ballots were sent to the classrooms of grammar school kids, grades 3-6. Voting ends this Saturday, but if you miss the '50s, you can vote in May on the '60s and in September on the '70s.
(Ironic twist: It will cost you a 32-cent stamp to send in your ballot - unless you vote via a Postal Service competitor, the Internet, at www.stampvote.msn.com)
Valoree Vargo, head of stamps and product management for the Postal Service, acknowledged that her division has changed a lot since the failed '88 Three Stooges campaign. The Postal Service has issued stamps in memory of all sorts of undignified types - including James Dean, Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, Bugs Bunny, Popeye and Dracula. Other stamps have honored garter snakes, crossword puzzles, Crayolas and a 1939 film, "Beau Geste."
"But we still have the same criteria you were told about for the Three Stooges," Vargo said. "No living people can be honored, and they must be sufficiently dead - at least 10 years with the exception of a U.S. president. We don't commemorate disasters or religious organizations. And anniversaries start with the 75th."
Neither, said Vargo, does the Postal Service care to "capitalize on current trends." Despite a clamor for Princess Diana stamps, rules are rules. Ten years dead, period.
"Once you give away the integrity of what's on your stamps, you can never get it back," she said.
The Postal Service receives about 40,000 requests a year for specific stamps to be issued, Vargo said. Primary recommendations come from a dozen folks on the citizens advisory board.
The final call on every commemorative stamp is made by Postmaster General Marvin Run-yon.
So, how about Moe and Curly Howard and Larry Fine, the three actors most Stooges fans consider the Three Stooges? (During the team's long career, Curly's spot was filled by another brother, Shemp Howard, and later by Joe Besser and Joe De Rita.)
Is the Postal Service aware that there are some 200 Stooges shorts and a half-dozen feature films? Do Digger and Karl realize that Moe Howard (and not Charlie Chaplin, who already appears on a stamp) was actually the first comedian to portray and ridicule Hitler? In "You Nazty Spy" (1940), Curly played Joseph Goebbels; Larry was Hermann Goering.
Bud Abbott and Lou Costello have been honored with a stamp. Surely the Stooges have contributed as much to the American comedy scene.