Red Skelton was a comedian, actor, artist, and radio personality best known for his critically acclaimed national radio and TV shows. It is popular between the late 1930s and early 1970s. His most significant and influential offering was The Red Skelton Show which aired for two decades, first on NBC and later on CBS, between 1951 and 1971.
For his decades of work and many accomplishments in the entertainment industry; Red Skelton earned himself a star on the famed Hollywood Walk Of Fame. He also honored with quite a few other awards and accolades, including 2 Emmy Awards and 6 Emmy nominations. In 1978, he presented with the prestigious Cecil B. DeMile Award, which is handed to those who have made significant lifetime contributions in entertainment. In 1987, Red received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild and inducted into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, TV Hall of Fame just a year later.
While it’s Skelton’s work in radio and television that people are most familiar with; he also had a lifelong love for painting. He especially loved painting pictures of clowns. This remained merely a hobby of his until 1964 when his wife convinced him to show off his work at the Sands Hotel in Vegas where he had been performing.
The art world absolutely fell in love with his pieces. And sales of his original paintings and lithograph prints ended up earning him millions of dollars a year. It’s even suggested that Red made more money with his artwork than with his TV performances.
There’s no denying that Red Skelton left his mark on show business. But even though he dedicated his life to his greatest passions, comedy and art, in the years since his passing, heartbreaking revelations have come to show us that his personal life was far from funny. Join Facts Verse as we take a closer look at the sad personal details about Red Skelton’s life that force us to look at his story in a more somber light.
Red Skelton’s Early Years
Richard Red Skelton was born on on the 18th of July, 1913, in Vincennes, Indiana. Some sources claim that his middle name was Bernard, but in a 1983 appearance on The Tonight Show, the comic clarified that he had made up the name Bernard, borrowing it from a local store, Bernard Clothiers, to satisfy one of his childhood schoolteachers who refused to believe that his parent’s would really give him the middle name Red.
He was the fourth son and youngest child of Ida Mae Skelton and Joseph Elmer. Red’s father was a grocer who sadly died just two months before his birth. It’s reported that Joseph had once a clown with the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus.
The neighborhood that Red grew up in known for being extremely impoverished. One of Red’s childhood friends would later recall that her parents broke up her sister and young Red’s youthful romance because they thought that he would never amount to anything.
When Red was 7, he introduced to the world of show business by actor Ed Wynn at a vaudeville show in his hometown. When he was 10, he left home to tour with a medicine show throughout the American Midwest. At 15, he joined the vaudeville circuit.
A Life Of Success And Achievement
At the age of 18, Red married his first wife, Edna Marie Stilwell; an usher who would eventually become his vaudeville partner, chief writer, and manager. Red made his Broadway and Radio debut in 1937. A year later, he appeared in his first motion picture, Alfred Santell’s Having Wonderful Time.
Stillwell, now his ex-wife, negotiated a 7-year Hollywood contract for Skelton in 1951. Which was the same year that The Red Skelton Show premiered on NBC. For the next two decade, the show consistently ranked among the top twenty most-watched TV shows on NBC and later CBS.
After the series wrapped up in 1971, Skelton continued to spend his time making regular appearances on television. Remarkably, for a while he was averaging 125 annual appearances while still working on his paintings.
Skelton felt like his life’s purpose was to make people laugh. He desired to remembered as a clown because his definition of one someone that able to do everything.
Red enjoyed a seven-decade spanning career in show business, entertaining three generations of audiences. But despite all of his success and his desire to bring smiles to people’s faces with his wholesome brand of humor, Skelton’s personal life was full of tragedy.
Red Left Bitter After His Shows Cancellation
After CBS pulled the plug on his popular program, Skelton remained bitter for many years afterward. He believed that the network had basically bowed to the antiestablishment, antiwar sentiments that were so pervasive at the time of the Vietnam War.
Skelton was a lifelong conservative both in his social and political views. He accused the network of essentially turning against him. In the final years of his show, he had invited prominent Republicans, including Senate Republican Minority Leader Everett Dirksen and Vice President Spiro Agnew, onto his program – both politicians had been staunch supporters of the war.
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Red’s Second Wife Committed Suicide
In 1942, Edna Stilwell announced that she was leaving Skelton but said that she would continue to manage his career and write for him. He didn’t take her seriously until she issued a statement about the divorce through NBC. The divorce finalized the following year in 1943
In 1944, Skelton drafted into the US Army after losing his married man’s deferment. That same year, he engaged to an actress named Muriel Morris, who went by the name Muriel Chase. At the last minute the actress decided that she didn’t want to marry him and called the marriage off.
While Red an Army furlough for throat discomfort, he married to actress Georgia Davis on Mach 9, 1945.
The couple had two children together, a daughter named Valentina who was born in 1947, and a son named Richard born in 1948. Their marriage endured for many years and through several tragedies, but eventually, it soured and the two divorced in 1971.
Shockingly, Georgia reportedly accidentally shot in the chest in 1966 in her room at the Sands Hotel. News reports covering the incident indicated that the .38 caliber pistol that she kept on her nightstand for self-defense purposes had accidentally discharged. Davis ended up making a full recovery.
In 1971, she admitted to the Palm Springs hospital for surgery to correct a shoulder ailment. The following year she treated at Eisenhower Medical center in Palm Desert for the treatment of a very rare blood inflection. While she was receiving treatment, she evidently suffered a heart attack.
On May 10, 1976, at the age of 54, Davis committed suicide by means of a self-inflicted gunshot to the head in the back yard of her secluded Rando Mirage, California home. The day that she took her life marked the 18th anniversary of her son, Richard Freeman Skelton’s death.
Richard’s Death Was Devastating For Everyone
Richard Skelton was born on May 20, 1948. A natural born performer just like his father, Richard appeared alongside his dad on several episodes of The Red Skelton Show.
Sadly, the boy never got to grow up and have a life and career of his own. On the 10th of May, 1958, at the UCLA Medical Center, Richard died of Leukemia.
Red would later recall how he had been planning to throw a 10th birthday party for him, but Richard told him that he would rather spend the big day with a few of his closest friends.
So, Skelton brought a Sears Roebuck Catalogue to the hospital where his son treated and told him that he could pick anything that he wanted and that he would make sure to get it for him. Richard picked a tent, some camping gear, and a bright red blanket.
Shortly before he died, Richard asked his dad if he would get the red blanket for his mom instead as a Mother’s day present. About an hour later, Richard suddenly said that he couldn’t see anything because everything had gone fuzzy. He passed away moments later.
Richard laid to rest at the Church of the Recessional at the Forest Lawn Memorial Cemetery. On the day that he supposed to bury his child, Red scheduled to do his weekly television program.
The child’s death shook the whole family. In 1961, Red had Richard’s model train collection moved to a storeroom in his Bel Air Mansion. For the remainder of his life, he refused ever to let it go.
In 1962, Skelton and his family moved to Palm Springs. He kept the Bel Air home but only ever used it when he was in LA shooting his show.
Red Skelton died at the Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage on September 17, 1997, at the age of 84. His official cause of death was never given. It was only said that he had succumbed to a long, undisclosed illness.
Skelton was survived by his widow and third wife, Lothian Toland Skelton, His daughter Valentina Alonso, and his granddaughter, Sabrina Alonso.
Did you grow up watching The Red Skelton Show? If so, what are some of your fondest memories of him and his top-rated television program? Let us know in the comments.
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