Red Skelton is rapidly becoming ImaSportsphile’s guardian angel….for his popularity on our site…..which exceeds 2 million views just of Red’s videos on our web page…..has gone a long way in helping our site gain the notoriety that we so gratefully hope continues to come…..so, I have decided to give our viewers of this video some background on the life and times of America’s Clown Prince….and our favorite son here at ImaSportsphile.
Although sources have claimed he was born Richard Bernard Eheart on July 18, 1913, in Vincennes, Indiana….Skelton himself claimed in the 1980’s that his middle name was “Red” in a live televised interview on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Richard Red Skelton was the fourth and youngest son of Ida Mae (née Fields) and Joseph Elmer Skelton. His father, Joseph, was a grocer who died two months before Red was born….as he had once been a clown with the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus. His birth certificate surname was that of his father’s stepfather. During Skelton’s lifetime there was some dispute about the year of his birth. Author Wesley Hyatt suggests that since he began working at such an early age….Skelton may have claimed he was older than he actually was in order to gain employment. Vincennes neighbors described the Skelton family as being extremely poor….a childhood friend remembered that her parents broke up a youthful romance between her sister and Skelton because they thought he had no future.
Because of the loss of his father, Skelton went to work as early as the age of seven by selling newspapers and doing other odd jobs to help his family….who had lost the family store and their home. He quickly learned the newsboy’s patter and would keep it up until a prospective buyer bought a copy of the paper just to quiet him. According to later accounts, Skelton’s early interest in becoming an entertainer stemmed from an incident that took place in Vincennes around 1923….when a stranger, supposedly the comedian Ed Wynn, approached Skelton, who was the newsboy selling papers outside a Vincennes theater….when the man asked Skelton what events were going on in town….as Skelton suggested he see the new show in town. The man purchased every paper Skelton had….thus providing enough money for the boy to purchase a ticket for himself. The stranger turned out to be one of the show’s stars, who later took the boy backstage to introduce him to the other performers. The experience prompted Skelton, who had already shown comedic tendencies, to pursue a career as a performer.
Skelton discovered at an early age that he could make people laugh…..as we here at ImaSportsphile believe he was blessed with a God given talent to make people laugh. Skelton dropped out of school around 1926 or 1927….when he was 13 or 14 years old….and since he already had some experience performing in minstrel shows in Vincennes and on a showboat, “The Cotton Blossom”, that plied the Ohio and Missouri rivers…..where he enjoyed his work on the riverboat, moving on only after he realized that showboat entertainment was coming to an end. Skelton, who was interested in all forms of acting….took a dramatic role with the John Lawrence stock theater company….but was unable to deliver his lines in a serious manner….cuz the audience laughed instead. In another incident, while performing in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Skelton was on an unseen treadmill…..when it malfunctioned and began working in reverse….as the frightened young actor called out, “Help! I’m backing into heaven!”….after which he was fired before completing a week’s work in the role. At the age of 15, Skelton did some early work on the burlesque circuit….and reportedly spent four months with the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus in 1929, when he was 16 years old.
Ida Skelton, who held multiple jobs to support her family after the death of her husband….did not suggest that her youngest son had run away from home to become an entertainer….but rather saying “his destiny had caught up with him at an early age”….so, she let him go with her blessing….as times were tough during the Great Depression….and it may have meant one less child for her to feed. Around 1929, while Skelton was still a teen, he joined “Doc” R.E. Lewis’s traveling medicine show as an errand boy who sold bottles of medicine to the audience. During one show, when Skelton accidentally fell from the stage, breaking several bottles of medicine as he fell, people laughed. Both Lewis and Skelton realized one could earn a living with this ability and the fall was worked into the show. He also told jokes and sang in the medicine show during his four years there. Skelton earned ten dollars a week, and sent all of it home to his mother. When she worried that he was keeping nothing for his own needs, Skelton reassured her by saying “We get plenty to eat, and we sleep in the wagon.”
To say that Red Skelton had humble beginnings would be a serious understatement….but as Bone Daddy always says….”It’s not how you start that counts…..it is how you finish that truly matters”….and Red Skelton is still finishing in great style today here on our web page…..and we love him so much.