Red Skelton's Movie Career.

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.

 

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.

1938 Having a Wonderful Time (71 minutes) Director: Alfred Santell. Screenplay: Arthur Kober, from his play. Stars: Ginger Rogers, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Peggy Conklin, Lucille Ball, Lee Bowman, Eve Arden, Dorothea Kent, Richard (Red) Skelton.

1940 Flight Command (116 minutes) Director: Frank Borzage. Screenplay: Wells Root, Commander Harvey Haislip. Stars: Robert Taylor, Ruth Hussey, Walter Pidgeon, Paul Kelley, Nat Pendleton, Shepperd Strudwick, Red Skelton.

1941 The People vs. Dr. Kildare (78 minutes) Director: Harold S. Bucquet. Screenplay: Willis Goldbeck, Harry Ruskin. Stars: Lew Ayres, Lionel Barrymore, Laraine Day, Bonita Granville, Alma Kruger, Red Skelton.

"Seeing Red" 1939

1941 The People vs. Dr. Kildare (78 minutes) Director: Harold S. Bucquet. Screenplay: Willis Goldbeck, Harry Ruskin. Stars: Lew Ayres, Lionel Barrymore, Laraine Day, Bonita Granville, Alma Kruger, Red Skelton.

1941 Whistling in the Dark (77 minutes) Director: S. Sylvan Simon. Screenplay: Robert MacGunigle, Harry Clark, Albert Mannheim, based upon a play by Lawrence Gross and Edward Childs Carpenter. Stars: Red Skelton, Conrad Veidt, Ann Rutherford, Virginia Grey, “Rags” Ragland, Henry O’Neill, Eve Arden.

1941 Lady Be Good (111 minutes) Director: Norman Z. McLeod. Screenplay: Jack McGowan, Kay Van Riper, John McClain. Songs: George and Ira Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein 2nd, Roger Edens, Arthur Freed. Stars: Eleanor Powell, Ann Southern, Robert Young, Lionel Barrymore, John Carroll, Red Skelton, Virginia O’Brien.

1942 Panama Hattie (79 minutes) Director: Norman Z. McLeod. Screenplay: Jack McGowan, Wilkie Mahoney, based upon a play by Herbert Fields and B.G. DeSylva. Songs: Cole Porter. Stars: Red Skelton, Ann Southern, “Rags” Ragland, Ben Blue, Marsha Hunt, Virginia O’Brien.

1942 Whistling in Dixie (74 minutes) Director: S. Sylvan Simon. Screenplay: Nat Perrin, additional dialogue by Wilkie Mahoney. Stars: Red Skelton, Ann Rutherford, George Bancroft, Guy Kibbee, Diana Lewis, Peter Whitney, “Rags” Ragland.

1943 DuBarry Was A Lady (101 minutes) Director: Roy Del Ruth. Screenplay: Irving Brecher, adaptation Nancy Hamilton, additional dialogue Wilkie Mahoney, based upon the play by Herbert Fields, B.G. DeSylva. Songs: Cole Porter. Stars: Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Gene Kelly, “Rags” Ragland, Zero Mostel, Donald Meck, Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra.

 

1946 Ziegfeld Follies (110 minutes) Director: Vincente Minnelli. (A revue.) Songs: Harry Warren, Arthur Freed, Ira and George Gershwin, Ralph Blane and Hugh Martin, Kay Thompson and Roger Edens. Stars: Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Lucille Bremer, Lucille Ball, Fanny Brice, Judy Garland, Kathryn Grayson, Lena Horne, James Melton, Red Skelton, Esther Williams, William Frawley, Virginia O’Brien, William Powell, and others.1946 The Show-Off (83 minutes) Director: Harry Beaumont. Screenplay: George Wells, based upon the play by George Kelly. Stars: Red Skelton, Marilyn Marxwell, Marjorie Main, Virginia O’Brien, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, George Cleveland, Leon Ames.1947 Merton of the Movies (82 minutes) Director: Robert Alton. Screenplay: George Wells, Lou Breslow, based upon the novel by Harry Leon Wilson and the play by George S. Kaufman, Marc Connelly, additional gags by Buster Keaton. Stars: Red Skelton, Virginia O’Brien, Gloria Grahame, Leon Ames.

1948 The Fuller Brush Man (93 minutes) Director: S. Sylvan Simon. Screenplay: Frank Tashlin, Devery Freeman. Stars: Red Skelton, Janet Blair, Don McGuire, Hillary Brooke, Adele Jergens.

1948 A Southern Yankee (90 minutes) Director: Edward Sedgwick. Screenplay: Harry Tugend, from a story by Melvin Frank, Norman Panama; loosely based upon Buster Keaton’s The General (1927), with additional gags by Keaton. Stars: Red Skelton, Brian Donlevy, Arlene Dahl, George Coulouris.

1953 The Clown (91 minutes) Director: Robert Z. Leonard. Screenplay: Martin Rackin, a remake of The Champ (1931). Stars: Red Skelton, Tim Considine, Jane Greer, Loring Smith.

1942 Ship Ahoy (95 minutes) Director: Edward Buzzell. Screenplay: Harry Clork. Stars: Eleanor Powell, Red Skelton, Bert Lahr, Virginia O’Brien, Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra.

1942 Maisie Gets Her Man (85 minutes) Director: Roy Del Ruth. Screenplay: Betty Reinhardt, Mary C. McCall, Jr. Stars: Ann Southern, Red Skelton, Allen Jenkins, Donald Meek, Walter Catlett, Fritz Feld, Ben Weldon, “Rags” Ragland.

1952 Lovely to Look At (105 minutes) Director: Mervyn LeRoy. Screenplay: George Wells, Harry Ruby, additional dialogue by Andrew Solt, based upon the musical comedy Roberta, from the novel by Alice Duer Miller, book and lyrics by Otto A. Harbach (additional and revised lyrics by Dorothy Fields), music by Jerome Kern. Stars: Kathryn Grayson, Red Skelton, Howard Keel, Marge Champion, Gower Champion, Ann Miller, Zsa Zsa Gabor.

1951 Excuse My Dust (82 minutes) Director: Roy Rowland. Screenplay: George Wells, with additional gags by Buster Keaton. Stars: Red Skelton, Sally Forrest, MacDonald Carey, William Demarest, Monica Lewis.1951 Texas Carnival (77 minutes) Director: Charles Walters. Screenplay: Dorothy Kingsley. Stars: Esther Williams, Red Skelton, Howard Keel, Ann Miller, Paula Raymond, Keenan Wynn.

Red Skelton Boucher