Red Skelton Biography

(Comedian, Pantomimist)

Birthday: July 18, 1913 (Cancer)

Born In: Vincennes

Red Skelton was one of the most illustrious faces of ‘comedy’ world-over. In his long and comical career, he came to be known as ‘The Sentimental Clown’ and ‘America’s Clown Prince’ for his emotionally-intricate comedy routines. He initially started off as a comedian for troubadour or burlesque shows and soon gained popularity with large audiences. His career slowly began to ascend as he got more shows on the radio and television and eventually began appearing in films. The son of a circus clown, Skelton went on to become one of the most-loved comedians in America and he owed it all to his family, without whom he believed, he would have never been bitten by the ‘showbiz bug’. He hit the road as a full-time entertainer, working in medicine shows and revue acts to grandstands and circuses. Today, his name is synonymous with 20th century American comedy and he is remembered by his contemporaries and audiences for his memorable roles such as, ‘Clem Kaddiddlehopper’ and ‘George Appleby’. Although his career was a fertile one, life on the personal front was not very successful. After two divorces and a personal loss, he became more of a social recluse which went on to affect his career. He was also a supporter of a number of children’s charities.
Quick Facts

Also Known As: Richard Bernard Skelton

Died At Age: 84


Spouse/Ex-: Edna Marie Stilwell (m. 1931; div. 1943), Georgia Davis (m. 1945; div. 1971), Lothian Toland (m. 1973–97)

father: Joseph E. Skelton

mother: Ida Mae

Quotes By Red Skelton Comedians

Died on: September 17, 1997

place of death: California, U.S.

U.S. State: Indiana

Childhood & Early Life
Richard Bernard ‘Red’ Skelton was born on 18 July 1913, to circus clown, Joseph E. Skelton and house help, Ida Mae, in Vincennes, Indiana.
Due to the early death of his father he started working as a newspaper boy at the age of seven.
In 1923, fate played its cards when Ed Wynn, a comedian, bought all the papers from Skelton and offered to take him backstage for a show in town. It was during this time he realized that he wanted a career in showbiz.
He dropped out of school and became an expert performer, working in showboats and the local vaudeville circuit.
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After he got married, he and his wife began to put together the famous ‘Doughnut Dunkers’ acts, which gained them popularity and earned them a number of shows throughout Canada.
In 1932, he gave a failed screen test, which was his first connection with Hollywood. Five years later, he made his film debut in the role of a camp counselor in the movie ‘Having Wonderful Time’.
He made his first appearance on radio on ‘The Rudy Vallee Show’ on August 12, 1937. He became so popular, that he was invited for two more segments on the show. The following year, he substituted Red Foley as the host of ‘Avalon Time’ on NBC.
In 1941, he went on air, hosting his own show, ‘The Raleigh Cigarettes Program’, where he introduced his first character ‘Clem Kaddiddlehopper’. The next year, he starred in the films ‘Ship Ahoy’, ‘Maisie Gets Her Man’, ‘Panama Hattie’ and ‘Whistling in Dixie’.
From 1943 to 1946, he starred in a string of comedy films, ‘I Dood It’, ‘Whistling in Brooklyn’, ‘Bathing Beauty’ and ‘The Show-Off’. He also lent his voice for the short-film, ‘Radio Bugs’. During this time, he also began producing art work, but he kept it a secret.
In 1947, he was seen in the film adaptation of ‘Merton of the Movies’. The same year, he was seen in two short-subjects, ‘Weekend in Hollywood’ and ‘The Luckiest Guy in the World’; he lent his voice for the latter.
After his contract with MGM ended in 1951, he was signed a contract with NBC. He stated that he wanted to play the same characters he played on radio, on television as well. The next year, he became extremely famous with his portrayal of the clown in ‘Freddie the Freeloader’.
He switched to the CBS network in 1953–54, where he remained for nearly two decades. During this time, he also starred in the films, ‘The Clown’, ‘Half a Hero’, ‘The Great Diamond Robbery’ and ‘Susan Slept Here’.
By 1959, he became the only comedian with a regularly planned weekly TV show.
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In 1962, he was given a full hour on the CBS network titled, ‘The Red Skelton Hour’, which consistently had high TRP’s on both NBC and CBS. Three years later, ‘Red Skelton’s Favorite Ghost Stories’ was published.
In 1969, he performed a self-written soliloquy about the ‘Pledge of Allegiance’. The next year, after one of his shows on NBC was cancelled, he never returned to television. He continued to entertain audiences with live performances.
In 1976, he appeared in the stop-motion animated film, ‘Rudolph’s Shiny New Year’ as the narrator and as ‘Baby Bear’.
In 1981, he made an HBO Special, ‘Freddie the Freeloader’s Christmas Dinner’ and three years later, he performed at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. The same year, the books, ‘The Ventriloquist’ and ‘Old Whitey’ were published.
Towards the end of his life, Red Skelton stated that his daily routine involved writing a short-story a day. He kept himself busy by performing in nightclubs, casinos and other prestigious venues such as the Carnegie Hall.
Major Works
‘The Red Skelton Hour’, which premiered in 1951 on television, went on to become one of the highest-watched shows on both, the NBC and CBS. He reprised some of his most famous characters on the show including ‘George Appleby’ and ‘Clem Kaddiddlehopper’, which made the show a hit with audiences. The popular show had the highest TRP’s for nearly two decades since its inception.
Awards & Achievements
In 1961, he won an Emmy Award for ‘Outstanding Writing-Comedy Series’. It was just one of the several Emmy Awards he had won.
He received a ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ from the Screen Actors’ Guild, in 1987.
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He was inducted into the ‘Television Hall of Fame’ by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences in 1989.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1931, he married Edna Stillwell, his first wife. They divorced in 1943.
In 1945, he married Georgia Davis and they went on to have two children; Richard and Valentina. However, Richard passed away due to leukemia, when he was a young boy, which left Skelton devastated. The couple divorced in 1971.
He married Lothian Toland in 1973. The couple lived together till his death.
Apart from being a comedian, he also created background music which he sent to corporations like ‘Muzak’. He was also interested in painting and photography. He loved horses and reared quarter horses at his ranch.
He passed away on 17 September 1997, due to pneumonia, and is interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery, in Glendale, California.
The ‘Red Skelton Performing Arts Center’ was established in 2006 in his honor. The next year, the historic Pantheon Theater in Vincennes was named after Red Skelton.
This famous American comedian and pantomimist was known for his ‘Doughnut Dunkers’ routine for which he ate nearly 45 doughnuts a day. He gained approximately 35 pounds due to his role and had to defer the routine due to his increasing weight and obesity issues.

Red Skelton Movies

1. Red Skelton: A Royal Command Performance (1984)


2. The Fuller Brush Man (1948)

  (Romance, Adventure, Action, Comedy, Crime, Mystery)

3. The Luckiest Guy in the World (1947)

  (Drama, Crime, Short)

4. Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines or How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 hours 11 minutes (1965)

  (Family, Comedy, Adventure)

5. Three Little Words (1950)

  (Musical, Romance, Comedy, Biography)

6. Whistling in the Dark (1941)

  (Comedy, Mystery)

7. Whistling in Brooklyn (1943)

  (Romance, Comedy, Mystery, Crime)

8. Whistling in Dixie (1942)

  (Mystery, Crime, Comedy)

9. A Southern Yankee (1948)

  (History, Comedy, Western, War)

10. Around the World in 80 Days (1956)

  (Family, Comedy, Romance, Adventure)


Golden Globe Awards
1959 Television Achievement The Red Skelton Show (1951)
Primetime Emmy Awards
1961 Outstanding Writing Achievement in Comedy The Red Skelton Show (1951)
1952 Best Comedian or Comedienne Winner

See the events in life of Red Skelton in Chronological Order

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