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.