Red Skelton

Red Skelton Headshot

Host • Clown

Birth Date: July 18, 1913

Death Date: September 17, 1997

Birth Place: Vincennes, Indiana

A vaudeville and burlesque performer who worked his way up from the bottom of the rung clubs and show boats to play the Paramount Theatre in NYC, Red Skelton entered films in 1938 and went on to appear in some two dozen musicals and comedies through the 1940s, mostly for MGM. Skelton, who had his own radio show from 1941-53, embraced TV in 1950 and gained his greatest fame there, showcasing his gift for pantomime and his memorable characterizations, such as Freddy the Freeloader, on the long-running "The Red Skelton Show" which ran on NBC from 1951-53, then on CBS from 1953-70, and finally on NBC for its last year 1970-71.

Skelton was a physical comedian, and his work showed the influence of the circus his father had performed in, down to the clown-like floppy hats and facial expressions. He had a humble quality, not just in the essence of his characters, but in his modest bows to the audience, during which Skelton would hold his tongue gently between his teeth and just say thank you.

(In reality, Skelton was said to be anything but modest when it came to taking credit for his work. He was lax in admitting he even had writers on his TV series.) Skelton was a star of the MGM lot in the 40s and his films, some of them with Lucille Ball, were financially successful, although few have subsequently been recognized as classics.

Low brow in the classic sense--rather than in the tacky sense of say, The Three Stooges--Skelton was at his best when MGM acquired Broadway properties and molded them for him, such as "Panama Hattie" (1942), "DuBarry Was a Lady" (1943), in which he thought he was Louis XVI, and "I Dood It" (also 1943), with Eleanor Powell.

A typical Skelton film other than Broadway adaptations might be "The Fuller Brush Man" (1948) in which he haplessly becomes embroiled with murder while trying to sell brushes door-to-door. His last MGM film was "Half a Hero" (1953), in which he was a writer who tries suburban life as background for a story. He subsequently made a cameo appearance in "Around the World in 80 Days" (1956) and did an amusing prologue tracing the history of aviation for "Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines" (1965), but truth-be-told, after 1951 Skelton belonged to TV.

Skelton's repertoire of characters had been developed on stage and on radio--where he had worked before a live audience. His TV show had no other regulars, save his bandleader, David Rose, until 1970 when some skit performers were added for one season. Instead, they had Skelton, doing characters such as The Mean Widdle Kid, Clem Kadiddlehopper, the rustic Sheriff Deadeye, the West's worst nightmare, the drunken Willie Lump-Lump and Freddy the Freeloader, a speechless hobo. (The Freddy sequences were always performed in pantomime.)

Skelton always ended his program thanking the audience and with the words "God bless!"

Skelton wrote much of his own material, although he had a full staff of writers as well. He also occasionally composed music for his stage shows. After the end of his over 20-year run on primetime TV, Skelton continued to do live appearances, including a 1990 concert at Carnegie Hall, as well as occasional TV commercials. He revived Freddy the Freeloader for a 1980 HBO special.

Credits

Hollywood Musicals

Actor
Show
2022

Red Skelton: Texas

Music Performer
Show
2020

Red Skelton: Carpenters and Astronauts

Music Performer
Show
2020

Red Skelton: Bloopers, Blunders, and Ad Libs

Actor
Show
2016

Red Skelton Bloopers: Blunders & Ad-Libs

Actor
Movie
2016

The Ed Sullivan Comedy Special

Guest
Show
2011

Christmas With Red Skelton

Actor
Show
2004

Red Skelton: A Comedy Scrapbook: The Life & Career of a Legend

Actor
Show
1991

Red Skelton: Funny Faces III

Actor
Show
1984

Red Skelton's Christmas Dinner

Actor
Freddie the Freeloader
Show
1981

Red Skelton's Christmas Dinner

Writer
Show
1981

Rudolph's Shiny New YearStream

Voice
Father Time
Special
1976
50%

CBS Salutes Lucy: The First 25 Years

Guest
Show
1976

Ocean's ElevenStream

Actor
Gambler
Movie
1960
48%

The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour

Guest Star
Show
1957

We Love Lucy

Guest Star
Show
1957

Public Pigeon No. One

Actor
Rusty Morgan
Movie
1957

Climax!Stream

Actor
Series
1954

Half a Hero

Actor
Ben Dobson
Movie
1953

The Great Diamond Robbery

Actor
Ambrose C. `'Central'` Park
Movie
1953

The Clown

Actor
Dodo Delwyn
Movie
1953

Lovely to Look At

Actor
Al Marsh
Movie
1952

Les Rois de la Couture

Actor
Movie
1952

The Red Skelton ShowStream

Actor
Variety Show
1951

The Red Skelton ShowStream

Director
Variety Show
1951

The Red Skelton ShowStream

Writer
Variety Show
1951

Mira el Pajarito

Actor
Movie
1951

Hombre de Calamidades

Actor
Movie
1951

Excuse My Dust

Actor
Joe Belden
Movie
1951

Watch the Birdie

Actor
Rusty Cammeron/Pop Cammeron/Grandpop Cammeron
Movie
1951

Texas Carnival

Actor
Cornie Quinell
Movie
1951

The Jack Benny ProgramStream

Guest
Series
1950

What's My Line?Stream

Guest
Game Show
1950

Yellow Cab Man

Actor
Movie
1950

Three Little WordsStream

Actor
Harry Ruby
Movie
1950

Duchess of Idaho

Actor
Guest Master of Ceremonies
Movie
1950

The Yellow Cab Man

Actor
Augustus `'Red'` Pirdy
Movie
1950

El Hombre en el Taxi Amarillo

Actor
Movie
1950

Neptune's DaughterStream

Actor
Jack Spratt
Movie
1949
100%

A Southern Yankee

Actor
Aubrey Filmore
Movie
1948

The Fuller Brush Man

Actor
Red Jones
Movie
1948

Merton of the Movies

Actor
Merton Gill
Movie
1947

Ziegfeld FolliesStream

Actor
Announcer/J. Newton Numbskull
Movie
1946
67%

The Show-Off

Actor
J. Aubrey Piper
Movie
1946

Bathing BeautyStream

Actor
Steve Elliot
Movie
1944

I Dood It

Actor
Joseph "Joe" Rivington Renolds
Movie
1943

Thousands Cheer

Self
Movie
1943

Whistling in Brooklyn

Actor
Wally "The Fox" Benton
Movie
1943

Du Barry Was a LadyStream

Actor
Louis Blore/King Louis XV
Movie
1943

We Must Have Music

Self
Movie
1942

Ship Ahoy

Actor
Merton K. Kibble
Movie
1942

Whistling in Dixie

Actor
Wally "The Fox" Benton
Movie
1942

Panama Hattie

Actor
Red
Movie
1942

Maisie Gets Her Man

Actor
Herbert P. `'Hap'` Hixby
Movie
1942

The People vs. Dr. Kildare

Actor
Vernon Briggs
Movie
1941

Lady Be GoodStream

Actor
Joe "Red" Willet
Movie
1941

Whistling in the Dark

Actor
Wally Benton
Movie
1941

Dr. Kildare's Wedding Day

Actor
Vernon Briggs
Movie
1941

Flight Command

Actor
Lieut. "Mugger" Martin
Movie
1940

Seeing Red

Actor
Red/Doorman/Coatroom Attendant/Waiter/Emcee
Movie
1939

Having Wonderful Time

Actor
Itchy Faulkner
Movie
1938