Hollywood Remains to Be Seen

Red Skelton
1913 - 1997

Forest Lawn Glendale

Though best remembered as the host of comedy and variety television series that ran for 20 years, from 1951 to 1971, Red Skelton's entertainment career spanned more than 70 years, and included radio, film, television and stage performances. In later years, Skelton was a popular artist, specializing in oil paintings of clowns.

Skelton was the son of a former circus clown and a cleaning woman, and grew up in dire poverty in Indiana. By the age of 7, Skelton was singing in the streets for pennies to help support his family. Two years later, when Skelton saw comedian Ed Wynn at a vaudeville show, he decided to become an entertainer, and left home to join a traveling medicine show. Skelton performed throughout the Midwest, eventually working as a clown in the Haggen and Wallenbach Circus -- the same circus where his father once worked. In 1937, Skelton first performed his famous "donut dunking" routine, which was his interpretation of the ways different types of people dunked donuts. With the success of that routine, Skelton began performing at larger theaters throughout the United States with his act that featured pantomime and a wide variety of characters.

Skelton made his film debut in "Having Wonderful Time" (1938), starring Ginger Rogers, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Lucille Ball. Skelton's first starring role was in "Whistling in the Dark" (1940), in which he played a radio crime show host who becomes involved in a real-life crime. Skelton also starred in two sequels -- "Whistling in Dixie" (1942) and "Whistling in Brooklyn" (1943). Skelton starred in a series of popular comedies in the 1940s, including "Panama Hattie" (1942), "I Dood It" (1943), "Du Barry was a Lady" (1943), "The Show-Off" (1946), "Merton of the Movies" (1947), "The Fuller Brush Man" (1948), "A Southern Yankee" (1948), "The Yellow Cab Man" (1950), "Three Little Words" (1950) and "Watch the Birdie" (1951).

In 1951, "The Red Skelton Show" premiered on NBC as a comedy and variety show, usually showcasing Skelton and his many characters, including Clem Kadiddlehopper, Freddie the Freeloader, Willie Lump Lump, Sheriff Dead-Eye, Bolivar Shagnasty, San Fernando Red, Cauliflower McPugg, Junior the Mean Widdle Kid and the seagulls, Gertrude and Heathcliffe. In 1952, Skelton won an Emmy award as Best Comedian and "The Red Skelton Show" won an Emmy as Best Comedy Show. Skelton's show eventually moved to CBS, and remained popular throughout its entire 20-year run.

After his television show ended in 1971, Skelton continued to tour the country in live performances, and he was an active supporter of various children's charities.

Skelton was born Richard Bernard Skelton on July 18, 1913 (some sources say 1910), in Vincennes, IN. He died on Sept. 17, 1997, in Rancho Mirage, CA.

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