"The Clown Father"

The legend of Red Skelton begins with the death of his father. It is said that Red's father Joseph was a famous circus clown that died from drinking. I have not been able to prove this. I have heard of a story that his father was a lawyer but quit when he found out that he got a murder off. I have not found any record of this. What makes finding the history of Joseph Skelton hard is that he also went by another name. For a time Joseph was living in Vincennes he went by the name of Ehart or Eheart.
Putting records together I have found that baby was born to Ella Richardville on September 14, 1878 north of Princeton, IN. Ella Richarville claims that this was the child of Newton O. Skelton. Newton Skelton was a respected business man in Princton and married at the time. There are court cases of Skelton vs. Richardville and the jury found in favor of Skelton. Newton Skelton died January 29, 1880. His estate records does not include Ella or her child. I have not been able to find records of Joseph's past. There are records of Joseph Elmer Skelton listing Ella Richardville as his mother.
The next record of Joseph that I found is in the 1904-05 directory. He was working as a telephone lineman. He later became grocer with his brother Chris Ehart. Joseph was using the name Ehart as his last name in the directories. It is possible that Joseph became part of the Ehart family taking the name of his step-father and Chris being his half-brother. When he married Ida Mae Fields on April 13th, 1905, he used the last name of Skelton. Ida Mae was born in Harvard, Nebraska April 26, 1884. Don't know her past or how she met Joseph. In September of 1905 they had a son, Joseph Ishmail. I believe that he was also called Denny. January 20th, 1906 there is a record of Joseph and Ida having a Catholic marriage so that Ishmial could be baptized. The Eharts would have two other sons before Red, Chris (1907) and Paul F. (1910).

  • (09/14) Born Joseph Elmer Skelton (Red's father) near Princeton, IN. Mother Ella Richardville.
  • (01/29) Grandfather, Newton O. Skelton dies.
  • Joseph A. Ehart flour packer at Green's hominy mills. Res: 1338 n 3d St.
  • Carpenter. H: 1217 N 3d.
  • Joseph E. Eheart Home: 314 Lyndale ave. Vincennes, IN. Job: Lineman.
  • Chris A. (Red's uncle?) Home: 215 Perry. Wife: Catherine.
  • (04/13) Joseph Skelton weds Ida Mae Fields (Born in Harvard, Neb. 04/26/1884) in Vincennes.
  • (09/29) Born Joseph Ishmail (later Denny?) Ehart (Red's brother).
  • (09/14) Chris A. Ehart weds Mary E. Graige.
  • (01/20) Catholic marriage.
  • Home: 111 Lyndale ave. Lineman.
  • Christopher A. Ehart Home: 101 Lyndale ave.
  • (07/15) Born Chris Ehart (Red's brother).
  • (07/10) Born Paul F. Eheart (Red's brother).
  • Joseph Eheart Home: 111 Lyndale. Job: Grocer at 202 W Lyndale.
    BirthHome.JPG 200*150

  • 1913-1936
    "The Birth of a Clown"

    The story of Red Skelton's father is that he was a clown for H-B. That he died from drinking or from a circus tent pole falling on him. No of these things are mentioned in the obits in the Vincennes newspapers. The press prints that he died from problems from a stroke. He was a member of local lodges and a part-time baseball umpire. He had a grocery store with his brother Chris. (I would love to find proof of him being a clown but I believe that this is a myth.)
    19130522Fathergrave.jpg 100*100
    Three months after Joseph's death, July 18th, 1913, Richard Bernard Eheart was born at 1:15pm in the home at 111 Lyndale ave. The family were not at this house for long. In the 1914-15 directory, Ida was listed at another address and Chris Eheart was at 111 Lyndale ave. Red's family moved around Vincennes.

    Home2.JPG 100*100 Home1.JPG 200*150 Home3.JPG 100*100
    Ederwine ave. and Terre Haute
    825 Emison Ave.
    1021 N. 9th St.
    Red tells stories that his family was poor. One story is that he was sleeping in the family store. One day it caught on fire and Red nearly escaped. I did find records that Joseph's proberty were being sold off to pay bills. For a time (1917?) the family moved to Indianapolis. Ida had a job as a elevator operator and cleaner. The family returned to Vincennes under the name of Skelton. Red was old enough to do work and bring money to the family. A chance meeting while he was a newpaper boy changed his life. This also could be another Skelton myth.
    At the age of 10, Red was selling newspapers a stranger ask what to do in town. Red told him that a great comic was at the Pantheon Theatre. The stranger ask if he had seen the show. Red told him that he needed to sell all his papers. The stranger bought all the papers and told Red that there would be a ticket for him. Red found out that the stranger was the comic. The comic was Ed Wynn a Ziegfeld star comic known for a silly voice, laugh and props. He had Broadway shows. One show was called "The Perfect Fool". This is great tail but unlikely to happen. The only chance I see of Red meeting him is if the show went on tour. Still, this is the story Red tells when he knew that he wanted to be in show business.
    During the summer he toured with a medicine show. Here he found out the could make people laugh by falling down. This drew a crowd for "Doc" Lewis to sell his "Famous Miracle Remedy". Later he joined a stock company. This did not work out because he was casted in dramatic roles. The stock company dumped him on the Mississippi River. Here the water gets merky. Red ends up on a showboat called The Cotton Blossom but is kicked of for romancing the captian's daughter. Then he did some "Uncle Tom's Cabin" shows. Finding time to appear as a clown for the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus and maybe vaudeville. This seems to be a lot of work for a 15 year old. In 1929 he returned to Vincennes and appeared in Clarence Stout's Minstrel shows. Clarence Stout was a song writer and became a mentor to Red. Red gives him credit on teaching him how to perform. Red kept in touch with the Stout family through out his career. Vincennes University library has a collection of letters and programs. If there was no proof that Red was in Vincennes in 1929, it would be easier to have a transition to Kansas City.
    1930 Red Skelton was a comic at Kansas City's Gaiety Burlesque Theater. He meets Edna Stillwell, an usher at the Pantage Theater. Edna was not impessed with fast talking, fall down comic. But Red wasted no time to get a job at Pantage to be near her. 1931 the Depression was going on. One way for people to get money was to win in Walkathon contest. They were dance contests were you had to be the last person on your feet to win. Red was a MC for an event at the same time Edna was a contestant. He managed to get her to agree to a date after the event. She won the contest and they had a romantic kiss. While Edna had a time to catch up on her sleep, her prize money was stolen. Red was there to cheer her up. They started dating and got married on June 1st, 1931. Red was one month away from his 18th birthday and Edna was 16. Edna was young but she had the gift of management. She was able to be the cashier at Red's Walkathons and able to controlled his pay for each event.
    The Skelton's headed east doing Walkathons in St. Louis, Minneapolis, to Atlantic City, New Jersey. A New York booking agent got him out of Walkathons and back to vaudeville in 1934. He was sent to the Lido Club in Montreal, Canada. Her Harry Anger saw Red and signed him to play at Loew's theaters in Canada. Here he changed his style of comedy with Edna's help. Skelton was using corny gags and falling down but that was getting old. Edna became part of the act both on stage and back. She was billed as his sister because Red's good looks attracted the female. Also Edna was used in "leg ads" to attract the males. On stage Edna started as a stooge. She later became a partner. Off stage, she became active in writing for Red. She has been credited for inspiring Red's talent on spoofing human behavior. The classic "Dunking Doughnuts" came from watching how people dunked their doughnuts. Red was ready to become a hit in America.

  • (05/22) Father died from problems after a stroke.
    (05/23) "Joseph Eheart Passed Away" Vincennes Capitol. A few weeks ago he was paralysised by a stroke. Was a lineman for the Central Union Telephone co.. Part-time baseball umpire. Member of the Knights of Pyhias, Odd Fellows and Moose lodge.
    (05/30) "North End Grocer Dies Suddenly" Vincennes Western Sun.
  • (07/18) - Born Richard Bernard Eheart in Vincennes, IN
  • Ida M. Eheart Home: Ederwine ave. and Terre Haute.
  • Chris Home: 111 Lyndale ave. Job: Saloon.
  • Ida Eheart Home: 825 Emison Ave.
  • Chris Home: 333 W. Eberwine ave. Wife: Jessie T.
  • ? Move to Southeastern ave., Indianapolis. Mother was an elevator operator on Pennsylvania St.?
  • Not listed in Vincennes directory.
  • Newsboy for the Vincinnes Sun.
  • Ball racker for Kramer & Schmidt's poolroom.
  • Receiver at J.C. Penney's department store.
  • Riley Grade School teacher Andria Ross.
  • [04/05 - "Ed Wynn's Carnival" at the New Amsterdam Theatre, New York.]
  • Ida home: 288 S. Summit, Indianapolis, IN.
  • Skelton Home: 2221 Day St.
  • [11/07 - Ed Wynn "The Perfect Fool".]
  • Home: 608 or 708 Upper 11th St.
  • Met Ed Wynn.
    (05/01) School District 2. School Recores RHC#370 Red Skelton Papers, Vincennes University.
  • (07/13) 'Doc' Reynolds E. Lewis's "Famous Miracle Remedy" Patent Medicine show. Show tour in Flora, IL. (Cast: Nina Lewis, Red MacLeonard, Smoky, Barbara (Smoky's wife).)
  • Williams' Tent Show.
  • Clark Junior High School.
  • [10/06 - Ed Wynn "The Grab Bag".]
  • (05/01) School District 7. School Records RHC#370 Red Skelton Papers, Vincennes University.
  • Home: 34 E. Lyndale.
  • Home: 1021 N. 9th St.
  • Member of 1st school safety patrol. Jr. High School on Buntin St.
  • John Lawrence Stock Co.
  • Captain Hittner Showboat "The Cotton Blossom". Put to shore at Natchez, MI. The story is that the captain did not approve of Red's relationship with his daughter, Samantha.
  • "Uncle Tom's Cabin" plays.
  • Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus
  • Vaudeville.
  • (04/18) Young Men's Christian Association circus.
  • Clarence Stout Minstrels.
  • (05/13-14) "Minstrel-Revue".
    (06/29) American Legion program. WGBF radio Evansville, IN. Sang "There's a Rainbow Around My Shoulder".
  • (11/25) "Minstrel Follies".
  • (12/13) "Midnight Frolic"
  • Gaiety Burlesque Theater in Kansas City.
  • Pantages Theater. Met Edna Marie Stillwell.
  • El Torreon ballroom walkathon run by Tebetts and Seltzer.
  • (06/01) Wed Edna.
    [(10/30) Gayety becomes burlesque.]
  • Minneapolis, Minn. walkathon. Bought a pet white bear called "Snowball".
  • "The Clown Prince of Walkathons". Atlantic City Walkathon.
    New York screen test.
  • (08/19) Walkathons (Minneapolis). Sponsored: St. Peter Hospital for the Mentally Deficient.
  • NEWS.GIF 100*150 (08/19/1932) "Meet the Masters of Ceremonies!" Nicollet Live Wire Souenir Walkathon Edition (Minneapolis, MN)

  • Camden, NJ.
  • Left Walkathons got a booking agent, Tom Kennedy in New York.
    Screentest RKO's Astoria, NY Vitaphone.
  • Lido club managed by Eve Ross.
  • Loew's Montreal Theater. Began 'Dunking Doughnuts'. Shea's Theater, Toronto. Booked by Harry Anger.
  • State Theater and Stratford, Chicago.
  • (12/12) Walkathon, Camden, NJ.
    NEWS.GIF 100*150 (1930s) Edna Stadler Dance Marathons and Walkathons Scrapbook. Walkathon wedding of Johnny Groves and Marie Broughton, Camden, NJ.
    1930sWalkathon.jpg *

  • (11/20) Lyric Theatre, Indianapolis, IN. (one week)
  • New York. Used Enda in "leg art" ads.

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