Â Â Late comedian Red Skelton’s recitation and explication of “The Pledge of Allegiance”Â may be an oldie, but it’s still a goodie, no matter how hokie it seems in today’s jaded age, to today’s jaded youth especially.Â
It’s a simple presentation by a simple man, not simple in any pejorative sense, but simple in the sense of a low-key, basic, gentle man, and a gentleman who, at the same time was a complex, troubled, concerned, and very patrioticÂ man.
His video recitation of the “Pledge” may be seen here:Â http://tiny.cc/r9u48, the complete text here: http://tiny.cc/bmeeg.Â The latter website urges the reader to, “Now more than ever listen to the meaning ofÂ [Skelton's] words.”Â There are much more to those words than simply the words.Â
The chief impulse forÂ discussing Richard Bernard “Red” Skelton, one of America’s most beloved comediansÂ of the forties, fifties, and sixties, arose from the reactions of my lawyer son and his speech therapist wife over the Thanksgiving weekend.Â Â
Â Â More precisely, after I casually mentioned his name and his memorable “Pledge of Allegiance,”Â their reaction was, “Red Who?”Â a clear indication that most Americans under forty years of age must have forgotten or have never heard of the late vaudeville, Broadway, film personality who finally made it bigÂ as aÂ radio and television star before being unceremoniously cancelled by CBS after a successful run of 17 years.Â
More’s the pity, not just because Red Skelton seems headed for the scrapheap of America’s collective memory but because he, far more than his contemporaries such as Fred Allen, Eddie Cantor, Danny Kaye, and Ed Wynn, was much more than a funnyman, as exemplified in his “Pledge.”Â
The Three Stooges may live forever butÂ the inimitable combination of classic comic genius and unabashedÂ ”world’s greatestÂ clown,” not to mention composer and painter,Â may go the way of his creations: his country boy, Klem Kadiddlehopper, his boxer, Cauliflower McPugg, his drunk,Â Willy Lump-Lump, his con-artist, Fernando Red, and his master television creation, Freddy the Freeloader.Â
Entertainers, stars,Â and pop-personalitiesÂ inevitably are supplanted by newer, if not always greater, entertainers, stars,Â and pop-personalities.Â That’s the nature of show biz and its the nature of stars to flicker out.Â
However, if my grandkids some day ask their parents, “George Carlin Who?”Â I hope their parents remind them that, yes, Carlin was a funny guy, one of the many funny guys, and girls, of our eraÂ who relied on toilet humor and gross vulgarity to get laughs from their audiences.Â
I hope, too, that they will remind my grandkids that there was once a classic clownÂ who stooped to none of that to get his audiencesÂ ”rolling in the aisles,” as they used to say.
I hope, finally, that they mention that clown’s name to my grandkids and insist theyÂ watch and, now, more than ever, listen to the words of Red Skelton’s “Pledge of Allegiance.”Â Skelton died at 84, 13 years ago.Â It’s in my grandkids’ interests, in all our interests, that if we don’t remember his name we remember what he believed.Â