Sunday, December 21, 2008

Red Skelton

>>>Anybody remember the Stones doing early tracks on Red Skelton? Vintage stuff! Ken

According to, The Rolling Stones appeared on Red Skelton's Program
twice in 1964 ... first on September 29th (when they performed Tell Me) and then again on November 1st when they featured Tell Me, Carol and It's All Over Now. Other British Invasion Artists appearing on Skelton's program that season include Manfred Mann, The Searchers, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, The Honeycombs and The Kinks. Skelton must have felt he was "into something good" ... the following season, Petula Clark, Freddie and the Dreamers, Peter and Gordon, The Hollies, The Animals, Silkie and The Rockin' Berries all made appearances. (Yep, it'd be cool to get copies of these musical segments, wouldn't it?!?!?)
Kent Kotal

Sadly, the "Best of Red Skelton" DVD set referenced in Leftovers #46 is hardly that. It was compiled from the half-hour series of shows Skelton made for NBC in 1970-1 during the tail end of his television career. Skelton’s TV series was in the Top 10 for 20 consecutive seasons – making him the most successful comedy entertainer in the history of that medium. In a TV Guide interview in 1964, the magazine asked Red why he had written into his contract that after each airing, all rights to each episode would revert to him. Why would he want them? After all, they’d never be rebroadcast. Incredibly, Skelton stated that he foresaw the day when people would own home libraries of movies and TV shows, just like they do books, and when that happened, he wanted to be ready to offer his old shows. The reporter found that amusing. Think about that. Eons before the introduction of home video, Skelton could foresee something that TV Guide considered laughable in 1964.
In the late ‘60s, a new word entered the world of broadcasting: demographics. Before then, audiences were measured en masse – not broken down into any sort of groups. And what early demographics revealed was that Skelton’s show, although among the Top 5 of all prime-time series, was attracting too many older viewers to suit the brass at CBS. For that reason, Skelton was ordered to add more rock groups to his mix of guest performers. He did, but was still attracting the largest share of older viewers in his time period. The fact that he was also attracting the largest share of younger viewers too did not seem to matter to the powers-that-were at CBS. Finally, near the end of fall 1970, during the summer rerun period, CBS abruptly cancelled Skelton – despite the fact that he had one of the highest-rated prime time series on television (attracting numbers that any TV producer today would kill to get). Skelton – and the rest of the industry – was shocked. And it being so late in the year, the other key networks at that time (NBC and ABC) had their fall schedules locked up.
What to do? In reviewing their planned 1970-1 season, NBC found one half-hour that they could bump from the line-up. It wasn't a full hour, as Skelton had had at CBS, but it was better than nothing. And that's how Skelton wound up back on NBC, where he'd actually started his career in 1951-3, before CBS snatched him away.
The problem was that Red Skelton in 1970 was stunned, brokenhearted and bitter over his abrupt and uncalled for cancellation. He limped through the 1970-1 season, but felt like a suddenly broken man. His heart was no longer in it -- and it shows in that DVD set. After shooting the final episode, Red simply walked away from television – and, except for a few one-man shows taped much later in Canada, essentially never appeared on the medium again. In fact, he was so hurt, he wrote into his will that all of his TV tapes were to be destroyed upon his death. Fortunately, his widow prevented that from happening – but still none of that footage has ever been legally released on VHS or DVD -- except for one clip. Red's classic 1969 performance of "The Pledge Of Allegiance" does appear as a bonus on that DVD set. The audio of that performance was released as a spoken work single (Columbia 44798) and actually climbed Billboard's Hot 100 to #44 that Mach. It certainly sounded interesting on the radio in 1969, alongside The Beatles, Aretha Franklin, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Sly & the Family Stone and Led Zeppelin!
You may find in DVD shops other Red Skelton TV videos and wonder where they came from. Those were compiled from kinescopes of his very first few seasons on television – performing in shows that were never copyrighted because no one then thought they would ever be broadcast again. Skelton tried to block their video release but, because those early shows were technically in the public domain, he was unsuccessful – and, of course, got no royalties from the sale of his work. Only later did Skelton (and others) get around to protecting their TV works with copyrights.
Ironically, I almost resurrected the footage Skelton wanted to destroy. A couple years before Red’s death, I wrote up a proposed three-hour retrospective TV special and CD set built almost entirely out of the CBS video footage. I sent it to Skelton, who had rejected many similar proposals before. For some reason, though – maybe because he could read between the lines that I really knew and honored his work -- he became quite enthused by mine. (When I’m working as a comic actor, I often channel Skelton into my own performances.) Red phoned and cheerfully invited me out to visit him at his home in L.A. to discuss the project. I was elated – until one of my superiors at Reader’s Digest – a starstruck fan who liked to brag about hanging out with celebrities -- decided that he should go instead of me. Making things worse, he invited along a sleazebag producer friend of his. I feared the worst and sure enough it came true. Skelton was at first upset that they had come instead of me – but then, after hearing the sleazebag producer offer his own slimy pitch, became angry and had them both thrown out of the house. Thus abruptly ended my dream of lovingly assembling the ultimate Red Skelton keepsake video treasury.
The main villain at CBS, by the way, was a man named Jim Aubrey. He was the same guy who, after discovering that CBS had carefully maintained preservation film vaults, ordered all the stuff in them destroyed. “Why should be keep this junk?” was his attitude. “No one’s ever going to want to see it again.” To the largest extent, the other TV networks followed suit. Some reels were stolen, of course; some wound up in the hands of collectors. The last of the Dumont network's film archives, for example, were dumped into New York's East River in 1971. Aubrey’s short sightedness is the reason why so many documentaries on the history of television run the same brief clips. That’s because those brief clips, saved years ago for some previous documentary, are often all that is left. All the rest of hundreds of series’ footage was scrapped.
I sometimes refer to the fact that, culturally, there are really three parts of the United States. There's New York, L.A. and America. Aubrey felt most at home on the chic Manhattan cocktail party circuit. With that in mind, after being chided by his upper crust Park Avenue pals for having the audacity to air top-rated shows like “The Beverly Hillbillies” and “Green Acres,” Aubrey ordered his Tiffany network stripped of all “rural programming” in 1971 – regardless of ratings. “Why – everybody KNOWS that the land west of the Hudson River is simply flyover country," Aubrey's friends would say. "WE certainly don't know anybody there."
What would television give now for the kinds of numbers those programs attracted?
Gary Theroux

Our copy of Skelton's reciting of The Pledge Of Allegiance (featured eons ago here in Forgotten Hits) is a pretty worn, scratchy version ... but FH List Member Tom Diehl was able to provide a pretty "cleaned up copy" for us to feature on the website today.

Kent Kotal

Has this one ever been reissued on cd? My copy was a fairly distorted mp3 file dubbed off of a 45, but i tried to clean it up some ... this is the end result ... hope its better than what you've got.
Tom Diehl

Much better, thanks! (With this segment now available on DVD per Gary's notes above, maybe a clean copy will surface after all!)