Red Skelton


Actor
Red Skelton

About

Also Known As
Richard Bernard Skelton, Richard Red Skelton, Richard (Red) Skelton, "Red" Skelton
Birth Place
Vincennes, Indiana, USA
Born
July 18, 1913
Died
September 17, 1997

Biography

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, showcas...

Photos & Videos

A Southern Yankee - Movie Posters
The Show-Off - Movie Poster
Whistling in the Dark - Lobby Cards

Family & Companions

Edna Marie Stillwell
Wife
Joke writer, business manager, former usher. Born c. 1906; married in June 1931; divorced in 1943; she remained an advisor on his career after their marriage ended.
Muriel Morris
Companion
Actor. Became engaged in 1943; she ended the relationship in April 1944 because of his relationship with his first wife.
Georgia Maurine Davis
Wife
Model. Married in 1945; divorced in 1971; mother of Skelton's two children; wounded herself in 1966 in accidental shooting; committed suicide in May 1976 on the anniversary of her son's death.
Lothian Toland
Wife
Married from 1973 until his death; daughter of cinematographer Gregg Toland.

Bibliography

"Seeing Red: The Skelton in Hollywood's Closet"
Wes Gehring, Robin Vincent Publishing (2001)
"Red Skelton: An Unauthorized Biography"
Arthur Marx, E.P. Dutton (1979)
"Red Skelton's Gertrude and Heathcliffe"
Red Skelton, Desert Publications (1971)
"A Red Skelton in Your Closet: Ghost Stories Gay and Grim"
Red Skelton, editor, Grosset & Dunlap (1965)

Notes

"I just want to be known as a clown because to me that's the height of my profession. It means you can do everything--Sing, dance, and above all, make people laugh." --Red Skelton

Inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1988

Biography

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.

Filmography

 

Cast (Feature Film)

Entertaining the Troops (1989)
Himself
Rudolph's Shiny New Year (1976)
Voice
Rudolph's Shiny New Year (1976)
Narrator
Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines; or How I Flew From London to Paris in 25 Hours and 11 Minutes (1965)
The Neanderthal Man
Ocean's Eleven (1960)
Himself
Public Pigeon No. 1 (1957)
Rusty Morgan
Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
Drunk at Barbary Coast saloon
The Great Diamond Robbery (1954)
Ambrose C. Park
Susan Slept Here (1954)
Oswald
The Clown (1953)
Dodo Delwyn
Half a Hero (1953)
Ben Dobson
Lovely To Look At (1952)
Al Marsh [stage name of Al Wodzscyngkic]
Watch the Birdie (1951)
Rusty Cammeron/Pop Cammeron/Grandpop Cammeron
Texas Carnival (1951)
Cornie Quinell
Excuse My Dust (1951)
Joe Belden
The Fuller Brush Girl (1950)
Red Jones
Three Little Words (1950)
Harry Ruby
The Yellow Cab Man (1950)
Augustus "Red" Pirdy
Duchess of Idaho (1950)
Guest master of ceremonies
Neptune's Daughter (1949)
Jack Spratt
A Southern Yankee (1948)
Aubrey Filmore
The Fuller Brush Man (1948)
Red Jones
Merton of the Movies (1947)
Merton Gill [also known as Clifford Armitage]
Ziegfeld Follies (1946)
Radio show announcer in "When Television Comes"
The Show-Off (1946)
Aubrey Piper
Thousands Cheer (1944)
Bathing Beauty (1944)
Steve Elliott
I Dood It (1943)
Joseph Rivington Renolds
Whistling in Brooklyn (1943)
Wally Benton
Du Barry Was a Lady (1943)
Louis Blore/King Louis [XV]
Maisie Gets Her Man (1942)
"Hap" Hixby
Ship Ahoy (1942)
Merton K. Kibble
Whistling in Dixie (1942)
Wally Benton
Panama Hattie (1942)
Red
The People vs. Dr. Kildare (1941)
Vernon Briggs
Lady Be Good (1941)
Joe "Red" Willet
Whistling in the Dark (1941)
Wally Benton
Dr. Kildare's Wedding Day (1941)
Vernon Briggs
Flight Command (1940)
Lieut. "Mugger" Martin
Having Wonderful Time (1938)
Itchy

Music (Feature Film)

Made in Paris (1966)
Composer

Misc. Crew (Feature Film)

Entertaining the Troops (1989)
Other

Cast (Special)

Inside The Dream Factory (1995)
The First Annual Comedy Hall of Fame (1993)
Performer
The Television Academy Hall of Fame (1989)
Performer
The 3rd Annual American Comedy Awards (1989)
Performer
The Television Academy Hall of Fame (1987)
Performer
The 38th Annual Emmy Awards (1986)
Performer
Red Skelton: a Royal Performance (1984)
Funny Faces (1983)
Host
Red Skelton's Funny Faces (1983)
Host
Red Skelton's Christmas Dinner (1982)
Freddy The Freeloader
Sinatra: The First 40 Years (1980)
Bob Hope Special: Happy Birthday, Bob! (1978)
General Electric's All-Star Anniversary (1978)
Bob Hope Special: Bob Hope's All-Star Christmas Show (1978)
Swing Out, Sweet Land (1976)
Hollywood: The Dream Factory (1972)
The Red Skelton Chevy Special (1959)
Host
The Red Skelton Revue (1954)

Writer (Special)

Red Skelton: a Royal Performance (1984)
Writer
Red Skelton's Funny Faces (1983)
Writer
Red Skelton's Christmas Dinner (1982)
From Story
The Red Skelton Chevy Special (1959)
Writer

Music (Special)

Red Skelton's Christmas Dinner (1982)
Songs

Special Thanks (Special)

Red Skelton: a Royal Performance (1984)
Writer
Red Skelton's Funny Faces (1983)
Writer
Red Skelton's Christmas Dinner (1982)
From Story
The Red Skelton Chevy Special (1959)
Writer

Cast (Short)

Week End in Hollywood (1947)
The Luckiest Guy in the World (1946)
Radio Bugs (1944)
Voice
Seeing Red (1939)

Life Events

1923

Joined traveling medicine show at age 10

1937

Made radio debut on Rudy Vallee's show

1938

Made feature film debut in a small role in the Ginger Rogers vehicle, "Having Wonderful Time"

1941

Achieved star status in "Whistling in the Dark"

1941

Had own radio show, "Red Skelton's Scrapbook of Satire"

1943

Starred in "I Dood It"

1944

First starred opposite Esther Williams in "Bathing Beauty"

1944

Inducted in the US Army as a private

1948

Had title role in the screen comedy "The Fuller Brush Man"

1949

Reteamed with Esther Williams in "Neptune's Daughter"; sang Oscar-winning song "Baby, It's Cold Outside"

1952

Had rare dramatic role in "The Clown"

1965

Final feature, "Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machine"

1981

Made pay TV debut in "Freddy the Freeloader's Christmas Dinner" (HBO)

Photo Collections

A Southern Yankee - Movie Posters
A Southern Yankee - Movie Posters
The Show-Off - Movie Poster
The Show-Off - Movie Poster
Whistling in the Dark - Lobby Cards
Whistling in the Dark - Lobby Cards
Excuse My Dust - Lobby Card
Excuse My Dust - Lobby Card
Ship Ahoy - Kapralik Trade Ad
Here is a trade ad for MGM's Ship Ahoy (1943), starring Eleanor Powell and Red Skelton. The art is by mixed-media caricaturist Jaques Kapralik. Trade Ads were placed by studios in industry magazines like Variety and The Hollywood Reporter.
Neptune's Daughter - Publicity Stills
Here are a few Publicity Stills from Neptune's Daughter (1949), starring Esther Williams and Red Skelton. Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.
I Dood It - Kapralik Trade Ad
Here is a trade ad for MGM's I Dood It (1943), starring Red Skelton and Eleanor Powell. The art is by mixed-media caricaturist Jaques Kapralik. Trade Ads were placed by studios in industry magazines like Variety and The Hollywood Reporter.
The Yellow Cab Man - Lobby Card
Here is a Lobby Card from The Yellow Cab Man (1950), starring Red Skelton. Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
Neptune's Daughter - Movie Poster
Here is an original-release American movie poster for Neptune's Daughter (1949), starring Esther Williams and Red Skelton.
Bathing Beauty - Movie Posters
Here are a few original-release American movie posters for Bathing Beauty (1944), starring Esther Williams and Red Skelton.
Lovely to Look At - Scene Stills
Here are some scene stills from MGM's Lovely to Look At (1952), starring Kathryn Grayson, Howard Keel, Ann Miller, and Red Skelton.
Panama Hattie - Kapralik Trade Ad
Here is a trade ad for MGM's Panama Hattie (1942), starring Red Skelton and Ann Sothern. The art is by mixed-media caricaturist Jaques Kapralik. Trade Ads were placed by studios in industry magazines like Variety and The Hollywood Reporter.
Panama Hattie - Movie Poster
Here is the American Insert Movie Poster for Panama Hattie (1942), starring Red Skelton and Ann Sothern. Inserts measured 14x36 inches.
Du Barry Was a Lady - Movie Poster
Here is an American one-sheet movie poster for MGM's Du Barry Was a Lady (1943), starring Lucille Ball and Red Skelton. One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.
Du Barry Was a Lady - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are a few photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of MGM's Du Barry Was a Lady (1943), starring Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, and Zero Mostel.
Whistling in Dixie - Kapralik Trade Ad
Here is a trade ad for MGM's Whistling in Dixie (1942), starring Red Skelton. The art is by mixed-media caricaturist Jaques Kapralik. Trade Ads were placed by studios in industry magazines like Variety and The Hollywood Reporter.
Bathing Beauty - Red Skelton Publicity Stills
Here are some photos of Red Skelton taken to help publicize MGM's Bathing Beauty (1944), co-starring Esther Williams. The working title of the film was Mr. Co-Ed, as seen in several of these stills.
Watch the Birdie - Publicity Stills
Here are a few publicity stills from Watch the Birdie (1950), starring Red Skelton. Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.

Videos

Movie Clip

Bathing Beauty (1944) - Nastursiums To You! Comedy with Red Skelton and Esther Williams, him a songwriter, her a swimming teacher, who walked out at their wedding after he was wrongly accused of being already married, now trying to win her back by enrolling at her school, Bill Goodwin the foil, in MGM’s Bathing Beauty, 1944.
Ship Ahoy (1942) - Poor You Frank Sinatra is the dandied-up singer performing Burton Lane and E.Y. Harburg's "Poor You," with Tommy Dorsey's band in the Eleanor Powell and Red Skelton vehicle Ship Ahoy, 1942.
Watch The Birdie (1951) - It's A Little Overdeveloped Red Skelton here appears as Rusty Cameron and as his own dad, partners in their struggling camera shop, not realizing Lucia (Arlene Dahl), who rescued him from a recent aquatic mishap, is behind their sudden up-tick in business, in MGM’s Watch The Birdie, 1951.
Flight Command (1940) - Stray Hellcat Cocky new Navy flyer Drake (Robert Taylor) in bad weather flying his new high-tech plane to his new assignment in San Diego, Red Skelton the radio officer as brass led by Cmdr. Gary (Walter Pidgeon) try to talk him down, not a total success, early in Flight Command, 1940.
Texas Carnival (1951) - She's Half A Girl And Half A Fish Opening the musical from producer Jack Cummings’ unit at MGM, Red Skelton is the carnival barker with a tune by Harry Warren and Dorothy Fields, Esther Williams as his brand new partner, discovering problems with their act, in Texas Carnival, 1951.
Panama Hattie (1942) - I've Still Got My Health Opening scene with the chorus then Ann Sothern in the title role, with a Cole Porter tune Ethel Merman sang in the Broadway production, Red Skelton, Rags Ragland and Ben Blue her admiring sailors, in MGM’s Panama Hattie, 1942.
Watch The Birdie (1951) - Miss Lucky Vista Red Skelton as rookie newsreel cameraman Rusty is shooting the ground-breaking for the Lucky Vista housing project, also playing his own Grand-Dad, where Ann Miller is the pageant winner, Pam Britton a dignitary, Arlene Dahl a financier and romantic prospect, in Watch The Birdie, 1951.
Bathing Beauty (1944) - The Song I Wrote For Miss Brooks Leaping in to story after an impertinent opening number, Red Skelton introduces his co-star Esther Williams, in her third film but her first all-out swim-spectacle, Xavier Cugat backing Carlos Ramirez on his own original song, in MGM’s Bathing Beauty, 1944.
Neptune's Daughter (1949) - Baby, It's Cold Outside So nice they sang it twice, and everyone singing their own parts, first Ricardo Montalban and Esther Williams, then Betty Garrett and Red Skelton, in the Academy Award winning song that year, already made a Hollywood party standard by composer Frank Loesser, in MGM's Neptune's Daughter, 1949.
Whistling in the Dark (1941) - Opening Credits Opening title sequence for the MGM programmer Whistling in the Dark, 1941, the first in the series starring Red Skelton, co-starring Ann Rutherford and Conrad Veidt.
Whistling In Dixie - Grape O Mix Crime Hour After an opening murder in Georgia, we meet Marty "The Fox" Benton on his radio show, with girlfriend and co-star Carol (Ann Rutherford), the commissioner (Joseph Crehan), doctor (Pierre Watkin) and producer (Emmett Vogan), in the second film in MGM's series, Whistling In Dixie, 1942.
Whistling In Dixie - Inside Of An Eight-Ball Now at the Georgia home of her sorority sister Ellamae (Diana Lewis), New Yorker Carol (Ann Rutherford) and her boyfriend, radio sleuth Wally "The Fox" Benton (Red Skelton), visit the old fort from which a body disappeared, in MGM's Whistling In Dixie, 1942.

Trailer

Neptune's Daughter (1949) -- (Original Trailer) A polo player romances a bathing suit designer in MGM's Neptune's Daughter (1949), starring Esther Williams.
Lady Be Good - (Original Trailer) None of the plot but all of the Gershwin songs like "Fascinatin' Rhythm" in MGM's version of Lady Be Good (1941).
Susan Slept Here - (Original Trailer) A Hollywood screenwriter (Dick Powell) takes in a runaway girl (Debbie Reynolds) who's more woman than he can handle. Directed by Frank Tashlin and narrated by an Oscar statuette.
People vs. Dr. Kildare, The - (Original Trailer) Is nothing sacred? Even Dr. Kildare is being sued for malpractice in The People vs. Dr. Kildare (1941).
Dr. Kildare's Wedding Day - (Original Trailer) The eighth entry in the series reaches Dr. Kildare's Wedding Day (1941) but things don't work out as planned.
Flight Command - (Original Trailer) Walter Pidgeon introduces himself as Commander Gary, also the host of the original theatrical trailer for MGM's Flight Command, 1940, starring Robert Taylor and Ruth Hussey, directed by Frank Borzage.
Duchess of Idaho - (Original Trailer) During a Sun Valley vacation, a woman tries to solve her roommate's romantic problems in Duchess of Idaho (1950), starring Esther Williams.
Ziegfeld Follies - (Original Trailer) Legendary showman Flo Ziegfeld imagines the kind of Follies he could produce with MGM's musical stars in Ziegfeld Follies (1946) starring Judy Garland.
Excuse My Dust - (Original Trailer) Red Skelton stars as a turn-of-the-century automobile inventor in the Technicolor comedy Excuse My Dust (1951).
Whistling in the Dark (1941) - (Original Trailer) Red Skelton, in his first starring role, is a radio detective forced to plan the perfect murder in Whistling in the Dark (1941).
Maisie Gets Her Man - (Original Trailer) For #6 in the "Maisie" series, Maisie Gets Her Man (1942), Ann Sothern trades quips with Red Skelton.
Whistling In Dixie - (Original Trailer) Red Skelton is a radio detective who heads South for mystery in Whistling In Dixie (1942).

Family

Joseph Skelton
Father
Grocer; former circus clown. Died in May 1913.
Ida Mae Skelton
Mother
Cleaning woman, elevator operator.
Valentina Maris Alonso
Daughter
Born in 1947; mother, Georgia Skelton; survived him.
Richard Freeman Skelton
Son
Born in 1948; died of leukemia in May 1958; mother, Georgia Skelton.

Companions

Edna Marie Stillwell
Wife
Joke writer, business manager, former usher. Born c. 1906; married in June 1931; divorced in 1943; she remained an advisor on his career after their marriage ended.
Muriel Morris
Companion
Actor. Became engaged in 1943; she ended the relationship in April 1944 because of his relationship with his first wife.
Georgia Maurine Davis
Wife
Model. Married in 1945; divorced in 1971; mother of Skelton's two children; wounded herself in 1966 in accidental shooting; committed suicide in May 1976 on the anniversary of her son's death.
Lothian Toland
Wife
Married from 1973 until his death; daughter of cinematographer Gregg Toland.

Bibliography

"Seeing Red: The Skelton in Hollywood's Closet"
Wes Gehring, Robin Vincent Publishing (2001)
"Red Skelton: An Unauthorized Biography"
Arthur Marx, E.P. Dutton (1979)
"Red Skelton's Gertrude and Heathcliffe"
Red Skelton, Desert Publications (1971)
"A Red Skelton in Your Closet: Ghost Stories Gay and Grim"
Red Skelton, editor, Grosset & Dunlap (1965)
"Clown Alley"
Red Skelton

Notes

"I just want to be known as a clown because to me that's the height of my profession. It means you can do everything--Sing, dance, and above all, make people laugh." --Red Skelton

Inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1988

Skelton is also an accomplished painter whose works have sold for as much as $80,000.

Skelton founded the Red Skelton Needy Childrens Fund and was its president.