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|Also Known As:||Richard Bernard Skelton,Richard Red Skelton,Richard (Red) Skelton,"Red" Skelton||Died:||September 17, 1997|
|Born:||July 18, 1913||Cause of Death:|
|Birth Place:||Vincennes, Indiana, USA||Profession:||Cast ... actor composer singer newspaper delivery boy|
A vaudeville and burlesque performer who worked his way up from the bottom of the rung clubs and show boats to play the Paramount Theatre in NYC, Red Skelton entered films in 1938 and went on to appear in some two dozen musicals and comedies through the 1940s, mostly for MGM. Skelton, who had his own radio show from 1941-53, embraced TV in 1950 and gained his greatest fame there, showcasing his gift for pantomime and his memorable characterizations, such as Freddy the Freeloader, on the long-running "The Red Skelton Show" which ran on NBC from 1951-53, then on CBS from 1953-70, and finally on NBC for its last year 1970-71.
Skelton was a physical comedian, and his work showed the influence of the circus his father had performed in, down to the clown-like floppy hats and facial expressions. He had a humble quality, not just in the essence of his characters, but in his modest bows to the audience, during which Skelton would hold his tongue gently between his teeth and just say thank you. (In reality, Skelton was said to be anything but modest when it came to taking credit for his work. He was lax in admitting he even had writers on his TV series.) Skelton was a star of the MGM lot in the 40s and his films, some of them with Lucille Ball, were financially successful, although few have subsequently been recognized as classics. Low brow in the classic sense--rather than in the tacky sense of say, The Three Stooges--Skelton was at his best when MGM acquired Broadway properties and molded them for him, such as "Panama Hattie" (1942), "DuBarry Was a Lady" (1943), in which he thought he was Louis XVI, and "I Dood It" (also 1943), with Eleanor Powell. A typical Skelton film other than Broadway adaptations might be "The Fuller Brush Man" (1948) in which he haplessly becomes embroiled with murder while trying to sell brushes door-to-door. His last MGM film was "Half a Hero" (1953), in which he was a writer who tries suburban life as background for a story. He subsequently made a cameo appearance in "Around the World in 80 Days" (1956) and did an amusing prologue tracing the history of aviation for "Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines" (1965), but truth-be-told, after 1951 Skelton belonged to TV.
Skelton's repertoire of characters had been developed on stage and on radio--where he had worked before a live audience. His TV show had no other regulars, save his bandleader, David Rose, until 1970 when some skit performers were added for one season. Instead, they had Skelton, doing characters such as The Mean Widdle Kid, Clem Kadiddlehopper, the rustic Sheriff Deadeye, the West's worst nightmare, the drunken Willie Lump-Lump and Freddy the Freeloader, a speechless hobo. (The Freddy sequences were always performed in pantomime.) Skelton always ended his program thanking the audience and with the words "God bless!"
Skelton wrote much of his own material, although he had a full staff of writers as well. He also occasionally composed music for his stage shows. After the end of his over 20-year run on primetime TV, Skelton continued to do live appearances, including a 1990 concert at Carnegie Hall, as well as occasional TV commercials. He revived Freddy the Freeloader for a 1980 HBO special.
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