The legend of Red Skelton begins with the death of his father. It is said that Red's father Joseph was a famous circus clown that died from drinking. I have not been able to prove this. I have heard of a story that his father was a lawyer but quit when he found out that he got a murder off. I have not found any record of this. What makes finding the history of Joseph Skelton hard is that he also went by another name. For a time Joseph was living in Vincennes he went by the name of Ehart or Eheart.
Putting records together I have found that baby was born to Ella Richardville on September 14, 1878 north of Princeton, IN. Ella Richardville claims that this was the child of Newton O. Skelton. Newton Skelton was a respected businessman in Princeton and married at the time. There are court cases of Skelton vs. Richardville and the jury found in favor of Skelton. Newton Skelton died January 29, 1880. His estate records do not include Ella or her child. I have not been able to find records of Joseph's past. There are records of Joseph Elmer Skelton listing Ella Richardville as his mother.
The next record of Joseph that I found is in the 1904-05 directory. He was working as a telephone lineman. He later became grocer with his brother Chris Ehart. Joseph was using the name Ehart as his last name in the directories. It is possible that Joseph became part of the Ehart family taking the name of his stepfather and Chris being his half-brother. When he married Ida Mae Fields on April 13th, 1905, he used the last name of Skelton. Ida Mae was born in Harvard, Nebraska April 26, 1884. Don't know her past or how she met Joseph. In September of 1905 they had a son, Joseph Ishmail. I believe that he was also called Denny. January 20th, 1906 there is a record of Joseph and Ida having a Catholic marriage so that Ishmail could be baptized. The Eharts would have two other sons before Red, Chris (1907) and Paul F. (1910).
The story of Red Skelton's father is that he was a clown for H-B. That he died from drinking or from a circus tent pole falling on him. No of these things are mentioned in the obits in the Vincennes newspapers. The press prints that he died from problems from a stroke. He was a member of local lodges and a part-time baseball umpire. He had a grocery store with his brother Chris. (I would love to find proof of him being a clown but I believe that this is a myth.)
Three months after Joseph's death, July 18th, 1913, Richard Bernard Eheart was born at 1:15pm in the home at 111 Lyndale ave. The family was not at this house for long. In the 1914-15 directory, Ida was listed at another address and Chris Eheart was at 111 Lyndale ave. Red's family moved around Vincennes.
Red tells stories that his family was poor. One story is that he was sleeping in the family store. One day it caught on fire and Red nearly escaped. I did find records that Joseph's property was being sold off to pay bills. For a time (1917?) the family moved to Indianapolis. Ida had a job as a elevator operator and cleaner. The family returned to Vincennes under the name of Skelton. Red was old enough to do work and bring money to the family. A chance meeting while he was a newspaper boy changed his life. This also could be another Skelton myth.
At the age of 10, Red was selling newspaper a stranger asks what to do in town. Red told him that a great comic was at the Pantheon Theatre. The stranger asks if he had seen the show. Red told him that he needed to sell all his papers. The stranger bought all the papers and told Red that there would be a ticket for him. Red found out that the stranger was the comic. The comic was Ed Wynn a Ziegfeld star comic known for a silly voice, laugh and props. He had Broadway shows. One show was called "The Perfect Fool". This is great tail but unlikely to happen. The only chance I see of Red meeting him is if the show went on tour. Still, this is the story Red tells when he knew that he wanted to be in show business.
During the summer he toured with a medicine show. Here he found out that he could make people laugh by falling down. This drew a crowd for "Doc" Lewis to sell his "Famous Miracle Remedy". Later he joined a stock company. This did not work out because he was cast in dramatic roles. The stock company dumped him on the Mississippi River. Here the water gets murky. Red ends up on a showboat called The Cotton Blossom but is kicked of for romancing the captain’s daughter. Then he did some "Uncle Tom's Cabin" shows. Finding time to appear as a clown for the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus and maybe vaudeville. This seems to be a lot of work for a 15 year old. In 1929 he returned to Vincennes and appeared in Clarence Stout's Minstrel shows. Clarence Stout was a songwriter and became a mentor to Red. Red gives him credit on teaching him how to perform. Red kept in touch with the Stout family through out his career. Vincennes University library has a collection of letters and programs. If there was no proof that Red was in Vincennes in 1929, it would be easier to have a transition to Kansas City.
1930 Red Skelton was a comic at Kansas City's Gaiety Burlesque Theater. He meets Edna Stillwell, an usher at the Pantage Theater. Edna was not impressed with the fast-talking, fall down comic. But Red wasted no time to get a job at Pantage to be near her. 1931 the Depression was going on. One way for people to get money was to win in Walkathon contest. They were dance contests were you had to be the last person on your feet to win. Red was a MC for an event at the same time Edna was a contestant. He managed to get her to agree to a date after the event. She won the contest and they had a romantic kiss. While Edna had a time to catch up on her sleep, her prize money was stolen. Red was there to cheer her up. They started dating and got married on June 1st, 1931. Red was one month away from his 18th birthday and Edna was 16. Edna was young but she had the gift of management. She was able to be the cashier at Red's Walkathons and able to controlled his pay for each event.
The Skelton's headed east doing Walkathons in St. Louis, Minneapolis, to Atlantic City, New Jersey. A New York booking agent got him out of Walkathons and back to vaudeville in 1934. He was sent to the Lido Club in Montreal, Canada. Her Harry Anger saw Red and signed him to play at Loew's theaters in Canada. Here he changed his style of comedy with Edna's help. Skelton was using corny gags and falling down but that was getting old. Edna became part of the act both on stage and back. She was billed as his sister because Red's good looks attracted the female. Also Edna was used in "leg ads" to attract the males. On stage Edna started as a stooge. She later became a partner. Off stage, she became active in writing for Red. She has been credited for inspiring Red's talent on spoofing human behavior. The classic "Dunking Doughnuts" came from watching how people dunked their doughnuts. Red was ready to become a hit in America.
Red was billed as a "Canadian Comic" in early 1937 when he was an emcee at the Capital Theatre in Washington D.C.. The press took notice of Red. He performed before President Roosevelt and came back to appear in many FDR's birthday parties afterwards. Freeman Keye became his radio representative and got Red national attention. In August Skelton appeared on Rudy Vallee show "The Fleischman Hour". Rudy Vallee was know as crooner singer and very popular at the time. Vallee did not care to much for Red's humor but the public did. So did RKO who signed him up to do the movie "Having Wonderful Time". Red tried to movies before but the New York studios were trying to use his good looks not his comedy. Red hoped that this film would get him to Hollywood. After the shooting he found time to visit his hometown. Vincennes Red Skelton Day to honor their native son. After a visit to family and friends, the Skeltons took a vacation to Mexico. When they came back the to the states, Red went back to the stage.
Red toured the country. He tried to produce a show of his own. "Paris in Swing" got good reviews but was cost to much to produce. He had to sell the scenery to pay the bills. "Gentlemen Unafraid" had music by hit songwriters but the play was no good. He did not have much luck in his first feature film.
HAVING WONDERFUL TIME'''stared Ginger Rogers and Douglas Fairbanks Jr.. Rogers went to a camp to rest and get away but Fairbank kept on trying to get her love. Red played the activities directors that popped in at times. Two of Skelton's classic bits are featured. You get to see a young Red Skelton do "Dunking Doughnuts" and "Walking up Stairs". After these bits are done Red is hardly in the film. The film did not do so well and RKO did not sign him to a contract. Red learns a little about Hollywood business. Before is next big break he learned enough to get his high school diploma. During 1938 he was taking courses by mail from Northwestern University, Chicago. In the next year he will make Chicago his home and gain an education of the radio business.
Red Skelton became a regular on the radio show AVALON TIME. In the beginning of the year, it was broadcasted in Cincinnati, Ohio. It moved to Chicago. The format of the show was Red playing someone that did odd jobs or played a famous character from history. There were episodes of Red dating. The woman who played Red’s girl friend was his real life wife. Edna Skelton was also a writer. Other members of the cast were an announcer, singer, a high pitched voice character called Hercules that popped up in the oddest places and an insulting microphone that was replaced by an insulting fiddle player. Red did not have his classic characters in this show. Most of the time he played himself during the show.
SEEING RED was a short film were Red played many characters. He did some films for Vitaphone during his time in New York. This film had Red playing a fired worker telling his boss that he will haunt him every place he goes. The boss sees Red as a doorman, waiter, nightclub MC and even his wife. Skelton does a mime bit as a woman getting dressed in the morning and how to eat corn. Another short was BROADWAY BUCKAROO. I have not been able to see this.
Red Skelton went back to the stage and found that he needed new material. The Skeltons came up with "Guzzler's Gin". This classic bit had Red as an announcer that sampled the sponsor’s produce during a radio show and got drunker during every ad. Red was ready to try Hollywood again. Mickey Rooney has been credited as to bringing him to MGM. Rooney saw Skelton perform at one of the President's birthday parties and arranged a screen test. Red did death scene as major movie stars. This screen test was so funny that it was passed around to MGM executives. Red got a 7 year contract and Edna managed to add a clause that let him do radio and TV.
FLIGHT COMMAND was Red's first MGM film. The movie was about a new pilot trying to one of the guys. Skelton was the one of the pilots. He told a joke or two but most of the time he was serious. MGM had a habit of testing new actors in small roles until they found the right way to star their actors.
MGM put Red as the comic relief in THE PEOPLE VS. DR. KILDARE and DR. KILDARE'S WEDDING DAY. In the Kildare film, he was a bit of a clumsy orderly. Not much action in the first film. There is a bit with luggage and a telephone booth in the second.
WHISTLING IN THE DARK was Skelton's first major starring role. He played a radio show detective call the Fox. He claimed that he could think of the perfect crime. A fake cult leader kidnaps The Fox's girl friend and the sponsor's daughter to forces the Fox to think up a way to kill someone so that the cult can inherit money. Red is great in this film. It is right blend of verbal and physical comedy. There are moments where is brave and he has quick wit. He has to use a bit of both to get himself out of the jam. MGM had the right type of character for Red but still used him as the best friend nice guy looser in other films.
LADY BE GOOD is one of those films were Red gets lost with behind his other co-stars. This is film about songwriters and Skelton plays the friend song plugger. He has one bit about car running boards and that is just about it. This is a key point to the film. He is beginning to be teamed up with fellow contract players that he will work with in the future. Warning: After seeing this film, the song "Lady Be Good" will be with in your head forever.
Near the end of the year, Red started his friendship with Gene Fowler. Gene Fowler was a reporter, screenwriter and biographer to the stars. He was a friend to John Barrymore and W.C. Fields. Red had many meetings with Gene hoping that Fowler would write a biography. At the time Fowler did not feel that Red had lived long enough for a bio. They did develop a father-son relationship. Gene Fowler's name was mentioned many times on Red's radio show.
Red started is radio show on NBC. It is odd that a visual comic becoming a hit on radio. Red was able to express is comedy by his voice. He became many characters on the show. Clem the fellow from the country, Deadeye western bad man that latter became sheriff, Willie Lump Lump always of the wagon, C McPugg the punch-drunk fighter and Junior the mean widdle kid. Skelton became popular with his character voices and catch phrases. One catch phrase helped build up morale during World War II.
"I Dood It" was said by Junior when he decides to do something that would get him in trouble. This became a rally cry for attacking the enemy during the war. Other radio characteristics appeared in cartoons. Red Skelton inspired later famous cartoon characters. For some reason Red's characters did not go the big screen.
SHIP AHOY has Red as a mystery writer that go involved with a dancer. Most of the plot is on the dancer. She is tricked by spies by caring a top-secret device overseas. Even Red's partner gets better scene with the dancer's friend. Even though Red is the co-star of the film, his talents did not get featured. Red was becoming a star. He was honored at Grauman's Chinese by putting his footprints in cement during the showing of this film. The next film MGM tried to mold Red in one of my lease favorite types, the loud mouth brag with corny jokes type.
MAISIE GETS HER MAN had him as a comic want-a-be. He teams up with a ex-perform but finds that he has stage fright. Red ends up being the fall guy to a con man selling fake mineral water stock. Red does show a good range of acting but this is mostly Ann Southerland's film.
PANAMA HATTIE was also a Ann Sotherland film. This time Red is a subplot to the main story. He plays one of three sailors that end up stopping spies. There is good team work with the sailors but Red's talent are not featured. He does manage to drop in some of 'Junior's' phrases.
WHISTLING IN DIXIE had Red returning as 'the Fox'. This time he helps a friend of his girlfriend solve a murder. This is a strong character and the he works well with the cast. Comic timing is great with Rags Raglands. He manages to solve the mystery with quick wit and bravery.
Red Skelton is becoming a stronger draw to the movie theater. The next year MGM will use him in more major films. This Hollywood life may have been affecting his home life. At the end of the year Edna filed for divorce.
There are many pretty women on the MGM lot. There has been talk that Red may have been attracted to them. Edna still managed Red's career but could not manage his personal life. He has been seen with a dancer from "DuBarry was a Lady".
DuBARRY WAS A LADY had Red in love with a nightclub singer. He becomes rich and tries to win her over with money. He dreams he is King Louie trying to win over DuBarry but she loves a Robin Hood type hero. Most of the film is Red chasing DuBarry or being chased by the hero.
WHISTLING IN BROOKLYN was another film that was mostly chasing. The Fox is framed as a murderer. The real killers and the law chase him. Not much room for his quick wit. It ends up he gets the villain by dumb luck. Red could have been used better.
THOUSANDS CHEER used Red to build up the morale during the war. The film was about a daughter of an officer that puts on a show for the Army. Red appears as himself and performs as a shy person on a drug store and a soda jerk that gets ill from ice cream. These bits may have been from his stage act.
I DOOD IT was a big catch praise from his radio show, MGM hoped to make hit movie from the praise. MGM did not use anything from the radio show. They were still trying to find the right type of character of Red. In this film they started to use stories and gags from the great silent comic Buster Keaton. The movie "Spite Marriage" inspired this film of a dry cleaner that uses other people clothes to get near a stage star. The star thinks Red is rich and she marries him. Red ends up taking the place of an actor to get near the star. He latter finds out that the actor is a spy and manages to catch him. Skelton does a great job recreating a Keaton bit. Red's wife takes knockout drops by mistake and Red tries to put her to bed. The physical comedy of moving her limp body is classic.
"I Dood It" became a classic morale booster in the World War II. It was painted on a nose cone of Soviet bomber. Red Skelton toured little Army camps that normally do not get major stars. This latter became a full time job when he was in the Army.
Before the Army got him, Red tried to marry the Muriel Morris Chase, the dancer he met while filming DuBarry. Just days before the wedding, she called it off. MGM managed to have him do some filming before he had to go to Army. This way they would have some movies released while he was in the service.
BATHING BEAUTY'''was originally titles "Mr. Co-Ed". It had Red starring as a husband getting into a all-woman’s college to get close to his new wife. The part of the wife went to Esther Williams, MGM latest find. Red had some good moments doing a mime bit of a woman getting dressed and in a ballet class. MGM thought to market the film around Williams. This is why they changed the name. Red was called to serve his country when this movie was released.
Private Richard Skelton reports to Ft. MacArthur, CA for basic training then to Camp Roberts. I am not sure what his duties were. There are stories that he was the camp clown on and off the training field. Red had to quit movies and radio but his humor was still active.
Warner Brothers cartoons were using parts of his radio characters in some of their cartoon characters. Tweety Bird was a bit of the little bird type mean. Some of his cartoon, he wore a sailor's hat. Red wore a sailor's type hat when he played Junior.
Red Skelton's characters were building the morale for the home front. Warner Brother releases a cartoon with the character Yosemite Sam. It is clear that he was inspired by Red's Deadeye character. Also some cartoons used catch phrases from Clem and Junior.
Pvt. Skelton skills were not suited for combat. He was sent to Virginia to become an entertainment specialist. After this training he was sent overseas. Just before he left, Red married Georgia Davis. He met her before entering the army on the MGM lot. Pvt. Skelton traveled to Europe and worked on building the morale of soldiers in hospitals and entertaining officers. He was the clown all the time, which might have caused him to have a breakdown. He was sent back to the states to recover in a Army hospital.
When he returned home he had to do some changed to his radio show. His original bandleader was Ozzie Nelson and Harriett Nelson played Clem's girl friend Daisy June and Junior's mother. While Red was in the army they started their own radio show. Cast changed include David Forrester as the bandleader and Gee Gee McPerson as Daisy May. Daisy June got married while Clem was in the Army. Veron Felton became Junior's Grandma.
Red Skelton had a new cast and a new wife but Edna still was his business manager. Edna had a new husband. She married Frank Borzage, who directed Red in "Flight Command". There was a housing shortage after the war. The Skeltons and the Borzage ended up living in the same apartment complex. Edna was still able to handle his money.
THE ZIEGFELD FOLLIES'''had footage of Red that was shot before he went into the Army. The film was about Ziegfeld looking down from heaven as MGM stars try to recreate a Ziegfeld type show. Red performs his classic Guzzier's Gin.
The Luckiest Guy in the World'''was one of a series of short films call "Crime Does Not Pay". I understand the Red voice was heard just on the radio.
THE SHOW-OFF'''was Red's first starring role in a motion picture after he got out of the Army. He played a loudmouth bragger. Trying to impress people. For some reason Marilyn Maxwell fell in love with him against the wishes of her mother Marjorie Main and rival suitor Leon Ames. His tall tales get him in money troubles but true love and being yourself keeps the family together.
MERTON OF THE MOVIES'''had Skelton reunited with Viginia O'Brien. He played a klutzy movie usher that dreams for being a big silent movie star. He gets a chance to go to Hollywood after stopping a crime using a trick from his favorite screen idol played by Leon Ames. He tries to make it but ends up messing up every chance he gets due to his over acting. O'Brien encourages him to keep on trying. Ames character goes on a drinking binge and can't do his next film. Red takes his place. Red's over acting is so funny the movie is made into a comedy but he is not told. He find out that his true calling is to be a comic.
THE FULLER BRUSH MAN'''was a major movie for Red. MGM was having much luck with is last couple of films. They loaned Red out to Columbia pictures. This reunited him with his director from the Whistler films. S. Sylvan Simon was able to bring out Red's comic talent. Also Columbia had a reputation for comedy with the Three Stooges shorts. The Fuller Brush Company supported this film. Promotional items were given out and they worked with Red's radio sponsor.
A SOUTHERN YANKEE'''was a hit for MGM. Red played a Northern bellhop that wants to be a spy. He manages to find a real spy and is forced to take his place. He is sent to the South to get secret plans for the North. Red has instruction to a Northern agent. He also has fake instruction incase he is captured. This bit of comedy brings out the classic tongue twister "The paper's in the pocket of the boot with the buckle. And the map is in the packet in the pocket of the jacket". Films of Buster Keaton inspired other comedy gags again.
NEPTUNES' DAUGHTER'''Had Red as the role of a famous polo player to impress a Betty Garrett. The real polo player falls for Betty's sister, Esther
r Williams. Mistaken identity causes Red to get kidnapped so that gamblers can bet on a polo game. This is a mostly a film for South American relations. There are musical numbers with Xavier Cugat plus the song "Baby, It's Cold Outside" that won an Oscar. Red has little to do. Esther does not swim much.
YELLOW CAB MAN'''Red is a walking accident. After being hit by a cab, he avoids a lawsuit and gets a job as a cab driver. He invents a glass that won't break. He is asked to demonstrate his glass but it replaced by real glass. Red is hypnotized to tell his formula to spies. In a dream segment you see a shot of Junior. Red escapes the spies and chased through a house of tomorrow exhibit.
THREE LITTLE WORDS'''Red plays songwriter Harry Ruby who teams ups with Kalmer played by Fred Astair. Red tries to play a serious part but ends up being the comic relief with bits of drama. Ruby was a baseball fan and Red does bits at a baseball camp. More attention is to Fred and his dancing.
WATCH THE BIRDIE'''Red a photo shop salesman that gets hired to film a construction job but accidentally films a plan to ruin the construction so that a rival company can get the job. Red teams up the lovely boss and get the bad guys. Inspired by Buster Keaton's "The Cameraman".
EXCUSE MY DUST
The Red Skelton Show went on the air Sunday, September 30th on NBC. It was a Russel M. Seeds Company production, President Freeman Keyes. The sponsor was Procter & Gamble. The Beverly Management Corporation with Bo Roos as president managed Red. John Gaunt was the director and his writers were John Fenton Murray, Ben Freedman, Jack Douglas and Red Skelton. Edna was not included as a TV writer but she still was involved with the radio show. The public got to see "San Fernando Red", "Dead Eye", "Cauliflower McPugg" and "Clem Kadiddlehopper" every week.
LOVELY TO LOOK AT'''Remake of ROBERTA about a dress salon that is under hard times. Red plays part of a Broadway production team that is trying to finance a show. Red inherits part of a dress salon after his aunt Roberta dies. They put on a show to save shop. A lot of song and dance without Red. Red is featured as a Clem type singing "Go Tell Aunt Roadie".
THE CLOWN'''is a remake of The Champ. This time it is about a clown not a boxer. Red plays a stage comic that went downhill because of drinking. He is trying raising a son. Sometimes it seems that the son is raising him. The boy’s mother wants him go live with her. There is great scene where Red fakes hating the boy so that he will go to his mother. Red gets a big break on TV. There are recreations of his TV skits. He becomes a hit but his heart give out and dies. This is sad film but it shows all of his talents in comedy and drama.
HALF A HERO'''Red plays a magazine writer that is pressure by his wife, Jean Hagen, to live a better life in the suburbs. He finds stress in paying bills and decides to write about it. Red does nothing with this non-character. There is a nice bit with a little French girl.
Half A Hero'''
SUSAN SLEPT HERE
AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS'''Red has a bit part as a drunk trying to get a free lunch in a western town.
Red gave his support to Ed Wynn during the making of Rod Serling's "Requiem for a Heavyweight" and appeared with the cast and crew at the 1957 Emmys [Search for Skelton]
PUBLIC PIGEON NO. ONE
Richard was checked in the U.C.L.A medical clinic early in the year. Red still did his TV show for the season. Richard's 10th birthday (May 20) was coming up. May 10th, Richard was getting worse. He asked for a crucifix blessed by the Pope. The crucifix was at the Skelton's home the next day but Richard died that afternoon.
The Red Skelton Show
It is time to stop morning the death of his son. Richard's room had not been changed after his death. Red found a home in Palm Spring and started to pack up the toys and items in Richard's room.
(08/30/1962) Indianapolis News State Fair visit
"CLOWN ALLEY"'''was a TV special were guest stars were clowns and did classic circus acts. Clown Alley is a circus term were clowns put on their make-up to avoid getting powder on other circus costumes. Not only the special was a tribute to clowns in the circus but in some way a tribute to Ed Wynn. Red is seen wearing a fire chief hat and a clown wearing a Mad Hatter hat. Wynn played a character of a fire chief on radio and TV. He played the Mad Hatter in Disney's "Alice in Wonderland".
In the First Christian Church in North Hollywood Valentina married Carlos Jose Alonso by Rev. Robert M. Bock.
There was talk about casting Red in the movie "The Sunshine Boys" based on Neil Simon's play. He would have been teamed with Jack Benny.
Georgia Skelton died from shooting herself from a .38 caliber revolver. She has been treated for a blood infection for about 4 years.
He came to my high school drama class. My partner and me were rehearsing a mime bit. He was a dog trainer and I was the dog. Mr. Skelton was early and opened the door and saw me down on all four legs then closed the door. We did a classic double take and after we recover from shock went out and got his autograph.
Red once said that he wanted to destroy his tapes of his TV show a half hour after his death. This may have been a joke but writers believed him. They were able to get the Los Angeles Superior Court to preserve 250 tapes for syndication.
Red's former wife died of cancer in November. She was the wife of businessman Leon Pound.
"FREDDY THE FREELOADER'S CHRISTMAS DINNER" Freddie tries to find money to have a fancy dinner with a friend played by Vincent Price. There is a nice scene with Freddie at a children's hospital and you get a bit on Red's philosophy clowns.