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L E’s Stories – “The Gift Of Comedy” – A Tribute To Red Skelton: America’s Clown Prince

We have posted more than a couple of handfuls of comedian Red Skelton…..who we affectionately call “America’s Clown Prince”…..cuz this prince of a clown was blessed with the gift of comedy….as he could make people of all ages from 1 to 100 laugh.  Red Skelton has been nothing but a gift from God to ImaSportsphile…..and when I posted his videos….I had no idea that he would be such a blessing to our site.  As of July 31, 2020….Red Skelton has brought more that 3,000,000 viewers to our site…..which now includes 5,500 different posts with some 6,000 different videos posted.  After 4 years of posting these 5,500, we have achieved some 15,000,000 views of our content….and Red Skelton alone has 20% of those views….so, any way you cut the pie….America’s Clown Prince far outdistances the 2nd most popular individual on our site….as # 2 is “The Greatest” himself, Muhammad Ali….who holds 5% of our total views….and therefore, you can see why it is necessary for us to pay more homage to America’s Clown Prince…..as more of his story needs to be told….and more of his videos need to be seen. 

Comedy – 1992 – Red Skelton Live In Canada

 Because of the loss of his father, Skelton went to work as early as the age of seven, 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….that’s when Skelton suggested he see the new show in town. The man purchased every paper Skelton had, providing enough money for the boy to purchase a ticket for himself…..then 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…..as this experience prompted Skelton…..who had already shown comedic tendencies…..to pursue a career as a performer.

Comedy – 1969 – Red Skelton Show – With Guest Walter Brennan In “Deadeye”     

Skelton discovered at an early age that he could make people laugh…..so, he dropped out of school around 1926 or 1927…..when he was 13 or 14 years old…..but he already had some experience performing in minstrel shows in Vincennes, and on a showboat, The Cotton Blossom….which that run the Ohio and Missouri rivers.  He enjoyed his work on the riverboat….but moved on after he realized that showboat entertainment was coming to an end…..and that is when due to his interest in all forms of acting, took a dramatic role with the John Lawrence stock theater company….but found he was unable to deliver his lines in a serious manner…..as the audience laughed instead.  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.

Comedy – 1961 – Red Skelton On “How To Imitate A Drunk”                                                                                        

Red’s mother, Ida Skelton, held multiple jobs to support her family after the death of her husband….and did not suggest that her youngest son had run away from home to become an entertainer….but instead said “his destiny had caught up with him at an early age”…..as she let him go with her blessing. 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…..when during one show he accidentally fell from the stage….while breaking several bottles of medicine as he fell….but people laughed….to which 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…..when he earned ten dollars a week…..and sent all of it home to his mother…..and when she worried that he was keeping nothing for his own needs, Skelton reassured her that “We get plenty to eat, and we sleep in the wagon.”

Comedy – 1958 – The Red Skelton Show – With Guest Actor James Drury In “The Woman Who Sees Her Husband In Everybody”                                                                                                                 

As burlesque comedy material became progressively more risque, Skelton moved on….as he insisted that he was no prude….but rather as he said….“I just didn’t think the lines were funny”.  Soon thereafter, he became a sought-after master of ceremonies for dance marathons….which were known as “walkathons” at the time…..as a popular fad in the 1930’s. The winner of one of the marathons was Edna Stillwell, an usher at the old Pantages Theater…..as she approached Skelton after winning the contest and told him that she did not like his jokes….to which he asked if she could do better…..and shortly thereafter, they married in 1931 in Kansas City….and Edna began writing his material.  At the time of their marriage Skelton was one month away from his 18th birthday and Edna was 16…..when they learned that Skelton’s salary was to be cut….that is when Edna went to see the boss….who resented the interference….that is until she came away with not only a raise….but additional considerations as well.  Since he had left school at an early age, his wife bought textbooks and taught him what he had missed. With Edna’s help, Skelton received a high school equivalency degree.

Comedy – 1991 – The Dini Petty Show – With Guest Comedian Red Skelton

The couple put together an act and began booking it at small mid-western theaters…..when an offer came for an engagement in Harwich Port, Massachusetts….which was some 2,000 miles from Kansas City….so, they were pleased to get it because of its proximity to their ultimate goal…..which was the vaudeville houses of New York City. To get to Massachusetts they bought a used car and borrowed five dollars from Edna’s mother…..but by the time they arrived in St. Louis they had only fifty cents…..so, that is when Skelton asked Edna to collect empty cigarette packs…..and although she thought he was joking, she did as he asked. He then spent their fifty cents on bars of soap…..which they cut into small cubes and wrapped with the tinfoil from the cigarette packs. By selling their products for fifty cents each as fog remover for eyeglasses, the Skeltons were able to afford a hotel room every night as they worked their way to Harwich Port.

Comedy – 1981 – The Red Skelton Show Special – “Freddie the Freeloader’s Christmas Dinner”

Skelton and Edna worked for a year in Camden, New Jersey…..and were able to get an engagement at Montreal’s Lido Club in 1934 through a friend who managed the chorus lines at New York’s Roxy Theatre…..and despite an initial rocky start, the act was a success….which brought them more theater dates throughout Canada…..where their performances led to new opportunities….and the inspiration for a new, innovative routine that brought him recognition in the years to come.  While performing in Montreal, the Skeltons met Harry Anger, a vaudeville producer for New York City’s Loew’s State Theatre…..when Anger promised the pair a booking as a headlining act at Loew’s…..but they would need to come up with new material for the engagement. While the Skeltons were having breakfast in a Montreal diner, Edna had an idea for a new routine as she and Skelton observed the other patrons eating doughnuts and drinking coffee. They devised the “Doughnut Dunkers” routine, with Skelton’s visual impressions of how different people ate doughnuts…..and the skit won them the Loew’s State engagement and a handsome fee.

Comedy – 1969 – Red Skelton Stand-Up Routine – “Russian Roulette”                                                                      

The couple viewed the Loew’s State engagement in 1937 as Skelton’s big chance. They hired New York comedy writers to prepare material for the engagement, believing they needed more sophisticated jokes and skits than the routines Skelton normally performed. However, his New York audience did not laugh or applaud until Skelton abandoned the newly written material and began performing the “Doughnut Dunkers” and his older routines.  The doughnut-dunking routine also helped Skelton rise to celebrity status. In 1937, while he was entertaining at the Capitol Theater in Washington, D.C., President Franklin D. Roosevelt invited Skelton to perform at a White House luncheon. During one of the official toasts, Skelton grabbed Roosevelt’s glass, saying, “Careful what you drink, Mr. President. I got rolled in a place like this once.” His humor appealed to FDR and Skelton became the master of ceremonies for Roosevelt’s official birthday celebration for many years afterward.

Comedy – 1987 – The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson – With Guest Comedian Red Skelton

Skelton’s first contact with Hollywood came in the form of a failed 1932 screen test…..then in 1938 he made his film debut for RKO Pictures in the supporting role of a camp counselor in Having Wonderful Time. …followed by appearances in two short subjects for Vitaphone in 1939 with  Seeing Red and The Broadway Buckaroo…..then actor Mickey Rooney contacted Skelton, urging him to try for work in films after seeing him perform his “Doughnut Dunkers” act at President Roosevelt’s 1940 birthday party.  For his Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer screen test, Skelton performed many of his more popular skits, such as “Guzzler’s Gin”…..but added some impromptu pantomimes as the cameras were rolling. “Imitation of Movie Heroes Dying” were Skelton’s impressions of the cinema deaths of stars like George Raft, Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney.

Comedy 1939 – Red Skelton’s Classic Routine – “Guzzler’s Gin”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Skelton appeared in numerous films for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer throughout the 1940’s…..as in 1940, he provided comic relief as a lieutenant in Frank Borzage’s war drama Flight Command, opposite Robert Taylor, Ruth Hussey and Walter Pidgeon…..then in 1941, he also provided comic relief in Harold S. Bucquet’s Dr. Kildare medical dramas, Dr. Kildare’s Wedding Day and The People vs. Dr. Kildare…..as Red was soon starring in comedy features as inept radio detective “The Fox”….with the first Whistling in the Dark in 1941….in which he began working with director S. Sylvan Simon….who would become his favorite director.  He reprised the same role opposite Ann Rutherford in Simon’s other pictures….which included   Whistling in Dixie in 1942…..and Whistling in Brooklyn in 1943.  Plus, in 1941, Skelton began appearing in musical comedies….while starring opposite of Eleanor Powell, Ann Sothern and Robert Young in Norman Z. McLeod’s Lady Be Good In 1942 Skelton again starred opposite Eleanor Powell in Edward Buzzell’s Ship Ahoy…..and alongside Ann Sothern in McLeod’s Panama Hattie.  

Comedy – 1943 – Special Clips Of Eleanor Powell and Red Skelton Doing Classic Physical Comedy

                                                                                                                                                                                   In 1943, after a memorable role as a nightclub hatcheck attendant who becomes King Louis XV of France in a dream opposite Lucille Ball and Gene Kelly in Roy Del Ruth’s Du Barry Was a Lady….after which Skelton starred as Joseph Rivington Reynolds, a hotel valet besotted with Broadway starlet Constance Shaw (Powell) in Vincente Minnelli’s romantic musical comedy, I Dood It.  The film was largely a remake of Buster Keaton’s Spite Marriage….at a time when Keaton had become a comedy consultant to MGM after his film career had diminished….who began coaching Skelton on set during the filming.  Keaton worked in this capacity on several of Skelton’s films….and that is when his 1926 film The General was also rewritten to become Skelton’s A Southern Yankee in 1948, under directors S. Sylvan Simon and Edward Sedgwick…..as Keaton was convinced enough of Skelton’s comedic talent that he approached MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer with a request to create a small company within MGM for himself and Skelton….where the two could work on film projects. Keaton offered to forgo his salary if the films made by the company were not box office hits….but Mayer chose to decline the request.  In 1944, Skelton starred opposite Esther Williams in George Sidney’s musical comedy Bathing Beauty, playing a songwriter with romantic difficulties.  He next had a relatively minor role as a “TV announcer who, in the course of demonstrating a brand of gin, progresses from mild inebriation through messy drunkenness to full-blown stupor” in the “When Television Comes” segment of Ziegfeld Follies….which featured William Powell and Judy Garland in the main roles.  In 1946, Skelton played boastful clerk J. Aubrey Piper opposite Marilyn Maxwell and Marjorie Main in Harry Beaumont’s comedy picture The Show-Off.

 

Comedy – 1942 – Short Film – “I Dood It” Starring Elenor Powell & Red Skelton

Skelton’s contract called for MGM’s approval prior to his radio shows and other appearances.  When he renegotiated his long-term contract with MGM, he wanted a clause that permitted him to remain working in radio and to be able to work on television, which was then largely experimental. At the time, the major work in the medium was centered in New York; Skelton had worked there for some time and was able to determine that he would find success with his physical comedy through the medium.  By 1947, Skelton’s work interests were focused not on films, but on radio and television. His MGM contract was rigid enough to require the studio’s written consent for his weekly radio shows, as well as any benefit or similar appearances he made; radio offered fewer restrictions, more creative control and a higher salary. Skelton asked for a release from MGM after learning he could not raise the $750,000 needed to buy out the remainder of his contract.  He also voiced frustration with the film scripts he was offered while on the set of The Fuller Brush Man, saying, “Movies are not my field. Radio and television are.”  He did not receive the desired television clause nor a release from his MGM contract.  In 1948, columnist Sheilah Graham  printed that Skelton’s wishes were to make only one film a year, spending the rest of the time traveling the U.S. with his radio show.

Comedy – 1968 – The Ed Sullivan Show – With Special Guest Comedian Red Skelton

Skelton’s ability to successfully ad-lib often meant that the way the script was written was not always the way it was recorded on film. Some directors were delighted with the creativity, but others were often frustrated by it.   S. Sylvan Simon, who became a close friend, allowed Skelton free rein when directing him.  MGM became annoyed with Simon during the filming of The Fuller Brush Man, as the studio contended that Skelton should have been playing romantic leads instead of performing slapstick. Simon and MGM parted company when he was not asked to direct retakes of Skelton’s A Southern Yankee; Simon asked that his name be removed from the film’s credits. 

Comedy – 1987 – Red Skelton Special – The Best Of Freddie The Freeloader And Clem Kadiddlehopper

Skelton was willing to negotiate with MGM to extend the agreement provided he would receive the right to pursue television…..and this time the studio was willing to grant it….while making Skelton the only major MGM personality with that privilege. The 1950 negotiations allowed him to begin working in television beginning September 30, 1951.  During the last portion of his contract with the studio, Skelton was working in radio and on television in addition to films…..as he would go on to appear in films such as Jack Donohue’s The Yellow Cab Man in 1950…..along with Roy Rowland and Buster Keaton’s Excuse My Dust in 1951…..followed by Charles Walters’ Texas Carnival in 1951…..then in Mervyn LeRoy’s Lovely to Look At in 1952…..plus Robert Z. Leonard’s The Clown in 1953…..which was followed by The Great Diamond Robbery in 1954…..and Norman Z. McLeod’s poorly received Public Pigeon No. 1 in 1957….with his last major film role…..which originated incidentally from an episode of the television anthology series Climax!…..when in a 1956 interview, he said he would never work simultaneously in all three media again.  As a result, Skelton would make only a couple of minor appearances in films after this, including playing a saloon drunk in Around the World in Eighty Days in 1956, a fictional version of himself as a gambler in Ocean’s 11 in 1960 and a Neanderthal man in Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines in 1965. 

Comedy – 1961 – The Red Skelton Show – In Comedy Skit – “Smokeless Sunday”                                              

The most amazing thing about Red Skelton is that in this story, we were only able to cover his professional career from 1930 to 1960…..which was up to the time that he started his television career…. which covered from 1960 to 1993….which is a whole another story to be written later….cuz we have many more Red Skelton videos in our vintage library just waiting to be posted. 

Comedy – 1969 – Red Skelton Live – “Pledge of Allegiance” With Word-by-Word Meaning Explained As He Includes Under God At The End

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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