"A mime whose greatest success was on the radio. A folk humorist in the years when American entertainment was becoming urban. A vulgar knockabout at a time when American comedy was becoming sophisticated and verbal. A naïve ne'er-do-well in the age of the self-conscious schlemiel. Red Skelton's career is a study in how to miss every trend that comes down the pike." This assessment of the legendary comedic clown by writer Ross Wetzsteon is excerpted by Leonard Maltin in his chapter on Red from his indispensable reference The Great Movie Comedians, and it’s one that’s stayed with me for many years—particularly the first sentence.
any number of collections of his radio broadcasts during my tenure at Radio Spirits—many of these shows have been previously uncirculated among old-time radio hobbyists, and have recently resurfaced with the stamp of approval from the Skelton estate.
That estate has not neglected the comedian’s television legacy, either. You’ll find a myriad of DVD collections available from Skelton’s twenty-year boob tube reign as “the clown master,” and in casual conversations with those who share my obsession with nostalgia, I gleaned an impression that Red’s TV work is what they remember best. (I don’t think my parents ever watched his show, so that’s why most of my memories are from radio.) Time-Life added a magnificent set to the mix on January 3 of this year with The Red Skelton Hour in Color, a 3-DVD set featuring twelve episodes from Skelton’s mega-successful variety hour that convulsed audiences over CBS-TV on Tuesday nights from 1962 to 1970. (Skelton made the leap into TV in 1951, but his weekly show was a half-hour for the first 11 years he was on the small screen.)
“The Skelton Scrapbook of Satire.”) An October 28, 1969 show pays tribute to Wayne’s forty years in the movies, and features a hilarious routine where Red plays a variety of autograph hounds encountering The Duke on the street. In the set-up to the bit, Red suggests that Wayne “pretend you’re a movie star—you’ve been doing that for years, see…”
This produces a hearty guffaw from The Duke, prompting Skelton to observe: “That’s what I like—a guy who can laugh at himself!” “You’ve been doing that for years!” Wayne retorts, to loud audience laughter and applause. Another great thing about the Skelton Hour shows is seeing familiar character faces; I spotted Henry Corden in two programs, not to mention Peggy Rea, Elaine Joyce (in a see-through dress that you have to see to believe), Grady Sutton, David Sharpe (Grady and Dave are Boy Friends alumni!), Bern Hoffman, Stanley Adams, and Robert “I was kicked in the haid by a mule” Easton.