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Comedy – Red Skelton – Gertrude & Heathcliff & Marcel Marceau In Romantic Tango


Performing the “Doughnut Dunkers” routine led to Skelton’s first appearance on Rudy Vallée’s The Fleischmann’s Yeast Hour on August 12, 1937….as Vallée’s program had a talent show segment and those who were searching for stardom were eager to be heard on it. Vallée also booked veteran comic and fellow Indiana native Joe Cook to appear as a guest with Skelton….then the two Hoosiers proceeded to trade jokes about their home towns….with Skelton contending to Cook, an Evansville native….that the city was a suburb of Vincennes….and the show received enough fan mail after the performance to invite both comedians back two weeks after Skelton’s initial appearance and again in November of that year.  On October 1, 1938, Skelton replaced Red Foley as the host of Avalon Time on NBC….for his wife Edna also joined the show’s cast under her maiden name.…who then developed a system for working with the show’s writers….by selecting material from them….adding her own….and filing the unused bits and lines for future use….as the Skeltons worked on Avalon Time until late 1939.  Skelton’s work in films led to a new regular radio show offer between films….as he promoted himself and MGM by appearing without charge at Los Angeles area banquets. A radio advertising agent was a guest at one of his banquet performances and recommended Skelton to one of his clients.….and shortly thereafter Skelton went on the air with his own radio show, The Raleigh Cigarette Program, on October 7, 1941. The bandleader for the show was Ozzie Nelson and his wife, Harriet….who worked under her maiden name of Hilliard….was the show’s vocalist and also worked with Skelton in ski

Skelton introduced the first two of his many characters during The Raleigh Cigarette Program’s first season….for the character of Clem Kadiddlehopper was based on a Vincennes neighbor named Carl Hopper….who was hard of hearing….as Skelton’s voice pattern for Clem was similar to the later cartoon character Bullwinkle….and then there was the second character….who was the mean Widdle kid known as “Junior”….who was a young boy full of mischief who typically did things he was told not to do….as “Junior” would say things like….”If I dood it, I gets a whipping.”, followed moments later by the statement, “I dood it!” Skelton performed the character at home with Edna, giving him the nickname “Junior” long before it was heard by a radio audience….so while the phrase was Skelton’s….the idea of using the character on the radio show was Edna’s….after which Skelton starred in a 1943 movie of the same name….but did not play “Junior” in the film.

The phrase was such a part of national culture at the time that when General Doolittle conducted the bombing of Tokyo in 1942….many newspapers used the phrase “Doolittle Dood It” as a headline. After a talk with President Roosevelt in 1943….Skelton used his radio show to collect funds for a Douglas A-20 Havoc to be given to the Soviet Army to help fight World War II….by asking children to send in their spare change….he raised enough money for the aircraft in two weeks….he named the bomber “We Dood It!”  In 1986 the Soviet newspaper Pravda offered praise to Skelton for his 1943 gift….and in 1993, the pilot of the plane was able to meet Skelton and thank him for the bomber.

Skelton also added a routine he had been performing since 1928….which was originally called “Mellow Cigars”….as the skit entailed an announcer who became ill as he smoked his sponsor’s product….prompting Brown and Williamson, the makers of cigarettes…. to ask Skelton to change some aspects of the skit…to which he did and renamed the routine “Guzzler’s Gin”….where the announcer became inebriated while sampling and touting the imaginary sponsor’s wares. While the traditional radio program called for its cast to do an audience warm-up in preparation for the broadcast….Skelton did just the opposite….whereby after the regular radio program had ended…. the show’s guests were treated to a post-program performance in which he would then perform his “Guzzler’s Gin” or any of more than 350 routines for those who had come to the radio show. He updated and revised his post-show routines as diligently as those for his radio program….and as a result, studio audience tickets for Skelton’s radio show were in high demand….for there were times where up to 300 people needed to be turned away for lack of seats.

In 1942, Edna announced that she was leaving Skelton….but would continue to manage his career and write material for him. He did not realize she was serious until Edna issued a statement about the impending divorce through NBC. They were divorced in 1943, leaving the courtroom arm in arm. The couple did not discuss the reasons for their divorce and Edna initially prepared to work as a script writer for other radio programs. When the divorce was finalized, she went to New York, leaving her former husband three fully prepared show scripts. Skelton and those associated with him sent telegrams and called her….asking her to come back to him in a professional capacity. Edna remained the manager of the couple’s funds because Skelton spent money too easily. An attempt at managing his own checking account that began with a $5,000 balance….ended just five days later after a call to Edna saying the account was overdrawn. Skelton had a weekly allowance of $75….with Edna making investments for him….choosing real estate and other relatively stable assets. She remained an advisor on his career until 1952 and receiving a generous weekly salary for life for her efforts. The divorce meant that Skelton had lost his married man’s deferment….for he was once again classified as 1-A for military service….then he was drafted into the army in early 1944….as both MGM and his radio sponsor tried to obtain a deferment for the comedian….but to no avail. His last Raleigh radio show was on June 6, 1944….the day before he was formally inducted as a private….who was not assigned to the entertainment corps at that time. Without its star, the program was discontinued…which presented an opportunity for the Nelsons to begin a radio show of their own, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.

Skelton served in the United States Army during World War II….and was assigned to the entertainment corps….where he performed as many as ten to twelve shows per day before troops in both the United States and in Europe….as the pressure of his workload caused him to suffer exhaustion and a nervous breakdown which left him with a serious stuttering problem….and while recovering at an army hospital in Virginia, he met a soldier who had been severely wounded and was not expected to survive. Skelton devoted a lot of time and effort to trying to make the man laugh….which resulted in his stuttering problem being cured….along with his army friend’s condition which also improved  Skelton was released from his army duties in September 1945….when his former sponsor was eager to have him back on the air….so Skelton’s program began anew on NBC on December 4, 1945.

Upon returning to radio, Skelton brought with him many new characters that were added to his repertoire….like Bolivar Shagnasty a “loudmouthed braggart”…..Cauliflower McPugg, a boxer….Deadeye, a cowboy….Willie Lump-Lump, a fellow who drank too much….and San Fernando Red, a conman with political aspirations.  By 1947, Skelton’s musical conductor was David Rose….who would go on to television with him….for having worked with Rose during his time in the army….he wanted Rose to join him on the radio show when it went back on the air. On April 22, 1947, Skelton was censored by NBC two minutes into his radio show….when he and his announcer Rod O’Connor began talking about Fred Allen being censored the previous week….they were silenced for 15 seconds….for comedian Bob Hope was given the same treatment once he began referring to the censoring of Allen. Skelton forged on with his lines for his studio audience’s benefit…as the material he insisted on using had been edited from the script by the network before the broadcast. He had been briefly censored the previous month for the use of the word “diaper”. After the April incidents, NBC indicated it would no longer pull the plug for similar reasons.

Skelton changed sponsors in 1948 as Brown & Williamson, owners of Raleigh cigarettes, withdrew due to program production costs. His new sponsor was Procter & Gamble’s Tide laundry detergent. The next year he changed networks, going from NBC to CBS, where his radio show aired until May 1953. After his network radio contract was over, he signed a three-year contract with Ziv Radio for a syndicated radio program in 1954. His syndicated radio program was offered as a daily show which included segments of his older network radio programs as well as new material done for the syndication. He was able to use portions of his older radio shows because he owned the rights for rebroadcasting them.

Any way you cut the pie….Red Skelton was the consummate entertainer….as these priceless videos give evidence too.

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