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Richard "Red" Skelton (1913-1997) was a famous American comedy entertainer, artist, writer, and musical composer during the 1950s. Well known for his national radio and television shows, Skelton has earned multiple awards as well as stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1988 and the National Radio Hall of Fame in 1994. His show, The Red Skelton Show, earned him three Emmy awards for Best Comedy Program, Best Comedian, and Outstanding Writing Achievement In Comedy. Skelton appeared and performed in burlesque, vaudeville, films, nightclubs, and casinos during his career.
Red Skelton was born on July 18, 1913 in Vincennes, Indiana. He was the youngest of three boys born to Joseph Elmer and Ida Mae Skelton. His father, a grocer and a retired clown from the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus, passed away two months before Skelton was born. The early loss of his father forced Skelton to work at the age of seven, selling newspapers and working at other jobs to support his family. His family was known to be in deep poverty by their neighbors as they lost their family store and their home. While Skelton was selling papers outside Pantheon theater in 1923, he supposedly met comedian Ed Wynn. Wynn, who was performing at the show, brought Skelton backstage and introduced him to other performers, sparking the boy’s interest in becoming a performer.
Skelton had a natural talent for making people laugh at a young age. He dropped out of school when he was either thirteen or fourteen years old and began performing in minstrel shows and on The Cotton Blossom, a showboat that ran through the Ohio and Missouri rivers. After his work on the showboat, Skelton began working on the burlesque circuit at the age of fifteen and was reportedly working with the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus for four months the following year. In that same year in 1929, Skelton worked at "Doc" R. E. Lewis's traveling medicine show as an errand boy. He would sell bottles of medicine to the audience while telling jokes and singing songs, sending back what he had earned to his mother.
Moving on from burlesque comedy, Skelton met his first wife Edna Stillwell. The two married in 1931 and Edna supported Skelton by writing his comedy material and helping him achieve a high school equivalency degree. The couple worked at Camden, New Jersey and Montreal's Lido Club in 1934, leading them to more theater dates in Canada. They soon met a vaudeville producer named Harry Anger who gave them a gig at New York City's Loew's State Theatre. Performing his famous "Doughnut Dunkers" routine, Skelton soon became a celebrity as well as the master of ceremonies for President Roosevelt's birthday celebrations.
Skelton soon appeared on The Rudy Vallee Show on the radio and on Broadway in 1937, being voted the outstanding new radio star of 1941. His exposure led him to take roles in more than thirty movies, such as Having a Wonderful Time in 1938, Bathing Beauty in 1944, The Fuller Brush Man in 1948, and Excuse My Dust in 1951. He soon moved on to having his own television show on NBC named The Red Skelton Show in 1951. The show was canceled in 1953, however, it was picked up and continued by CBC until 1971. Skelton continued to perform his comedy routines at hundreds of colleges, casinos, and theaters during his later years. He was awarded the Governor’s Award for lifetime achievement by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in 1986. Skelton passed away on September 17, 1997 in Rancho Mirage, California.
"Red Skelton." Wikipedia. August 10, 2020. Accessed August 12, 2020. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Skelton.
"Red Skelton." Encyclopædia Britannica. July 14, 2020. Accessed August 12, 2020. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Red-Skelton.
"Legacy of Laughter – Red Skelton Museum." Red Skelton Museum of American Comedy. May 25, 2017. Accessed August 12, 2020. https://redskeltonmuseum.org/legacy-of-laughter/.