Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Scrounger’s Cheapjack Christmas Special! #35: Red Skelton pt. 1

Just Enough Information: Still in his early 20s when Rudy Vallee pulled him from obscurity and into America’s living rooms for the first time, Red Skelton entered the world of broadcast comedy as a veteran of the stage—he began his career at the age of 10—and quickly established himself as one of radio’s fastest rising young talents. He built his career on a string of unforgettable characters—the Mean Widdle Kid, the punchdrunk boxer Cauliflower McPugg, hayseed Clem Kadiddlehopper, drunken Willie Lumplump.

Groucho Marx once called Skelton “the logical successor to Chaplin”, a similarity which was underlined when Red made the transition to television and was finally able to add to his broadcast repertoire the pantomime and clowning skills which were always a part of his stage act. The television show was just as durable as the radio show, lasting 20 years on NBC and then CBS.

While his overall numbers were still in the top 10, Red’s show was a victim of CBS’s shift away from programs that appealed to older viewers to the exclusion of what we now call the 18-35 “money demo”, a decision that he was bitter about for the rest of his life. Red managed one final season at NBC and called it a day in 1971.

The Christmas Episode: “Freddie and the Yuletide Doll”. Original Broadcast: December 19, 1961.

This is going to be one of my shortest recaps yet, partially because this whole thing plays out with no dialogue to the accompaniment of Dave Rose’s orchestra and a chorus, but mostly because the story is so simple that you can sum it up in a sentence.

And when the Act I caption comes up, you know you’re in deep trouble.

Here’s the whole thing: Freddy the Freeloader, homeless, half-frozen, and lonely in a park at Christmas, finds a Raggedy Ann doll left by some shoppers…

Don’t make a RealDoll joke…don’t make a RealDoll joke…

…which magically comes to life, and they have all kinds of sweet romantic adventures…

Oh for God’s sake, PLEASE don’t make a RealDoll joke! Damn you, Internet, for ruining me...

…until she suddenly turns back into a doll. End of show.

In between, there’s skating and singing and all that. It’s kind of cute in places, and intensely sentimental in others…maybe excruciatingly so for some of you. I like a lot of Red’s work, and you can tell from this that he’s skilled at physical acting, but sorry, it’s just far too precious for me to get cozy with it.

Spot ‘Em: Cara Williams, who around this time was starring with Harry Morgan in the CBS sitcom Pete and Gladys, played Raggedy Ann. She was being groomed by the network as the next Lucille Ball.

Once again, nothin’ doin’ with online video. Instead, here’s the type of routine that Red’s reputation stands on: Guzzler’s Gin. A nice smooth drink…

Next: We finish up our quick shot of Red with “The Cop and the Anthem”.

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