Red Skelton was born as Richard Bernard Skelton in Vincennes, Indiana on July 18, 1913. He could be heard in 349 radio episodes of his own show and other shows. He first was heard in 1939 on the Avalon Time radio program, of which he was in the starring role. He appeared in vaudeville at the age of 15.
Red Skelton appeared in his first movie in Having A Wonderful Time in 1938.
He appeared exclusively in movies until 1955, when he appeared on the television series Climax. When his movie contract ended Red Skelton would start the long run of the Red Skelton Hour which would be seen on NBC from 1951-1953, then was shown on CBS from 1953-1970.
One of my favorite parts of the show was when Skelton would ad-lib unexpectedly and it was fun to see the reaction of his co-stars in that episode. My father watched almost no television, but on Tuesday nights he would make a point of watching Red Skelton.
I always enjoyed seeing Skelton portray his many famous characters like Freddie the Freeloader, Clem Kaddidlehopper, San Fernando Red, Cauliflower McPugg and George Appleby.
Bobby Rydell portrayed cousin Zeke Kadiddlehopper in 10 episodes from 1959-1969. Even Don Knotts appeared in five episodes as Steady Fingers Ferguson.
The following cast lists includes almost everyone in show business it seems:
Skelton married Edna Stillwell in 1931 and they divorced in 1943, which caused Skelton to be drafted, since he was no longer eligible for the married exemption. He married Georgia Davis in 1945 and they remained married till 1971 for a 26 year marriage.
His last marriage would be to Lothian Toland in 1973 till his death in 1997. He was married to his three wives for a total of 62 years.
Life dealt Skelton and his wife at the time Georgia Davis a tragic blow, when their son Richard was diagnosed with leukemia and given a year to live. They took him to London, so he could some of the world. The British papers mentioned their son’s impending death, which when found out by his son Richard caused Skelton to end the trip. He died on May 10, 1978 just 10 days before his tenth birthday.
18 years after her son’s death Georgia Davis shot herself and died and Skelton took the loss of his ex-wife very hard.
Fittingly, Red Skelton would make his last television appearance appearing as Freddie the Freeloader on Standing Room Only in 1981. He would not appear on television again the rest of his life.
Skelton died on September 17, 1997 in Rancho Mirage, California, with death caused by pneumonia.
Skelton was the son of a former circus clown, which explains his lithographs drawn of circus clowns. He started his career as an artist in 1943 and his artwork was valued as high as $80,000. Skelton himself said that he earned $2.5 million a year from his artwork.
Red Skelton – The Pledge of Allegiance
From the Red Skelton Hour, January 14, 1969
“Getting back to school, I remember a teacher that I had. Now I only went, I went through the seventh grade. I left home when I was 10 years old because I was hungry. (laughter) And .. this is true. I worked in the summer and went to school in the winter. But, I had this one teacher, he was the principal of the Harrison school, in Vincennes, Indiana. To me, this was the greatest teacher, a real sage of..of my time, anyhow.
He had such wisdom. We were all reciting the Pledge of Allegiance one day, and he walked over. This little old teacher … Mr. Lasswell was his name. He said:
“I’ve been listening to you boys and girls recite the Pledge of Allegiance all semester and it seems as though it is becoming monotonous to you. If I may, may I recite it and try to explain to you the meaning of each word?
me, an individual, a committee of one.
dedicate all of my worldly goods to give without self-pity.
my love and my devotion.
To the Flag
our standard, Old Glory, a symbol of freedom. Wherever she waves, there’s respect because your loyalty has given her a dignity that shouts freedom is everybody’s job.
that means that we have all come together.
individual communities that have united into 48 great states. 48 individual communities with pride and dignity and purpose, all divided with imaginary boundaries, yet united to a common purpose, and that’s love for country.
and to the Republic
For Which It Stands
Republic … a state in which sovereign power is invested in representatives chosen by the people to govern. And government is the people and it’s from the people to the leaders, not from the leaders to the people.
One Nation … meaning, so blessed by God.
incapable of being divided.
which is freedom, the right of power to live one’s own life, without threats, fear, or some sort of retaliation.
the principle or qualities of dealing fairly with others.
For all … which means, boys and girls, it’s as much your country as it is mine.
Interesting Trivia About Red Skelton
Inducted into International Clown Hall of Fame in 1989
Inducted into Radio Hall of Fame in 1994
Despite playing a drunk Freddie the Freeloader he never drank and was in fact allergic to alcohol.
Disliked blue humor and wouldn’t let it be used on his show. This quote explains how he felt about off-color humor:
I think most of today’s comedians are victims of laughter…they get nervous and resort to an insult or a four-letter word for a quick, cheap laugh. That goes on night after night until the whole act is cheapened. But that doesn’t last. Usually, a couple of years later they are remembered only as the old what’s-his-name who used all the dirty words.
He never forgave CBS for cancelling his show and may be why we are not able, to see Red Skelton shows in re-runs, even though it ended 44 years ago.
His birth year is usually listed as 1913, but he reportedly told associates, that his true birth year was 1906.
These two quotes by Red Skelton sum up his life nicely:
I always believed God puts each one of us here for a purpose and mine is to try to make people happy.If I can make people smile, then I have served my purpose for God.