That’s our man, Red Skelton, above with Ann Rutherford (left) and Virginia Grey, his costars in 1941’s Whistling in the Dark. As you can tell by our opening remark, Skelton was much different offscreen than on. And the contrast wasn’t always appreciated.
Skelton was much like Danny Kaye. Both were broad comic presences with rubbery faces. Both had manic energy to spare. Both were married to dominating women who acted as their managers/agents. And both had plenty of detractors offscreen.
Both also share something else — being forgotten as classic movie personalities. Skelton is primarily remembered today as a tv comedian whereas Kay is hardly remembered at all. (No doubt Kaye, who harbored vast intellectual pretensions, would recoil at the comparisons to Skelton, who appealed to less sophisticated audiences.)
In any case, since Skelton was a giant of early television — and he was most entertaining in films — he is certainly worth knowing at least something about. Thus our Monday Quiz. To review our questions just scroll down to the blog below. Now to our answers:
1) Answer: Skelton became known as “Red” because of (b) the color of his hair.
2) Answer: Skelton’s various tv characters did not include (d). Fred Rogers created Mister Roger’s Neighborhood on his own.
3) Answer: b) False. Skelton was not a drinker, claiming to be allergic to alcohol. He also disdained what he called “blue humor.” He was, in short, pretty straightlaced off camera.
4) Answer: c) MGM tried to groom Skelton as another Bob Hope.
5) Answer: The answer here is (c). Skelton at first refused to shave his very hairy chest — a requirement for his role in 1944’s Bathing Beauty with Esther Williams. He was to be photographed, after all, in just a swimsuit. Director George Sidney pleaded with the comic to no avail. I won’t do it, and that’s final, Skelton declared. Finally a call was placed to Skelton’s first wife, Edna Marie Stilwell, who as his agent and personal manager made all of his decisions. He finally relented — after being paid an extra $200 in cash.
6) Answer: b) Jim Carrey, who, like Skelton, has a rubbery face, manic energy to spare and is no stranger to bathos.
7) Answer: (b) False. Esther Williams put it this way: I expected Red to have a sense of humor when I worked with him, but he didn’t…Onstage, Red could be hilarious; but offstage he was pleasantly businesslike.
8) Answer: Skelton addressed his first wife, Edna Marie Stilwell, as (b) “Mama.” As Esther Williams noticed, Skelton was very much an overgrown kid
9) Answer: d) 1960’s Ocean’s Eleven.
10) Answer: When Columbia Pictures mogul Harry Cohn died in 1958, Skelton is credited with quipping (upon seeing the large crowd at Cohn’s funeral): Well it only proves what they always say — if you give the public what they want, they’ll always show up.