Red Skelton museum toasts 50th anniversary of his pledge
VINCENNES, Ind. (AP) — In September of 1967, Red Skelton wrote a letter to his then wife, Georgia — as he so often did — expressing some thoughts he had about patriotism.
On Jan. 14, 1969 — 50 years ago — he shared those thoughts with the world.
“That’s what I find really cool about this whole exhibit,” said Anne Pratt, director of marketing at the Red Skelton Museum of American Comedy. “We discovered this letter he wrote to Georgia where he essentially wrote down what he ended up saying a year-and-a-half later.
“He says to her, ‘I think I’d like to do this on my show. I think our country needs it right now.’”
The country was in the midst of turmoil surrounding the Vietnam War when Skelton recited his rendition of the Pledge of Allegiance on his popular TV show.
“He was upset about all the flag burning during the Vietnam War protests,” said Mark Kratzner, the museum’s curator and archivist. “Just before he did the Pledge, there had been a flag burning in Central Park.
“He was just really affected by how people were disrespecting the flag, and he wanted to remind people of the Pledge.”
The museum later this month will be unveiling a new exhibit centering around Red’s Pledge of Allegiance and all of the publicity that followed it. The collection features numerous awards and recognitions from veterans organizations like the American Legion and VFW as well as original records of the Pledge and Red’s own patriotic paintings.
The exhibit also includes a copy of his letter to Georgia as well as letters of appreciation sent to Red from congressmen and, the highlight of the exhibit, the original script from which he read when he recorded the Pledge in front of a live audience in December 1968.
The Pledge first aired when Skelton was in the prime of his career, Pratt said. His was an all-American TV show, one that prided itself on family values.
That year, in 1969, she said, the “Red Skelton Show,” which premiered in 1951, was at the top of the ratings charts, yet the world around him was changing, becoming ever-more volatile and political.
TV, Pratt said, was becoming edgier, which is why most people believe it was canceled just two years later.
But the Pledge gave Red’s fans a peek at a different side of his personality. While everyone knew him for his effortless comedic style, few knew just how patriotic he was.
And the Pledge solidified for fans his thoughts on the political climate.
“He was always a patriotic person,” Kratzner said. “And I think this showed people that. It showed them that he wasn’t always a jokester, that he thought about our country and the things that were happening in it.
“It was just a side of him that wasn’t always in the public eye.”
The pledge was read aloud to Congress four times in 1969 and another three times in the years that followed, Pratt said, including the day he died, Sept. 17, 1997.
Pratt is hopeful, she said, that members of Congress will publicly read it again for this, its 50th anniversary.
Museum officials will host a kick off celebration open to the public at 7 p.m. on Jan. 14.
The exhibit then officially opens on Jan. 15 and will remain open through Sept. 8.
Sponsoring this collection are both Niehaus Lumber and the Vincennes Tourism Bureau.
For more information and museum hours, visit the museum at its website at http://redskeltonmuseum.org/
Source: Vincennes Sun-Commercial