“If By Chance Some Day You’re Not Feeling Well And You Should Remember Some Silly Thing I’ve Said Or Done And It Brings Back A Smile To Your Face Or A Chuckle To Your Heart, Then My Purpose As Your Clown Has Been Fulfilled.”
I grew up on the comedy of Red Skelton. That’s because my dad grew up on Red and still watches his old shows and movies to this day. I’ve been plotting for some time to visit the Red Skelton Museum of American Comedy in Vincennes, Indiana and finally pulled it off this fall.
Red was born in Vincennes in a little house just across the parking lot from the museum. His father died two months before Red’s birth in 1913, leaving a single mother to raise four young boys in poverty. Red took on odd jobs to help out the family income but hit the road when he was just fifteen to pursue a career in show business.
He started out in vaudeville and medicine shows before performing on Broadway, radio, television and the big screen. By the height of his career, he was one of the most respected comedians in America and a gifted entertainer. In later years he wrote stories, painted portraits of clowns and continued performing in venues large and small across the country.
The museum is a beautiful 3,500 square foot facility with interactive exhibits that spotlight props and memorabilia donated by Red’s wife. I tried to imagine what the museum experience would be like if I weren’t familiar with his work. It wouldn’t mean as much but it would be interesting all the same.
There’s a lot about early tv and radio, signed photos of show biz friends and some great artwork. They do a nice job putting his story into the context of national events. There are also lots of opportunities to see Red at work. They also show a more vulnerable side of Red Skelton than most fans would know about – his early years in poverty, the death of his young son and the blow to Red’s career because of changing television audiences are all covered.
But for a fan, it’s seeing the costumes and the props that really makes the visit worthwhile. Each of his most famous characters is represented with costumes, props, video footage and memorabilia.
Red Skelton believed that it was unnecessary to use bad language or dirty jokes to get a laugh. Yet he could impersonate a drunk like nobody’s business. He was known for his interpretation of the Pledge of Allegiance that I absolutely love.
If you go, be sure to have a look around downtown Vincennes. There are some neat shops and restaurants and a mural. Check out the museum website for details.