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Collecting Red

One of the main features of the “Legacy of Laughter” exhibit opening next year will be the highly anticipated gallery of Red’s comedic characters. “Red’s Humor in Character” will feature displays on each of his well beloved characters: Clem Kadiddlehopper, George Appleby, San Fernando Red, Freddie Freeloader, Sheriff Deadeye and Cauliflower McPugg.  Preparing the exhibit has been the work of designer Steve Feldman and writer Debbie Van Buren.

Our artifact collections hold many incarnations of these characters from the two dimensional: photographs, sketches, creation notes, audio and video materials to three dimensional: clothing, props, puppets, statuettes, and artistic works. Each of these pieces conveys a sense of who the character was meant to represent. Red stated that many of his characters were based upon people that he knew, while others were archetypes. This approach to comedy transcended personal experience, allowing all audiences to appreciate his talent and message.

Beyond simple comic mirrors, Red’ characters teach us a great deal about popular culture. Cauliflower McPugg and Sheriff Deadeye speak to the popularity of boxing in the 1930s and spaghetti westerns in the 1950s, respectively.  The outlandish shenanigans of San Fernando Red, a con man and self promoter, reveal the unsavory side of politics as he reveals one get-rich-scheme after another.

Red’s characters presented a vast range of personalities, from the big hearted country bumpkin, Clem Kadiddlehopper to the lovable rogue, Freddie the Freeloader.  Each character was brought to life through a careful selection of costume choice, makeup, physical posture, facial expression, and voice. The fact that each distinctive character was played by the same man hearkens back to Red’s radio days when a single actor played an entire cast. The greatness of Red’s talent lies in his ability to transform himself from one character to another in an instant.

One final aspect of our archival collection of characters that helps round out Red’s story are the artistic works that Red’s characters inspired. We have dozens of sketches, paintings, figurines, and handicrafts that depict fan favorites. Most of these objects were sent to Red throughout his lifetime in order to express gratitude for the laughter he brought into peoples’ lives. The time commitment and devotion required to produce these artworks acts as testament to Red Skelton as a comedian and as a man. 

In 2010, the Red Skelton Museum Foundation entered into a partnership with the Indiana Historical Society (IHS) to create the IHS Red Skelton Research Archive, which includes archival material donated by Mrs. Lothian Skelton, other designated archival material from the Foundation, and a growing number of items that IHS separately acquires. IHS provides comprehensive archival collections management for the IHS Red Skelton Research Archive, including processing, conservation and preservation activities, and ultimately making the Archive accessible for research at the HistoryCenter. For more information on the Archive, contact the IHS's reference staff at (317) 234-0321 or reference@indianahistory.org.