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Still Making Us Laugh

Red Skelton died last week but his comedy has been preserved in movie and TV roles.


Red Skelton was the original carrot top comic--a delightful, wonderful clown who entertained audiences for nearly 60 years. Skelton, who died last week at age 84, may have been out of the limelight for several years, but his comedy remains as fresh and funny as it was 50 years ago.

Several of his movies and episodes from his long-running TV series are available on video.

Skelton made his film debut under the name Richard Skelton in the 1938 romantic comedy "Having a Wonderful Time" (Nostalgia, $20). He plays the eager-to-please entertainment director at a Catskills resort. Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Ginger Rogers also star.

His stock began to rise with such films as the 1941 musical comedy "Lady Be Good" (MGM, $20), which features Ann Sothern and Robert Young as married songwriters. Hoofer Eleanor Powell also stars. The film includes the Oscar-winning tune "The Last Time I Saw Paris."

Skelton scored his first starring role in the amusing 1941 comedy "Whistling in the Dark" (MGM, $20). He plays a radio sleuth called Wally "The Fox" Benton who is kidnapped by a phony religious cult leader (the always wonderful Conrad Veidt).

He reprised the role of Benton in two more entertaining comedies, 1942's "Whistling in Dixie" (MGM, $20) and 1943's "Whistling in Brooklyn" (MGM, $20).

Skelton adds a bit of spark to the lukewarm 1942 musical comedy "Panama Hattie" (MGM, $20), based on the Cole Porter Broadway hit about a saloon keeper in Central America whose bar is a favorite watering hole of fighting soldiers. Ann Sothern, Dan Dailey and Lena Horne also star.

Porter also wrote the score to the sparkling 1943 musical comedy "DuBarry Was a Lady" (MGM, $20). Skelton plays a washroom attendant who dreams he's actually France's Louis XV. Gene Kelly, Lucille Ball and Virginia O'Brien also star. Tunes include "Friendship."

Vincente Minnelli directed 1943's "I Dood It" (MGM, $20), a so-so musical comedy in which Skelton plays a tailor's assistant who falls in love with a young actress (Eleanor Powell). Based on Buster Keaton's "Spite Marriage."

Skelton shares star billing with Esther Williams in 1944's colorful musical comedy "Bathing Beauty" (MGM, $20). Skelton plays a pop composer and Williams is the college swim teacher he adores. The Harry James and Xavier Cugat orchestras supply the music.

The 1948 comedy thriller "The Fuller Brush Man" (Columbia TriStar, $15) finds Skelton in top slapstick form as a goofy Fuller Brush man who becomes involved in a murder. Janet Blair is on hand as his honey.

Skelton and Williams teamed up once again for the fun 1949 musical "Neptune's Daughter" (MGM). Songs include the Oscar-winning tune "Baby, It's Cold Outside." Ricardo Montalban and Betty Garrett also star.

In "Three Little Words' (MGM, $20), Skelton and Fred Astaire make a great team as famed songwriters Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby. The stylish 1950 biopic features such standards as "Three Little Words" and "I Wanna Be Loved by You." A very young Debbie Reynolds is featured as Helen Kane.

"Lovely to Look At" (MGM), a pleasant 1952 remake of the classic Kern-Harbach musical "Roberta," finds Skelton inheriting half-interest in a Parisian fashion house run by Kathryn Grayson and Marge Champion. Howard Keel and Gower Champion also star.

Skelton made his last screen appearance in the 1965 comedy "Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines" (Fox, $15). Though his screen time is limited, Skelton makes the most of his prologue scenes, which chronicle the history of aviation.

The Movies Unlimited catalog, (800) 4MOVIES, is offering six volumes of Skelton's CBS variety series, "The Red Skelton Show" ($15 each). Among the stars featured on the episodes are Vincent Price, Carol Channing, Mickey Rooney, Peter Lorre and Charlie Ruggles.

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