Ten years ago on Sept. 17 the world lost one of its most-beloved clowns and entertainers when Red Skelton succumbed to pneumonia in a Rancho Mirage, Calif., hospital.
Fortunately, we had Red for more than 84 years and the world of entertainment claimed the Vincennes native for almost 75 years.
During his years in entertainment, Red performed and succeeded in just about every form of show business. He started in medicine shows at the age of 10 and moved on to minstrels, tent shows, show boats, a brief stint in a circus, Burlesque, Vaudeville, movies, radio and television.
His talent went beyond those performance arts. He was a painter, composer and writer and learned the fine art of pantomime. Some of his original clown paintings now sell for six figures and his list of musical compositions numbers around 8,000 published works.
Red's rendition of “The Pledge of Allegiance” has sold hundreds of thousands of copies.
All these talents and successes are enough to call Red Skelton a true Renaissance man of the 20th Century, but there is another side to this famous Hoosier and American patriot that makes him even greater.
Red Skelton raised millions of dollars for charities including his first love - programs that benefited underprivileged or ill children. Red put his clown face on for Shriner's children hospitals in his attempt to raise millions of dollars to provide free health care to the most vulnerable of American society.
Even today Red Skelton is benefiting children and giving back to the citizens of his hometown. The Red Skelton Needy Children's Clothing Fund, with a generous discount from the Vincennes J.C. Penney Co. Inc. store, provides new clothes to low-income students in the Vincennes Community School Corporation every Christmas. Each child receives between $150 and $250 in new clothes for the holiday depending on the amount of interest earned on the fund's pubic trust account.
It's with all these talents and achievements in mind that a local man thinks Sept. 17 should be a day of celebration instead of mourning for the most famous native son of Vincennes. Mark Kratzner, a Red Skelton historian and owner of the Hall of Hollywood Hoosiers, 418 Main St., is that man.
The Hall of Hollywood Hoosiers displays Kratzner's personal Red Skelton collection and memorabilia of just about anyone with a tie to Indiana who has current or past connections to Hollywood. The Hall will commemorate the 10th anniversary of Red's death with extended open hours from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Monday. Guests may view the Skelton collection, ask questions of Kratzner and discuss forming a club to keep the life and times of Red alive for future generations.
Kratzner refers to the proposed group as the “I Dood It Club,” which is named after the famous catch phrase uttered often by Skelton's “Mean Widdle Kid” character. There will be no dues or required duties since Kratzner simply wants to bring fans together to enjoy the talents of Red Skelton, talk about his life and share any memories members have of him.
The club would meet and find ways to remember Red Skelton. Kratzner envisions group members meeting at least quarterly at the Hall of Hollywood Hoosiers to watch a Skelton movie or video and talk about Red. Kratzner eventually would like for the group to grow and become involved as volunteers with community events such as parades, presentations and festivals to keep Red's name and talents alive.
“I am trying to keep Red's memory alive in his hometown and home state,” Kratzner said. “Many people remember Red Skelton but for some reason he did not get the exposure of Lucille Ball, James Dean, John Wayne and others of his time. My goal is to be a source for people who want to remember Red and to help expose his talents to a new generation. I just want people to get together and enjoy and remember Red Skelton.”
If you are interested in being a part of the “I Dood It Club,” visit the Hall of Hollywood Hoosiers during its special celebration on Monday and express your views and ideas or e-mail your comments to Kratzner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If Red could dood it for almost 75 years to entertain millions around the world, then his hometown should be about to dood it to keep his name alive and well.
As a trustee for the Red Skelton Fund, I plan to be both a charter and active member in the “I Dood It Club.” What better way to remember Red Skelton and hear his famous words again, “Good night and may God bless.”
Carroll, Vincennes, is an education specialist for the Project ASPIREE Educational Talent Search program at Vincennes University.