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Red Skelton had a reputation among comedy writers as being extremely difficult to work with, since he didn't like writers in general and resented CBS for insisting that he use them on his show; he wanted to write all the sketches himself, his reasoning being that no one knew his characters as well as he did. Sherwood Schwartz, prior to taking the position as head writer on the show, had it written into his contract with CBS that Skelton was under no circumstances allowed to discuss anything about a show's script with him before he was given it prior to taping, which often resulted in Skelton not knowing what a sketch was about or even what character he would be playing until shortly before airtime. That's why Skelton would often break character in the middle of a skit and turn to the audience and say something like, "Don't blame me, folks, I don't write this stuff." See more »
Red Skelton was one of the first to recognize that television was a coming medium of entertainment. He was not the only Hollywood personality to do this, but the difference between them and him is that he was on top on the big screen. Many had careers extended or a new lease on life was given to Hollywood names that no longer had box office pull. That was not true with Red Skelton, when he debuted in 1951 on CBS television he was on top of his box office appeal.
What a rich array of characters he brought to the small screen. Anyone my age and a bit younger remembers Clem Kadiddlehopper, San Fernando Red, Freddie the Freeloader and so many more. These are indelible impressions formed on America's consciousness when it needed a laugh or two.
The thing that always impresses me about Red Skelton is that he was so good at all types of comedy, he was quick with some unwritten dialog, he could do standup, he was a pantomimist the equal of Harpo Marx in my opinion. No less an authority than Groucho Marx thought that. I think Red Skelton would have been a big star on the silent screen when pantomime was what it was all about.
He was the son of a former circus clown turned druggist and that's where he got his love for entertaining. He always described himself as a first and foremost a clown. But he was the proverbial sad clown, he had a lot of troubles in life with the substance abuse of his wife Georgia, and the death of their son Richard from leukemia. I well remember that being a big news item when I was a lad.
He said he was put on earth to make people laugh, and Red, so you did.
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