Profile: Red Skelton (1913
Bernard Richard 'Red' Skelton was born in Vincennes,
Indiana on July 18, 1913. He was a popular entertainer,
comedian, writer, composer and accomplished painter.
His individual paintings have been sold at auction
for up to $80,000. He is best known for his clown
persona 'Freddie The Freeloader'. Red Skelton was
inducted into the Clown Hall of Fame in 1989.
Skelton became interested
in performing at an early age. His father, who died
shortly before his birth, had himself been a circus
clown for the Hagenbeck & Wallace Circus, so
it was no surprise that Skelton was fascinated with
clowns. The costumes they wore were much like the
Halloween costumes he and his friends were wearing.
Skelton's overwhelming desire was to be a clown
and to make people laugh. At the age of 7 he was
singing for pennies on the street to help his widowed
mother. He also sold newspapers and took other jobs
when he could. At the age of 10 he fell in love
with show business, quit school, and left home to
join a medicine show that was traveling through
By the age of 16 he
had joined the vaudeville circuit and was performing
stand-up and other comedy acts on showboats, in
minstrel shows, in small night clubs, in burlesques
and in circuses including the Hagenbeck & Wallace
Circus, where his father had performed. In 1931
Skelton married his first wife, who became his vaudeville
partner and later his chief writer and manager.
By 1937 Skelton was
doing his act on Broadway and on Radio. In 1938
he made his movie debut in "Having A Wonderful
Time" as Itchy Falkner. MGM quickly realized
his potential and gave him a contract. Skelton appeared
in over 40 MGM movies during the 1940s and 1950s
and in 1965 he returned to the silver screen to
do a cameo in "Those Magnificent Men In Their
The Red Skelton Radio
show aired from 1941 - 1953 during which time his
act made famous the characters of 'Clem Kaddiddlehopper',
'George Appleby', 'Willy Lump Lump', 'Cauliflower
McPugg', 'The Mean Widdle Kid', 'San Fernando Red',
and the cross-eyed seagulls 'Gertrude and Heathcliffe'.
These were characterizations that he had developed
as part of his early comedy routines.
In 1951 "The
Red Skelton Show" premiered on NBC and finished
fourth in ratings in its first year. It won the
Emmy Award for Best Comedy Show in 1953 and another
Emmy in 1961 for Outstanding Writing Achievement.
The Red Skelton Show aired on television for the
next two decades until it was canceled in 1971.
to develop his early characters through the many
comedy skits he did for his television show, but
his greatest acclaim came when he added the pantomime
clown 'Freddie The Freeloader', who became his most
popular characterization of all and the one for
which he is most remembered.
After the cancellation
of his television show, Red Skelton had the time
he needed to devote himself to becoming recognized
as an accomplished oil painter. He became renowned
for his oil paintings of clowns, and lithographs
of his clowns brought in over $2.5 million a year.
Skelton was a composer
and author, as well. He wrote hundreds of short
stories and he composed about 8,000 songs during
his lifetime. Skelton was also a long time supporter
of children's charities including the Shriner's
Crippled Children's Hospital and the Red Skelton
Foundation in Vincennes, Indiana which cares for
For his lifetime contributions
to entertainment, Skelton was awarded an honorary
Doctorate of Literature from Emerson College of
Boston, a Doctor of Human Letters from Vincennes
University, and a doctorate of Theater Arts at Indiana
State University. He was given the Governors Award
of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences at
the Emmy Awards Ceremony in 1986.
continued to write short stories, compose music
and perform for live audiences, including a performance
at Carnegie Hall, throughout the remaining years
of his life. He died of pneumonia at age 84, on
September 17, 1997.