The Red Skelton Museum of American Comedy
Red Skelton is probably one of the most endearing American comics. Maintaining a simple brand of patriotic comedy, stemming from the clowning tradition, Skelton charmed audiences through live performance, radio, and television broadcasts. Skelton stood for the cultural values of his time, which, in turn, eventually ended his television career as beliefs shifted.
Skelton hailed from the small, rural town of Vincennes, Indiana. He was born in a small white flat to a mother, who he loved dearly. Skelton’s father passed away just two months prior to Skelton’s birth.
Recently, Vincennes has been bustling with activity in order to pay homage to its native son. As of July 2013, the Red Skelton Museum of American Comedy opened its doors in an exciting ceremony attended by several fans, Skelton’s widow, Lothian, and Skelton’s daughter, Valentina Skelton Alonso. The museum is located on the campus of Vincennes University, at 20 Red Skelton Boulevard.
Their hours are: Tuesday- Saturday 10:00-5:00, and Sunday Noon-5:00. Admission is $8 for Adults, $7 for Seniors, and $5 for students. However, if you become a member, you can score some additional perks and tickets. Plan accordingly! Unfortunately, the museum is not very GPS-friendly, as I wound up blocks away at Red Skelton Memorial Park. I recommend popping in the address for Vincennes University instead, which is 1002 N. First Street.
Though the museum is largely a tribute to Skelton, it also stands as a wealth of information on the history of American comedy. Visitors are seated in a miniature theater to view an extremely well done introductory documentary on Skelton, and where he was situated in the historical context of ever-evolving American comedy.
From there, visitors can mill through exhibits containing original costumes Skelton wore to portray his various characters on television. Each display is accompanied with footage that grants visitors background information on the character, as well as television highlights from that character’s career.
The Red Skelton Museum does an incredible job of telling Skelton’s story digitally, while also displaying amazing artifacts. There are many hands-on or interactive exhibits, which are amusing for both children and adults. Visitors can try on an assortment of fun hats, as Skelton claimed he could never completely understand one of his characters until he found the perfect hat.
Another exhibit that stands out uses a camera to take your photo, and then allows you to digitally apply clown make-up to your picture. When finished, the computer digitally transposes the clown make-up to your reflection in the mirror.
Best of all, the museum isn’t fully completed yet, as there are more interactive exhibits to come–namely, a designated place for fans to emulate Skelton and practice some pratfalls.
The museum also possesses an exhibit that details Skelton’s stance on retaining “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, which he recalled learning while still a boy in Vincennes.
Skelton’s museum celebrates his amazing life, and is a fitting tribute to this clown. The museum also details Skelton’s other interests aside from comedy, highlighting his own artistic skills and written work.
The Museum is in the same building as the Red Skelton Center for the Performing Arts, which holds Red’s tuxedo and several of his Emmys.
The building also possesses some original hand and footprints that were situated outside Charlie Chaplin’s Studios, which later became the Muppet Studios.
Just across the street from the museum, the home in which Skelton was born still stands. Although Red bought his mother a brand new home in California when he achieved acclaim, his family home was regarded as iconic by the town of Vincennes. The home has been purchased by Vincennes University, and there are plans to restore the home so that visitors may tour the building.
I highly encourage you to drop by Vincennes or visit the museum website to assist in their efforts to educate others about Skelton and preserve his history, as both a local claim to fame and national comedic icon.
Good luck, Red Skelton Museum!
–Annette Bochenek for Classic Movie Hub
Annette Bochenek is an independent scholar of Hollywood’s Golden Age and Travel Writer for Classic Movie Hub. You can read more about Annette’s Classic Movie Travels at Hometowns to Hollywood