Thursday, December 24, 2015

Red Skelton: Christmas Programs

The son of a former circus clown turned grocer and a cleaning woman, Red Skelton was introduced to show business at the age of seven by Ed Wynn, at a vaudeville show in Vincennes. At age 10, he left home to travel with a medicine show through the Midwest, and joined the vaudeville circuit at age 15. At age 17, he married Edna Marie Stilwell, an usher who became his vaudeville partner and later his chief writer and manager.

He debuted on Broadway and radio in 1937 and on film in 1938. His ex-wife/manager negotiated a seven-year Hollywood contract for him in 1951, the same year "The Red Skelton Hour" (1951) premiered on NBC. For two decades, until 1971, his show consistently stayed in the top twenty, both on NBC and CBS. His numerous characters, including Clem Kaddiddlehopper, George Appleby, and the seagulls Gertrude and Heathcliffe delighted audiences for decades.

Skelton and his wife put together an act and began to get bookings for it at some of the smaller vaudeville theaters. They somehow made their way to the Lido Club in Montreal. Despite the language barrier, the act was a success, and brought the couple theater dates throughout Canada. While in Montreal, Skelton and Edna devised the well-known "Doughnut Dunkers" routine, with Skelton's visual impressions of how different people ate doughnuts. The problem with doing this type of act was that Skelton had to eat nine doughnuts at every performance. He was performing five times a day and eating 45 doughnuts. Skelton gained almost 35 pounds rapidly and had to shelve the routine for a while until he lost the weight.

The "Doughnut Dunkers" routine also led to Skelton's first appearance on The Rudy Vallee Show on August 12, 1937. The program had a talent show segment and those who were searching for stardom were eager to be heard on it. The show received enough fan mail after Skelton's performance to invite the comedian back two weeks after his initial appearance and again in November of that year. On October 1, 1938, Skelton replaced Red Foley as the host of Avalon Time on NBC; Edna also joined the show's cast. Skelton continued as the show's host until late 1939, when he went on to begin his MGM movie career.

Skelton's success in films meant a regular radio show offer. He went on the air with his own program, The Raleigh Cigarettes Program, on October 7, 1941. The bandleader for the show was Ozzie Nelson; his wife, Harriet, who worked under her maiden name of Hilliard, was the show's vocalist and also worked with Skelton in skits.

Additional Source: IMDB

Red Skelton Show: Christmas Shopping - December 12, 1942

Red Skelton: Christmas Trees - December 25, 1945

Red Skelton Show: Christmas Stories - December 24, 1946

Red Skelton Show: Christmas Show - December 25, 1949

Red Skelton Show: The Christmas Tree - December 19, 1951

Red Skelton Show: Day After Christmas - December 26, 1951

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