From 1951 to 1971, TV audiences delighted in watching the comic antics of Clem Kadiddlehopper, Freddie the Freeloader, Cauliflower McPugg, and Sheriff Deadeye. These characters were all the creation of one of the most popular U.S. entertainers of the time, Red Skelton. Now, Time Life is saluting “America’s Clown Prince” with a new 22 DVD box set, “The Red Skelton Hour In Color: Deluxe Edition”.
The set’s title refers to the 10 disc compilation of 1966 to 1969 episodes from Skelton’s CBS series. This collection contains 31 rarely seen episodes with such guest stars as Mickey Rooney, George Gobel, John Wayne, and many more.The shows here follow a basic format. Skelton would perform a brief monologue which would include him telling jokes as well as demonstrating his pantomime skills. The program’s guest star or stars would then join Skelton in a two act sketch, and for “The Silent Spot”, also acted out in pantomime. In addition, you’d have a musical guest. Simon and Garfunkel, The 5th Dimension, Frankie Valli & The 4 Seasons, Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66, and Tom Jones are among the musical performers seen in the shows.
“The Red Skelton Hour In Color” collection adds a great, one hour and 20 minute documentary “America’s Clown” as a bonus feature. Among the many highlights are clips of Skelton on a 1957 edition of “This Is Your Life” honoring Buster Keaton; 1950’s footage of Skelton with one of his TV show writers, Johnny Carson as well as a “Tonight Show” segment from decades later where Skelton guests for Doc Severinsen in leading The Tonight Show Band; Skelton family home movies; and more. We also learn in the documentary that Ozzie Nelson was Skelton’s bandleader on the 1941 radio show, “The Red Skelton Scrapbook of Satire” with Harriet Nelson as the vocalist.
The eight DVD’s of “The Red Skelton Show: The Early Years, 1951-1955” prove that Skelton’s program had no problem making the transition from radio to television. The 72 half hour Skelton shows offered some clever comedic visual elements in that regard. For example, in a 1954 program (“Prince Valiant”), Skelton’s character George Appleby is watching a baseball game on TV. We hear the baseball broadcaster announce that Yogi Berra has hit a home run. The ball comes through Appleby’s front door, breaking the glass in the door (or implying it). Appleby picks up the ball and says he wishes he could get it autographed someday. He sits down right next to the TV set, holding the baseball, and an arm comes through the set and autographs the ball.
In another 1954 show (“Deadeye At The Golden Nugget”), Skelton’s character Sheriff Deadeye is playing poker with three other men at an old west saloon. Deadeye deals the cards, which are restaurant menu sized. Deadeye tells the other players, “Try and sneak one of these up your sleeve”. After dealing the cards, Skelton shows his hand, a royal flush of four hearts and the Ace, which is a regular sized card. After one of the players looks puzzled, Skelton says, “I forgot to tell you. There’s one in every crowd”.
Scene From Deadeye At The Golden Nugget 2/9/54
After a 17 year run, “The Red Skelton Hour” was canceled by CBS in 1970. The series still ranked seventh in the ratings for that season. The comedian then returned to NBC for a half hour series during 1970 and 1971. All 23 episodes from this last Skelton regular season variety show make up the three DVD’s titled “The Best of Red Skelton-The Complete 20th Season: In Color”. The first show has a brief introduction by then Vice President Spiro Agnew. Dean Martin introduces the second broadcast. Guest stars seen in these NBC Skelton programs are Martin’s former comedy team partner Jerry Lewis, Raymond Burr and Barbara Anderson of “Ironside”,“ Bonanza” stars Michael Landon and Dan Blocker, Cass Elliot, and others.
A nice moment follows the end of the September 14, 1970 “The Magic Act” pantomime segment with Lewis and Skelton. Lewis tells the audience how when a guest appears on a sketch TV show, they perform and then exit the stage after thanking the host. Lewis wanted to be different and pay tribute to Skelton, and let him take a bow. As Lewis said, “I have been referred to by many as a clown. And I guess this is the first time in my life that one of my dreams have come true. And that is to work with the clown mastery of the master. I know that he’s embarrassed, but that’s what he is. …And I leave the stage for him.” A touched Skelton then bows to applause from the audience.
A bonus DVD, “Red Skelton: The Farewell Specials” adds some 1980s TV specials first seen on HBO.
The discs do show a brief message saying that the viewer may notice occasional flaws in the image and sound quality. The producers of the box set also say they’ve sought out and restored the original materials to ensure the best picture quality. In general the picture and sound quality are good, especially considering the shows were filmed and/or videotaped in the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s.
Most of the “The Red Skelton Hour In Color” programs run approximately 40 to 45 minutes, with the “The Best of Red Skelton-The Complete 20th Season: In Color” each about 24 minutes long. “The Early Years” episodes clock in at approximately 26 minutes. Subtitles/closed captions are not available for the programs. As for the musical guests, apparently the artists usually performed more than the one song found in “The Red Skelton Hour In Color” DVD set’s individual episodes. Music licensing costs might have played a part in the tunes not being found in the set.
What comes through clearly when watching “The Red Skelton Hour In Color: Deluxe Edition” is how much he enjoyed performing. His smile was infectious telling jokes at the beginning of the programs or acting in his skits. For Red Skelton fans, or those who enjoy the TV variety shows of yesteryear, this 22 disc box set will provide hours of entertainment.
Marshall Fish (author) on December 16, 2017:
You're welcome. Thanks for the comment.
Robert Sacchi on December 16, 2017:
Thank you for posting. I enjoyed The Red Skelton Hour and most other variety shows of the era.