Show Business is often passed on from one generation to another and in Red’s case, it must have been genetic because even tho his father Joe Skelton had been a circus clown himself but his son never knew him because Joe died just a few weeks before Red was born. Born Richard Bernard Skelton in Vincennes, Indiana in 1913 into a poor family of a mother and three older brothers, the Skeltons moved around a lot and Red helped supplement the family income by racking balls in a poolroom and selling newspapers on the street.
Famed entertainer Ed Wynn saw Red in 1923 and bought all his papers before inviting him backstage and that’s how Red got started in show business. One of his teachers in Vincennes explained the meaning of The Pledge of Allegiance and Red wrote down what he heard and later recorded it as it became one of the most popular aspects of his act, winning 42 awards and twice read into the Congressional Record.
He performed in medicine shows, minstrels, burlesque, vaudeville and the Hagenbeck & Wallace Circus where his dad was a clown before going into the grocery business. Red and Edna were both teenagers when they married in 1931, a marriage that ended in 1943 in divorce. Nevertheless, Edna remained his bsiness manager for many years. Red made it to the next level in the entertainment industry in 1937 when he played Broadway and was certainly “Having A Wonderful Time” in 1938 when he debuted in his first of 40 movies for MGM. Red hosted his own radio show that ran from 1941-1953. In 1945 Red married again, a photographer’s model named Georgia Davis, a union that produced two children, a son Richie who died of leukemia in 1958 and a daughter, Valentina. This marriage would also end in divorce and five years later Georgia would commit suicide on the anniversary of their son’s death. It was her second attempt. Red married his third wife, Lothian, in 1973 and remained so until his death.
In 1951 Red starred in his own variety show on television. The Red Skelton Show aired for 19 years, one of the longest runs in history. He brought all of his favorite characters over from radio and added Freddie the Freeloader, a silent hobo just for tv so he could add pantomime to his repertoire. Tho ranking in the top 20 virtually its entire run, CBS axed the show in 1970, citing budgetary issues. Red didn’t hide his disappointment over the move, either. ''I want to thank you for sitting down,'' Skelton told an audience that had given him a standing ovation. ''I thought you were pulling a CBS and walking out on me.''
Lesser known accomplishments include composing hundreds of short stories and penning nearly 5,000 musical compositions, some of which were recorded by Van Cliburn, David Rose, Arthur Fiedler and two symphony orchestras. In 1988 the Screen Actors Guild honored Red with a Life Achievement Award.
Skelton’s auctioned clown paintings have sold for up to $80,000.