Profile: Red Skelton (1913 - 1997)
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.
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 facinated
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 needy children.
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.