BAXTER'S BREAKDOWNS
February 7, 2018 posted by Devon Baxter

RADIO ROUND-UP: The Red Skelton Repertoire

My Radio Round-Up columns are back – and we begin this month with The Raleigh Cigarette Program, starring Red Skelton and his repertoire of memorable characters!

Red Skelton’s entertainment career started when he was a child. He first performed in medicine shows and as a circus clown, and then went into vaudeville and burlesque. Red Skelton’s radio debut occurred when he appeared as a guest star on The Fleischmann’s Yeast Hour, hosted by Rudy Vallee, on August 12, 1937. Skelton displayed a penchant for wisecracking humor and improvisation that led to two further appearances on the program that same year. In 1938, Skelton made a film appearance in Having Wonderful Time for RKO, where he performed his “donut-dunking” sketch derived from his stage routine. That same year, he hosted the variety/comedy program Avalon Time, replacing country singer Red Foley for about a year when he departed the show in December 1939.

After a few film appearances as comic relief in MGM features, he was given his own radio show, The Raleigh Cigarette Program, which debuted on NBC in October 7, 1941. As with the “donut-dunking” routine and Avalon Time, his wife Edna Stillwell served as his chief writer—a relationship that continued after the couple divorced in 1944. The other principal performers were Ozzie Nelson as his bandleader, his wife Harriet as vocalist (and main female characters), and Wonderful Smith, who acted as Skelton’s antagonist. In the show, he performed an array of eccentric characters in a variety of sketches, including the simple-minded country bumpkin Clem Kadiddlehopper, Junior, “The Mean Widdle Kid,” and Sheriff Dead-Eye, added to the program in early 1942.

With the advent of brash, audacious star characters—such as Bugs Bunny and Woody Woodpecker—in animated short cartoons during the early 1940s, along with Skelton’s tendency to confide in the radio audience (as did these animated characters), the timing of his Raleigh Cigarette Program was perfect. During the first season of the program, which ended in early June 1942, many animated films lifted dialogue from—and based character voices on –Skelton’s characters. The earliest known instance of a cartoon that derived material from the show is Bob Clampett’s Wacky Blackout (released July 11, 1942) when radio mimic Kent Rogers imitated the mischievous “Mean Widdle Kid” as a little woodpecker. The little bird speaks Junior’s signature line, said whenever he sees an opportunity for trouble and ponders before committing to it: “If I do, I get a whippin’…I dood it!”

Skelton implemented a signature response to a simple question nearly every week in his early broadcasts for Junior (and other characters). Whenever they are asked a simple question, it is answered with impudence: “Let’s not get nosy, bub!” Whenever his mother (played by Harriet Hilliard from 1941-44) would strike him for his misbehavior, Junior would cry out that she “bwoke my widdle head,” or wherever he felt she hurt him. As he often encountered strangers besides his mother, they often questioned any ill intent upon them and their surroundings, to which Junior responded: “He don’t know me vewy well, does he?” One particular line of dialogue, “What a performance!” which is said in at least one “Mean Widdle Kid” radio sketch, was used in a few Warner Bros. cartoons, including Case of the Missing Hare (1942), which also uses Junior’s “I dood it” line at the end of the film.

Shortly before the end of the first season of Skelton’s radio show, at least two of Tex Avery’s MGM cartoons became heavily reliant on borrowing material from the program. The murder-mystery spoof Who Killed Who (model sheets presumably drawn in early 1942, released June 1943) lifts select catchphrases from the program, and uses his namesake as a gag when a red skeleton emerges out of a closet. The film also used another insolent response to a simple question, “Oh, wouldn’t you like t’know?” which was used by Clem Kadiddlehopper.

One Ham’s Family (model sheets drawn in June 1942; released August 1943) features a little boy pig patterned after Junior, voiced by Kent Rogers, in a more accurate impersonation than Wacky Blackout. The film also cross-pollinates with another popular radio program, as the Big Bad Wolf’s voice is modeled on The Great Gildersleeve (also voiced by Rogers). Near the end of The Loan Stranger (released October 1942), Woody Woodpecker imitates Junior’s dialogue and routines, in a dopey voice similar to Skelton’s own. Like Avery, Walter Lantz realized the vocal abilities of Kent Rogers, and used him to voice Woody’s version of the “Mean Widdle Kid” and the loan officer wolf, patterned after John Barrymore.

In Clem Kadiddlehopper’s sketches, the orchestra would play a rendition of “Arkansas Traveler” as Clem shuffles his feet along to see his girlfriend, Daisy June. As the music slowed to a stop, Clem would greet the audience with “Well, here I yam!” and hum a song as he continued on his way. After Daisy addresses him with “Howdy, Clem!” he replied to her in a lilting voice, “Well, Da-a-a-a-aisy June!” Several rural characters similar to Clem emerged in animated cartoons, such as Homer Pigeon in Pigeon Patrol (1942) and Swing Your Partner (1943), produced by Walter Lantz. At MGM, Tex Avery based a cartoon around Clem and Daisy June in The Hick Chick (model sheets drawn in September 1944, released June 1946), even spoofing Clem’s signature introduction on the show in the opening scenes. Bob Clampett also used a Clem-type character with Charlie Horse in It’s a Grand Old Nag (1947), voiced by a young Stan Freberg.

Skelton introduced the gruff-voiced Sheriff Dead-Eye on the program on January 13, 1942. As Dead-Eye would ride into town, he would command his horse to stop, but it would continue to gallop. He gives a command, and “Whoa…WHOA! Aw, c’mon, horse…WHOA!” Dead-Eye’s signature entrance was parodied in a prolonged introduction for Red Hot Ryder in Bob Clampett’s Buckaroo Bugs (1944). The film also borrowed catchphrases from Skelton’s other characters, including a line Junior used frequently: “Well, now, that’s mighty neighborly of ya…” In a sense, Dead-Eye’s loud voice served as the basis for Yosemite Sam, as he debuted in Friz Freleng’s Hare Trigger (1945), and in a later film, Sam uses a variation of the routine with a camel in Sahara Hare (1955).

The Raleigh Cigarette Program played a more significant influence during America’s involvement in World War II. After Lieutenant Colonel James “Jimmy” Doolittle operated an air raid to strike Tokyo in retribution for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on April 18, 1942, many newspapers used the headline, “DOOLITTLE DOOD IT.” (This was later referenced in Avery’s first-released MGM cartoon, Blitz Wolf.) Based on the success of Skelton’s radio program, he starred in an MGM musical comedy entitled I Dood It, released in 1943 and directed by Vincente Minelli. On June 1944, Skelton was drafted into the Army and his radio show was discontinued, while his contributors Ozzie and Harriet Nelson were given their own series. As a private, he was shipped overseas to entertain the troops, but the pressure of his military workload—performing as many as ten to twelve shows per day for the troops—led to a mental collapse and he spent three months under hospital care. Skelton was discharged from the Army in September 1945, and his program resumed in December with new cast members, which included Verna Felton (the matriarch elephant leader in Dumbo and the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland for Disney) as Junior’s grandmother.

In 1948, Skelton’s sponsor was changed from Raleigh Cigarettes to Tide detergent, and the following year, he switched network stations from NBC to CBS. In March 1951, he signed a contract with NBC to star on his own comedy/variety television program, which premiered in September. Television viewers watched Skelton perform as Dead-Eye and Clem Kaddidlehopper. His radio program continued on CBS until May 1953, when Skelton chose to devote his full attention to the television show. Around 1953, The Red Skelton Hour switched to CBS where it continued to air until 1970, when it reverted back to NBC until the show’s final episode in 1971. Skelton lent his voice to at least one animated project as Father Time narrating the Rankin/Bass special Rudolph’s Shiny New Year (1976), where he also voices a baby bear (of the Three Bears), which sounded similar to Junior but without his malicious intentions.

Now for the fun part—here’s a video on how Skelton’s program was influential to animated theatrical cartoons, using both the radio excerpts and the accompanying clips. Reminder: this might not contain every cartoon that references a specific radio catchphrase or character, so excuse any discrepancies.

(Thanks to Keith Scott and Andrew Gilmore for their help.)

28 Comments

  • Excellent summary of Skelton’s career and his large influence on cartoons. Clampett more than once expressed his admiration of Skelton’s huge radio popularity in the 1940s, recognizing that Red and his regular cast of loonies resembled a gag-filled cartoon on the air. The feeling was mutual with Avery and his story man Rich Hogan, as well as Hardaway at Lantz. Skelton’s voice and catchphrases were also highly impersonate-able and in Kent Rogers, the young mimic who tragically died in mid-1944 during exercises in the AAF, the West Coast directors had a fine talent who could do Skelton and many other contemporary radio stars. I only wish I could confirm the name of the excellent later mimic who did the Skelton/Clem voice for Avery’s THE HICK CHICK, but so far no luck – that mimic is also in a couple of Columbia cartoons. Keep up the fine work, Devon. I wish I wasn’t so old school…I have no idea how to go about compiling a video like that, but it’s a most effective 21st century way of studying the significant radio-film cross-overs of the theatrical era, and the way talents like Rogers and Mel Blanc worked in both mediums.

    • Thought it was Stan Freberg (who I believe is the similar country boy mouse in Art Davi’s early 1948 WB cartoon “A Hick, A Slick, and a Chick”., Hey, Devon, maybe you might wanna break down that one…one of my favorite theatricals.

  • Mel’s “Here I am!” for Bugs in “Stage Door Cartoon” sounds remarkably like Daws Butler’s future voice for “Quick Draw McGraw”, which kind of gives you an idea that Skelton’s characters were also a source for Daws and Michael Maltese when they were doing that character for Hanna-Barbera.

  • I heard that Red Skelton raised a fuss because Bullwinkle J. Moose sounded too much like Clem Kadiddlehopper. Bullwinkle himself (in puppet form) responded to the controversy on a 1961 episode of THE BULLWINKLE SHOW, where he proved the two voices were different by doing an imitation of Clem – which sounds identical to his own.

  • Nice. I am the curator for the Red Skelton Museum http://redskeltonmuseum.org/. I like to believe that Tweety Bird was inspired by Junior. There was a time when he wore a sailor hat like Junior. I did a listing of videos before I got this job. Need to fix links but the text is still there. http://redskelton.wikia.com/wiki/Cartoons. Saw some I did not know. I need to work on an updated list. What was the one with the Indian and Daffy? Sad to see Tom Mullica’s Clem in the video. Tom was a great guy but it would have been nice to see Red’s Clem.

    • The one with the Indian was THE DAFFY DUCKAROO (1942).

    • I now fixed the video to have the correct Clem. Thanks for your comment!

    • Bob Clampett invented Tweety with his main inspiration being his own baby pictures. I’m sure Junior and other such characters helped in his evolution and development, but I don’t think it was the main inspiration.

  • Correct me if I’m wrong, but WLW Concinnati (“The Nation’s Station”) was the originating station for Avalon Time, whence it came out over the NBC network.

    • That is correct. According to author Dick Perry, who used to watch the rehearsals, Red came to Cincinnati once a week to do the show. Skelton was not an employee of WLW; they just provided the studios, the network feed, and announcer Peter Grant. Also, according to Perry, Red appeared on NBC’s Bugler Tobacco’s Plantation Party during the 1939-40 season, which originated from WLW as well.

  • Keep up the great work, Devon! This is, by far, my favorite series on Cartoon Research!

  • Great post, Devon! Seeing the video was really eye-opening towards how much Red Skelton inspired the WB artists.

    I do wonder, though, if the Sheriff Deadeye character really inspired Sam’s loud voice. Freleng is quoted in Steve Schneider’s “That’s All, Folks” book as saying, “I thought to use the smallest guy I could think of along with the biggest voice I could get. Tex Avery had made a picture set in the Yukon, with a character who just yelled as loud as he could all the time [Dangerous Dan McFoo, 1939]. To me it was funny, so I adapted the idea.”

    • Yosemite Sam I believe was partly inspired by a similar character voiced by Mel Blanc named Tex on The Judy Canova Show.

      I can’t believe you left out the “bwoke my widdle arm” moment from Easter Yeggs

  • That video compilation is wonderful. Thanks for putting that together!

  • This is a super post, Devon, and I got a big kick out of your video compilation. Seems Red is up there with Joe Penner among the most frequently caricatured radio stars in cartoons.

  • Devon, I thoroughly enjoyed your post and the video that goes with it. We were regular watchers of The Red Skelton Hour when it was on CBS, but I never associated the cartoon lines, which I have heard many times, with him.

    Other characters that Skelton played on his show included Freddie the Freeloader (a hobo) and Cauliflower McPugg (a brain-addled boxer). Skelton was a master of pantomime (which of course you couldn’t do on the radio).

    • Not to mention Willy Lumplump, King of the Mynah Birds; a rather loud and boorish type.

  • Very well done video.

  • Very nice post, Devon. I’ll try to watch the video on a Windows 10 computer one of these days. You’re just a little off on the wording of some of Red Skelton’s catch phrases. It’s “Oh, NOW wouldn’t you like t’know!” that Clem used to say, don’t leave out the “now”.

    Junior’s pet expression was: ‘If I dood it, I get a whippin’…I DOOD IT!” It’s “dood”, not “do”, in most instances. Also, I think the line “What a performance!” was first used in the “Jell-O Program” of 12-7-1941, spoken by Dennis Day in reaction to Jack Benny’s star turn as Mr. Hyde in the “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” parody they did the previous week.

    As visual a comic as Red Skelton was, I think his radio show was actually superior to his television work, for instance, the Mean Widdle Kid was a very funny concept on radio, but when the grown-up Red put on Fauntleroy clothes on TV and skipped around the room as the Kid, he just looked silly. I loved how Red played with space as the Kid on radio. The doorbell would ring and the Kid would exclaim, “There’s someone at the door, someone’s at the door, someone’s at the door…” as his feet made pattering noises for 20 or 30 seconds. The longer the distance to the door, the funnier the routine became. If you could SEE the Kid running to the door for 30 seconds, it wouldn’t have nearly the same appeal. David Forrester and Dave Rose’s music also added a lot of class to Red’s radio show. Dave Rose’s “Holiday For Strings” was Red’s theme for a while in the early 1950s. Thanks for doing this post on a great, iconic radio program.

    • “Holiday for Strings” was also used as the theme to his TV program when it was on CBS.

      I forgot to mention, every show featured “the silent spot,” which showed Red’s mastery of pantomime and reinforced his reputation as a clown.

    • Terrific post! I agree with you, Mark on the idea of the Mean Widdle Kid successful as a radio character, not so much on TV. And, apparently, so did Skelton… for a while. I think he held off on using the bit on television until the mid sixties, made some comments to the press at the time questioning whether it was a good idea. The fascination of adult radio comics doing baby talk routines always creeped me out a bit. Danny Kaye and Fanny Brice stuff seems particularly irritating now, Skelton’s less so, at least in its original context. To me, this is one instance where the cartoon swipes play funnier than the originals.

    • Some things kind of seem very pointless when on TV, after radio..Red’s Mean kid, one of them;

    • The “Junior, The Mean Widdle Kid” segment was usually prefaced in later years by an excerpt from “In The Hall of the Mountain King” from Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite.

  • Man, have I been looking forward to the return of “Radio Roundup”! Yet another great article, Devon! Always wondered where “let’s not get nosy, bub!” came from.

  • Canny audiences of the 1940’s–those who were regulars in the studio audience–knew better than to leave the studio after Red Skelton’s radio program ended.
    That’s when he’d put on his “aftershow”, where he could do all the visual/physical stuff he couldn’t do on the radio. Hilarity ensued.

  • Oh, my sweet Jesus! This post, and of course the montage, was SUPER!!! Growing up with Mr. S. for allllllll those CBS years!! (And some of the cartoon catch-phrases i never put two-and-two toGETHER ….until now. Great. Thank you for a wonderful and warm-hearted ode!!!

  • Interestingly enough, I knew most of the cartoon catchphrases long before I was aware of Red’s inspiraton of ’em.

    To this day, I think my favorite “Whoa” bit after Red Hot Ryder is Sam and the dragon in “Knighty-Knight Bugs”.

  • In Book Revue, I think the cuckoo clock is a parody of Skelton’s Guzzler’s Gin skit,

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