Red Skelton

September 1, 2006 at 3:09 pm 11 comments

Red SkeltonYesterday I was in attendance at the Covenant Platinum Awards at the Knoxville Convention Center, an event honoring area seniors. The entertainment was provided by Brad Zinn, who did a tribute to comedians of the past with impressions, songs, and good humor.

One of the comedians he paid tribute to was Red Skelton. I realized as I sat and watched that almost 25 years ago I had sat in almost the exact general location and seen the real Red Skelton perform at the Tennessee Ampitheatre.

It was a night near the end of the run of the 1982 World’s Fair, and as dusk fell many, many people began pouring into the area surrounding the Waters of the World. I found a place with my family on the other side of the manmade lake from the Ampitheatre, near the Power Substation that was used simultaneously as a power grid and an exhibit for the energy-themed fair. The managers of the Ampitheatre opened up the removable back wall so everyone could see Mr. Skelton perform, almost in the round.

He held the audience in thrall for a good while, and not only entertained us with his clowning, mimicry and general silliness, if I recall correctly he recited his inspirational one-word-at-a-time explanation of the Pledge of Allegiance. If you’ve never heard Red Skelton perform this bit, you should try to find a recording somewhere because it makes you think about the Pledge as you never have before.

That was one of the highlights of that summer at the fair to me, and I was glad for the memories the performer brought back to me yesterday as he, too, did Skelton doing the Pledge of Allegiance.

Was anybody else at that original Red Skelton performance 25 years ago?

UPDATE (12/14/06) : The comedian who performed his Red Skelton impression commented on this post – read what he says about Skelton’s life, it’s very interesting.

He also provided a link to hear Red Skelton recite his “Pledge of Allegiance”:

http://www.mamarocks.com/pledge_of_allegiance.htm

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Entry filed under: Remembering the World's Fair.

Back to the Beginning… Part 2 Back to the Beginning… Part 3

11 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Brad Zinn  |  December 14, 2006 at 8:35 am

    Hi!
    I am that performer, Brad Zinn! I wanted to thank you for your kind words and comments. I am delighted that my performance brought back warm memories for you. This is a part of my mission; to keep their(the Great Comedians) memories alive for current and future generations.

    In the event you may be interested, here is a bit of history on “The Pledge of Allegiance” by Red Skelton. He first performed the routine on his CBS Television show on January 14th, 1969. If I may take you back to that time, it was about the time of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, and Richard Nixon was to be sworn in as President one week later, January 20th, 1969. This country was literally torn apart. I was about 12 years old at the time and remember distinctly seeing this broadcast, as I watched nearly every week. It was at that time that Red transcended his role as a clown and comedian to that of hero in my eyes. There were only three (3) networks on the air at that time (cable was nealry unheard of, pay TV was the butt of comeidans jokes) and Red always ranked in the top twenty programs each week in the Neilson ratings. Millions of Americans heard his words that night.

    It took enormous courage, I thought, for him to go on TV and make this definitve statement of patriotism and its meaning. But, Mr. Skelton was always a patriot and loved the U.S. very much.

    It is somewhat sad that he was so prophetic in his final statement about “Under God” being considered a prayer and that it might be removed from the classroom. When I first began performing my show, I did not include the “Pledge.” I was unsure of how it might be received, even though I had always remembered it from TV, and the record released immediately afterwards on 45 rpm. (Remember those? I still have my 45 rpm recording of “The Pledge.”) The record was an immediate hit and was later reproduced on cardboard stock and distributed by Burger King.

    On the morning the 9th Circuit issued their now infamous ruling, I was just waking to the radio. The news report stated that the Pledge was now forbidden from the classroom. I jumped up and ran to find my wife, Brenda, and exclaimed “It’s going in! It’s going in!” Meaning that I was now determined to include the “Pledge” in my tribute performances.

    After the 9th Circuit ruling, indeed I was not the only person who remembered Red’s prescient comments and it began to appear all over the web in both audio and text formats.

    If you would like to hear Red recite the original routine, here is the link; http://www.mamarocks.com/pledge_of_allegiance.htm

    You can read along, and hear a recording at the above site. The video from January 1969 has also been released on DVD in a collection of Red Skelton TV shows, authorized by his estate. It is available at http://www.timelessvideo.com/ Click on DVD/VHS to find the 3 DVD set. (Full disclosure; I have no vested or financial interests in either of the above sites)

    Thank you again for your remembrance of your time with Red Skelton, and his impact on you. I know he certainly influenced me, and still does to this day.

    To borrow his phrase, Good night and may God bless,
    Brad Zinn
    http://www.greatcomedians.net

    Reply
  • […] I once posted about watching Red Skelton perform there back during the World’s Fair – just today Brad Zinn, the Skelton impressionist that inspired that post, commented with some interesting information about Red Skelton. If you’re a Skelton fan, go back and read the post and read his comment. […]

    Reply
  • 3. Frank  |  December 15, 2006 at 4:37 pm

    Below is a link to a video of Red’s reciting the Pledge of Allegiance found on YouTube.

    Reply
  • 4. Cheryl Hodge  |  March 9, 2007 at 5:50 pm

    I, too, was there to see Red Skelton in his appearance at the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville. I grew up watching him on television, and was thrilled with the chance to see him in person.

    My husband, Roy, and I waited for several hours in line to get into the Ampitheatre. Even so, we ended up sitting at the very back of the audience. I remember the management raising the back walls of the theatre so that the crowd (including you, I understand!) could see Mr. Skelton. When he came out and realized those people were back there, he turned to face them. They cheered so mightily that he turned back and looked questioningly at the “legitimate” audience. We also cheered and yelled. He made a couple of turns, first one way, then the other, and finally flashed an “ok” sign to the “back” crowd. Then he moved his microphone to face them, and did several routines with his back to us. No one was upset, of course, and it was such a generous thing for him to do.

    One of my favorite bits that Mr. Skelton did is one I still quote today. He said he had gotten his driver to take him sight-seeing around the city that afternoon. He named several landmarks, like Regas Restaurant, West Towne Mall, and Gay Street (he giggled naughtily when he said “Gay Street”, covering his mouth and widening his eyes in shock; everyone loved it; it was about the most “off-color” thing he said). Then he said, “You folks are gonna have a real nice town here . . . if you ever get it finished!” Brought the house down.

    The Pledge was just as wonderful as you said. You could tell, even after all the times he’d done it, it still moved him deeply. You could have heard a pin drop in the theatre.

    But my very best moment was after the show. We waited while everyone else filed out. Then we waited while the crew broke down the equipment. Then we waited while the custodians swept up the litter. Then we waited while the maintenance crew shut down the lights. Then we waited some more. And then . . . Mr. Skelton came out the back door of the theatre to talk to us! There were only about ten or twelve people left; the man acted like he had nothing else to do for the rest of his life but talk to us. He chatted with each person and signed autographs (yes, I have the program from that night, with his signature . . . sigh . . .). When he got to me, I stammered and said, “Mr. Skelton, you have given me some of the happiest, most pleasant moments of my life.” He cradled my hands in his, looked me in the eye, and said in a soft, choked voice, “And you, young lady, have just given that back to me.”

    Oh, yes, I remember . . . !

    Reply
  • 5. lasthome  |  March 12, 2007 at 1:50 pm

    Holy COW Sheryl, what an experience! I’m jealous 🙂 What a great ending to a great night. I wish I remembered more about the show itself, but I think you jogged my memory on the driving-around-town bit. One thing I remember it was such a gorgeous night, and the people that were gathered around the waterfront where I was were doing so not just because they wanted to hear a funny comedian, but out of respect for a man they knew deserved it. And I think he realized that and was moved by the gesture when they opened the back of the stage.

    By the way, guess who this is from the Oak Ridge Playhouse 🙂

    Reply
  • 6. Lee  |  April 2, 2007 at 12:04 pm

    I was only 10 years old at the time. I had heard of Red and had seen his comedy routines on TV. My parents introduced me to these comedians and shows of long ago and I am still fond of them to this day. We had not yet attended the World’s Fair, but had talked about going. When I heard that Red Skelton was goin to be performing, I begged my parents to go on that day. We stood outside the Amphitheatre on the stage-right side. We had a very clear view of him. I don’t remember anything about his routine as far as specific jokes. I just remeber that I was seeing an icon and what an honor it was to be seeing this man.

    There are not a lot of comedians that a ten-year-old boy would get to see. I have so much respect for Mr. Skelton because he kept it clean. I think it was also around this time that there was a showing of some of his paintings in Gatlinburg (I belive) and I got to go see those, as well.

    Cheryl, my family and I came back to the theatre later that evening as he was leaving and got to see him get into his limo and drive away.

    I will always cherish this memory from the fair. It was the only day my family attended the fair. We lived in Morristown (and still do) and money was very tight for us. However, I would not trade seeing Red Skelton for ten days of going to the fair. I have seen and met many famous people over the years, but one of the most memorable and most cherished encounters will always be this one.

    Reply
  • 7. kristi  |  May 17, 2007 at 8:18 am

    I am a native of Red Skelton’s hometown – Vincennes Indiana, and site of the Red Skelton Festival Weekend and Red Skelton Museum of American Comedy. I remember standing in line to meet Red as a child. Periodically, I just search for items about Red and was so pleased to find the comments on this site. Every story just reinforces the contributions he made to the world of comedy and the arts.

    Reply
  • 8. Harry  |  October 11, 2008 at 1:39 am

    Mr Zinn, I think your honoroing Mr Skelton with your act is wonderful. I did not use Impersonating or copying, because they are not words I would use after reading your post, I was 9 during that broadcast and can still remember it. It is sad, to remember I didnt think that this was not needed to be said on his show that night. I was too young to realize the real devestation going on in the country. Now, today, we are seeing the aftermath of Free Love and New Age thinking. It is still riping the virtues of our country apart. Maybe the 70’s generation can piece this country back together now that the 60’s generation is retiring.

    God Bless You and Your Act

    Reply
  • 9. joan  |  December 28, 2008 at 2:58 pm

    I just wanted to know if you can help me. We got the red skelton holiday collection and after we watch the first part,there is more on that tape. It tells us to press highlight to get more and it does not work. Do you know what else we can do. Thanks Joan

    Reply
  • 10. jessiteg  |  April 12, 2009 at 6:15 am

    Very interesting site. I recognize your interest in my bad oxygen Wanna very nice joke?)) What do you call bedtime stories for boats? Ferry tales.

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Remember the Date

The 25th Anniversary of the 1982 World's Fair is on May 1, 2007. Mark your calendars!

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