On An Afternoon With "Red" Skelton By Tommy E. Sawyer, 32°
Masonry opens doors, including opportunities to meet members of the Craft who
have utilized their God-given talents to promote Masonry, harmony, and goodwill.
I'm sure you will conclude you have met many who possess these traits. You
certainly know one I met — Brother "Red" Skelton, 33°!
After proceeding through proper channels with his staff, I received a letter
in June 1984 granting me a 30-minute interview with Brother Skelton, who was
performing at the State Fair Hall in Dallas and meeting separately with over
150 people from around the world, all interested in purchasing his original
During breakfast, I learned he was born on July 18, 1913, in Vincennes, Indiana,
where he was raised a Master Mason in Vincennes Lodge No. 1 on September 20,
1939. His acting career began at age 10 in a "medicine show." Next
came minstrel shows, showboats, and later a job as a clown with the Hagenbeck & Wallace
Circus. In 1937, he made his New York Broadway debut, and that same year, he
was featured on the Rudy Valle radio show.
Glancing at my watch, I noticed I had only about 10 minutes left in the interview
when I noticed he appeared to have lost something. He asked me if I would accompany
him to his room to help him look for his gold neck chain. There, he seemed
much more relaxed and began to demonstrate his most unique style in talking
about his career in the movies, 48 in all.
I asked him which show business personalities he enjoyed working with the most.
His answered: "I have had the pleasure of working with many talents in
radio, TV, and the movies; but I would say the ones that really stood out were
Ed Wynn, Mickey Rooney, Vincent Price, and the always funny Martha Raye."
I was interested in what a typical day was like in his life. First, he rises
at 5:30 am, showers, shaves, and sits down to write his wife, Lothian, a "love
letter." He spends the rest of the day making appearances and planning
his travel agenda, still finding time to keep abreast of his business pursuits.
He watches TV until 10:00 pm, and then he goes to his study to work on his
famous clown paintings and other artistic projects until about 1:00 am. Four
or five hours of sleep are all he requires.
Asked where he lives and did Lothian have any hobbies, he replied they reside
in Anza, California. She raises thoroughbred horses but manages to accompany
him on some road trips. Also, she is a great support for him as she helps him
with his comic materials.
I asked about the comic characters he had invented to entertain so many millions
of fans throughout his career, those hilarious routines and skits he performed
on and often wrote for his radio and TV programs. I began to name those characters
- Clem Kidittlehopper, Willie LumpLump, the Mean Little Kid, California Pug
and, of course, Freddie the FreeLoader. He said these characters gave him the
opportunity to relive his childhood. He noted that a little bit of the personalities
he portrayed was found in each of us. An interesting comment was that he liked
all the characters the same - no favorites. A point I found interesting was
his comment concerning "The Mean Little Kid" routine with its famous
punch line, "If I dood it, I get a whipping." He wasn't using it
anymore in his skits because another Mason, General Jimmy Doolittle, 33°,
Grand Cross, made headlines during World War II with the statement "Doolittle
dood it," commenting on his famous air attack over Tokyo.
Brother Skelton's military career found him on the front lines in Italy in
the field artillery unit for 22 months. After the war, he performed over 2,500
shows in Korea and Japan. "Red" returned to Hollywood to make movies
with leading ladies Lucille Ball, Esther Williams, and other prominent stars
for many more years.
When travelling across the country, he made it a point to visit as many Masonic
groups, especially Shrine Temples, as he could, and he asked permission to
visit with the clown units - all to make a point. He said children are frightened
of people who wear paint, so if the Shrine clowns follow a simple recommendation
he uses, their success with children would be overwhelming. When they visit
a hospital ward or a room of kids, they should not go directly into the room,
but peek around the corner three or four times before entering. This builds
trust and confidence!
" Masons are doing a great job helping children, and I would personally
like to see more emphasis placed on the DeMolay programs across the country," he
said when asked about his thoughts on Masonic activities. His own personal first
experience with Masonry occurred in Vincennes, Indiana, when he was seven or
eight as he sold papers on a street corner. A man bought a newspaper and tipped
him the remainder of a $5 bill. "Red" asked, "Why did you give
me so much money to keep?" The man answered, "I am a Mason and we are
taught to give!" "Well, I am going to be a Mason, too, when I grow
up," "Red" stated. "Oh, Sonny, you mean you are going to
try to be a Mason." This conversation stayed with Brother Skelton all his
His Masonic career is most interesting. Aside from his membership in Vincennes
Lodge No. 1, he holds membership in both the Scottish and York Rite Bodies.
He was the recipient of the General Grand Chapter's Gold Medal for Distinguished
Service in the Arts and Sciences. On September 24, 1969, he was coroneted an
Inspector General Honorary Thirty-third Degree in Boston, Massachusetts, by
the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite. Also, he's a member
of the Al Malaikah Temple in Los Angeles, California, and he received the Grand
Lodge Award of Gold from the Grand Lodge of Indiana in 1993.
Our beloved Masonic Brother died September 24, 1997, and was buried at Forest
Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, California. He will be missed! As the lives of millions
of others had been enriched by knowing "Red" Skelton, so was mine
that afternoon for the three hours I spent with this outstanding humanitarian
and Brother. His success, no doubt, revolved around his love and understanding
of human emotions and people's need for laughter and happiness. He left a great
path for us to walk. In parting, we exchanged a warm, fraternal handshake,
and Brother "Red" said to me, "Tommy, keep smiling-the world
needs laughter, a lot of it."
And what about the gold chain? Did we find it? We looked in and under the bed,
in the bathroom, and down the hall. Probably, the reader realized long ago
that it was in Brother Skelton's coat pocket all the time. His performance
at the Music Hall and his art sale were successes. So was my afternoon with
Brother "Red" Skelton.
This article, edited
for length, was previously published in The Texas Mason,
Fall 1998 (Vol. 7, No. 4).
About the Author:
Tommy E. Sawyer of 6402 Willowstone Trail, Arlington, Texas 76018-3121, was
raised a Master Mason on April 30,1981, in Thomas B. Hunter Lodge No. 1356,
in Grand Prairie, Texas. He is a member of the Dallas Scottish Rite Bodies,
Past Editor of the Hellas Shrine Temple magazine, The Camel's Calf, of Garland,
Texas, and was the author of a weekly numismatic column for The Dallas Times-Herald
for 16 years.