While “official” season-by-season releases of Richard “Red” Skelton’s classic TV show have yet to dot the DVD landscape (with the exception of his last season, the collection that used to be heavily advertised on TV) you can find plenty of public domain compilations available—all in various states of picture quality. Timeless Media Group, on the other hand, has released quite a few Skelton DVDs…the main difference being that the content has officially received the thumbs-up from the late comedian’s estate.
TVShowsOnDVD.com has announced that Timeless will roll out yet another Skelton box set November 25th with The Ultimate Red Skelton Collection—an eight-disc set containing thirty-five Skelton telecasts plus trailers from Red’s movies; a live stage performance in Sparks, Nevada; and his famous rendition of the Pledge of Allegiance…just to name a few of the goodies. It sounds like a collection no self-respecting Skelton fan can do without—though by glancing at the contents, I have a sneaking suspicion that some of the material has been released previously and that Timeless is just repackaging it…caveat emptor, as they say.
So speaking as a self-respecting Skelton fan, however, I think I’ll sit this one out. I’ve stated in the past that while Red gives me a terminal case of the giggles, his television shows just don’t play as funny as the radio broadcasts—primarily because when I see Skelton do, say, “Junior, the Mean Widdle Kid” on the tube he looks like a man in a struggle with a serious case of arrested development. If there are those of you who are inclined to agree with me, I’d like to recommend a recent Radio Spirits release entitled Character Troubles—which collects sixteen Skelton radio broadcasts from 1950…fifteen of which having not been previously circulated. Troubles also includes an April 30, 1950 broadcast which I believe marked the first appearance of Skelton creation San Fernando Red—who started out as an all-night radio disc jockey (broadcasting on television?) before transmogrifying into the ethically-challenged politician (“My friends…and I know you are my friends”) we know and love.
Another character on Red’s show at this time was Polly the Panhandler, who may very well have been radio’s first “bag lady.” Polly, played by Martha Wentworth, was a female ne’er-do-well who was always trying to cadge something off of either Red or announcer Rod O’Connor (“Say, fellas…you wouldn’t happen to have a fried chicken on you, would ya?”) and I have to admit Polly fascinates me somewhat because she’s not really written in a sympathetic manner (I’m curious as to who thought of the character in the first place). Wentworth was an accomplished radio actress who also appeared in movies, notably as “The Duchess” in several of Republic’s Red Ryder B-oaters from 1946 and 1947. (Disney aficionados know her as the voice of Madam Mim in the 1963 animated film The Sword in the Stone.)
Anyway, Character Troubles is money well spent—and you get the added bonus of some bodacious liner notes scribbled down by yours truly. Television, natch, was by this time starting to eat away at radio’s audience but Skelton was still the hardest working clown in the business; his ad-libs are hysterical as always and of course anytime he does Cauliflower McPugg he has me in absolute stitches. Order up a copy today.