RED SKELTON- In the Presence of a Boyhood Idol by Tony Piazza
Growing up I never missed RED SKELTON when he was on C.B.S. He was my favorite comedian. I had always wanted to see him perform in person. Countless times I would see that he had a show in Vegas, but my family very rarely ever took trips there. Our vacations were usually Tahoe, Reno, and Disneyland. And when Red did performed at Harrah’s (Reno or Tahoe) for one reason or another we were never able to attend. As the years passed I gave up on that dream, until one evening as my wife and I were driving down highway 101 in San Mateo and we noticed on the billboard of the Circle Star Theatre that he would soon be performing there! Needless to say I rushed out to get two tickets, and waited with keen anticipation for that evening to arrive. It was worth the wait (as I knew it would be), and a real twenty-four karat treat at that! He kept us laughing from the minute he stepped onto the stage until he signed off with his signature, “Goodnight, and May God Bless.” He was well up in age. In fact they had to help him up onto the stage from his wheelchair. But once there he stood for almost two hours running through all his wonderful sketches and pantomimes. Guzzler’s Gin, the Mean Wittle Kid, Freedie the Freeloader, Gertrude and Heathcliff, San Fernando Red…they were all there. We laughed until we cried. What a genius and, as he made a mention during the conclusion of the show, he didn’t have to do it with vulgarity…or in his own words, “You don’t have to use four letter words to be funny.” We tried to see him personally at a gallery showing of his clown artwork a few days afterwards at theFairmont, but unfortunately he was too tired for the second showing we attended. That was I believe, his last tour, and he passed away not too long afterwards, but I am forever grateful that the timing finally worked so that I could see my boyhood idol.
As an aside, not too long ago I was reading my friend Johnny Weissmuller Jr.’s biography of his dad, and learned something that I wish I knew when Johnny and I would talk on the set of “The Streets of San Francisco”…Red was his babysitter! Could you imagine that! The Weissmuller’s and the Skelton’s were neighbors. I would have showered him with a lot of questions about that experience if I knew back then…even more than the ones I asked regarding his dad.
I also got to meet ESTHER WILLIAMS a few years back. Not only did she work with Red, but also swam with Johnny Weissmuller and had some fun tales to tell. I will share those with you in a future article.
Johnny Weismuller Jr.
Johnny Weismuller as Tarzan.
Further comment by the author: Talking about boyhood idols. Red tells the story that even as a boy he had a calling to show business. He loved the stage and vaudeville, and would hang out in front of theatres selling his newspapers hoping to raise enough money to get a ticket to go inside. One day a kindly gentleman came up to buy a paper and asked whether the boy was going to see the show. Red said he would love to, but didn’t have the money for admission. The gentleman immediately reached in his coat pocket and presented him with a pass. That afternoon, he went to the show, and as the lights dimmed the kindly gentlemen stepped out onto the stage and Red realized that he had been treated to the show by its star…Ed Wynn!
Tony Piazza (Courtesy of Charlotte Alexander)
Tony Piazza is author of the 1930s Hollywood murder mystery novel, “Anything Short of Murder,” which had its roots on the TCM fan website. His second novel, “The Curse of the Crimson Dragon” was published next in early 2012, and in November of 2013 his second Tom Logan Mystery, “A Murder Amongst Angels was released.” In July of 2015 his latest Logan mystery, “Murder Is Such Sweet Revenge” was made available for purchase, and has since been an instant bestseller. All are available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites. He was an actor/extra during the 1970s and worked with such legends as Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, and Karl Malden. His non-fiction e-book “Bullitt Points” is an in depth look at the making of “Bullitt” from a person who was there. Look for it on Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites, or at the link posted below. All profits go to the Boys Republic charity: www.bullittpoints.com.
Tony Piazza is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and SLO NightWriters.
All my novels in the Tom Logan mystery series have become audio books- read by actor James Romick, and is available on Audible, Amazon, and I-tunes.
The rollicking adventure novel set in paradise. The thrill-a-minute bestseller that two film producers are interested in…”The Curse of the Crimson Dragon” is NOW an audio book, read by the talented Broadway actor, James Romick!
My earlier bestselling novels, “The Curse of the Crimson Dragon” and “Anything Short of Murder” now joins “A Murder Amongst Angels” and “Murder is Such Sweet Revenge” on Amazon’s Kindle at new, low prices. Now you can have hours of adventure, thrills, mystery, and romance for the price of a cup of coffee- and just as stimulating! Look for it on Amazon. Print versions have also been reduced.
Also: The new Tom Logan mystery thriller, A Murder Amongst Angels .
Find them all on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and wherever fine books are sold. Also available at an affordable price on Kindle.
Donna Del Bueno says
Oh golly, this is right up my alley. I ABSOLUTELY LOVED RED SKELTON!!!!! I, too, watched all those episodes & loved them. I’m a classic film lover & lover of vintage TV shows (e.g. THE JIMMY DURANTE SHOW, PLAYHOUSE 90, THE LORETTA YOUNG SHOW, etc.). I post classic film stars’ birthdays on my Facebook FAN page. http://www.facebook.com/DonnaDelBueno
I was definitely born too late!
Thank you for this delightful article. Red Skelton always made me smile. And, boy-oh-boy, does Johnny Weismuller, Jr. ever look like his father!!!!
All the best,
Donna Del Bueno
Thank you, Donna for reading and commenting. If you love vintage TV and Classic films I hope you will keep following my posts. I was fortunate enough to be a part of that era, and extremely lucky to actually work on some now classic shows with legendary actors.
Alan Abel says
Tony, your experiences with the great are heart warming indeed! I too was fortunate to be with many notables when I left Glenn Miller’s Orchestra to join David Rose as percussionist, with Moss Hart’s AAF Stage Show “Winged Victory.” This all-soldier cast included George “Superman” Reeves, Karl Malden, Martin Ritt, Edmond O’Brien, Lon McAllister, Mario Lanza,Red Buttons, Kevin McCarthy, Barry Nelson,Lee J. Cobb, Irving “Swifty” Lazar, John Forsythe, Nat Hiken and many more who achieved fame following WWII. I was a very fortunate lad of 19 to be able to rub shoulders with such a talented group for 2 years.That included 6 months on Broadway, 3 months in Hollywood for the movie version (George Cukor directed) and a year of touring major cities with soldout audiences and rave reviews. Also millions of dollars raised for Army Emergency Relief. I’ve recently completed my autobio with numerous stories about “Winged Victory.” One anecdote that continues to make me laugh: In the summer of 1944 Orson Welles requested the David Rose Orchestra to join him for an hour special by Norman Corwin to be presented live on network radio in Texarkana,TX. The 55 members flew there in a B-52 and spent a long Saturday rehearsing with Welles for the Sunday broadcast. He was the key actor and directed as well. One monologue had him marching into Germany with American troops and the Nazi troops marching out. He asked me, the drummer, to play a German drum beat under his dialogue. I played one and he didn’t like it. Then another and another. No good. Then I threw in a French drum cadence and he loved it. “That’s it,” he shouted. “And don’t forget it or I’ll scratch your eyes out!” Everyone laughed of course, as his wife Rita Hayworth sat demurely on a stool nearby. Sincerely, Alan Abel
Wow…wonderful story! Karl Malden was a great friend, and Edmond O’brien was one of our guest stars during the first season of “The Streets of San Francisco.” This is what I enjoy about blogging, meeting so many great people that have interesting stories to tell! Thank you for following and I really appreciate your comments…very interesting. I love radio shows and the WW2 generation. My last novel, “The Curse of the Crimson Dragon” was a nostalgic salute…through a fictitious adventure…to that generation. My hero was an Army Air Corp Captain taking on a Nazi spy ring in Hawaii during 1944!
All my best,
Robin Richardson says
Always loved seeing Red on t.v. Saw him at the Fox in St. Louis, Missouri. Went to his museum in Vincennes,Indiana. Miss him. There will never be a better comedian. I don’t enjoy all the four letter words that come out of peoples mouths these days. Red knew how to do it right.
Carolyn Hecks says
I just loved reading the above and how your dream came through about seein Red Shelton in person. I always watched his shows. Those were the good days
They were, Carolyn. I’m so glad that I was given the opportunity. Some years earlier I had a chance to attend an evening with Cary Grant. I had the tickets, but he fell ill, and the show was cancelled indefinitely. Instead of holding onto the tickets, I got a refund. Turns out a year later he did do the show. I heard it was a good one, and I was kicking myself for not staying the course. I appreciate you comment and support.