The Day the Clown Died – Remembering Red Skelton

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Today is the anniversary of the passing of one of the greats, Red Skelton. Thinking of this day reminded me that I wrote up a little remembrance about him a couple of days later.

Here’s what I wrote on September 19, 1997:

 

The Day the Clown Died

 

I can’t remember if I cried,
when I read about his widowed bride.
But something touched me deep inside,
the Day the Clown Died.

Those are the words of Don McLean’s “American Pie”, except for the word “Clown” replaces “music”, but that’s what came to mind when I heard the news. Maybe I’d better explain.

It was the afternoon of Wednesday, September 17, 1997, much like any other day. I had just gotten home from work and was going through my normal routine of letting the dogs in the house, changing my clothes and depending on the time, various other activities.

This day, while standing, I happened to pick up the remote, turned on the television and proceeded to flip through the channels. As I was flipping, there was Red Skelton. I stopped to hear the voice over say, “Red Skelton died today from an undisclosed illness that he’d had for quite some time. He was 84.”

As I was listening to this, I sat on the couch and muttered, “Oh no!”. I had a sensation go through my body similar to having the chills, but instead of getting cold, I had a feeling of deep sadness that seemed to end at my eyes, making them watery.

My first thought was, “It happens in threes, first Princess Diane, Mother Teresa, and now Red Skelton.” Now, I don’t know if you really can compare them together, but that was my thought and to me, Red Skelton brought a lot of joy in to heart over the years.

The past few days, I’ve been thinking about all the memories of Red Skelton. His shows, seeing him on specials and even having the privilege of standing next to him at an elevator.

First his shows. I remember all the characters he use to play but the ones I remember most are Clem Kadiddlehopper, Freddie the Freeloader, Sheriff deadeye and Gertrude and Heathcliffe, the cross-eyed seagulls. One of the things I liked about his shows is that even if they made mistakes during the sketches, they would keep on going making the sketches even funnier. Carol Burnett did the same thing when she did her shows in later years.

One show in particular I remember had a sketch with Red Skelton as Sheriff Deadeye. He was sitting at a poker table and was suppose to jump up and draw his gun. He was sitting in a chair where the back of the chair was a half-moon shaped back that was open with wooden dowel supports. When Sheriff Deadeye jumped up, his gun got caught in the back of the chair bringing the chair up too, and Red couldn’t get to his gun.

All around the table started laughing and Red started to loose his composure and couldn’t continue his lines for what seemed like minutes. Then later in the sketch, he goes over to the bar, standing at one end and yells at the bartender at the other end, “Give me a beer.” The bartender then slides a beer down the bar, Red pulls out his gun and says “Stop!’. But the beer goes over the end. Again, everyone starts laughing. Red says, “Let’s try that again”, so he says “Bartender, give me a beer.”

Another beer slides down the bar, Red says, “Stop!” and again it goes over the end. Red says, “We practiced this bit all afternoon and we’re going to do it until we get it right! Bartender, give me a beer.” This time when he said stop, it did and everyone in the sketch and the audience applauded.

Second, the specials. Once back in Oklahoma, I remember we had some big event, only thing is I don’t remember what the event was but I remember Red Skelton was there and it was televised. He came out and his first joke I remember to this day. He said that there was this big crowd outside as he was trying to get in to do the performance. Someone yelled, “Red Skelton is in the crowd!” People started to flock around him, asking him for his autograph. He said he got embarrassed. All these people making such a fuss over him. He said he was almost sorry he had yelled.

Third, the elevator. It was 1984 and I was in New Orleans getting ready to go see a performance with Red Skelton. Standing next to the elevator was…RED SKELTON. He was standing in a nice tux with his famous “hat” that he use to use and some other clothing clutched to his chest. He asked if I was going to see the show and I said “Yes”. He smiled a very genuine smile and said, ” I hope you enjoy it”, which I replied, “I’m sure I will.” He was as nice as you would imagine and very sincere.

He put on a great show. I remember him talking about his routine after the show. He would write his wife a letter. He said when he’s on the road, he always writes her a letter. Then he would write and/or paint. He said he does that every night he could. I don’t know why of all the things I remember, but that was one.

To me his best routine was not a comedy but his “Pledge of Allegiance” where he portrays an old school teacher talking about the pledge. He gets very patriotic and emotional. To me, it’s Red Skelton at his best. And because of all his talents, he will be missed.

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2 thoughts on “The Day the Clown Died – Remembering Red Skelton

  1. To me red Skelton was perhaps the funniest man to ever walk the earth. His home grown humor touched everyone without the use of a single cuss word. I would love to see a comic today try it. We are blessed that Tom Mullica, a close and dear friend of Red’s, is doing a superb tribute show on Red Skelton. Keep an eye open to see it because Red still lives through Tom Mullica.

  2. I read your post with interest my friend. I am 52 years old and I remember watching Red Skelton, Bill Cosby, Carol Burnett, Flip Wilson, They were the greatest. I cannot say I became a clown because of Red but I knew the positive effect of laughter.

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