Red Skelton Festival 2019 Day 1

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Vincennes, Indiana, is a town that proudly remembers one of the stars it produced–Red Skelton. While other stars such as Alvy Moore and Alice Terry were also born in the small railroad town, it is Red Skelton who continues to be the biggest draw to the town by film fans. In addition to housing the Red Skelton Museum of American Comedy (RSMAC), one of his boyhood homes, and a fresh historic marker for the home, among other points of interest, the RSMAC also organizes the Red Skelton Festival (RSF) every year in his birth month of July.

Though I visited Vincennes in the past, I was invited to introduce Du Barry Was a Lady (1943) at the RSF for 2019. During my initial trip to Vincennes, the RSMAC was newly-opened and has grown noticeably since then. Eager to revisit in order to update my entry, I was also able to enjoy and partake in the RSF activities.

Red Skelton Impersonator:

Much of my first day was spent on the road to Vincennes, with me aiming to attend the RSF kickoff event that evening. I checked in to the local bed and breakfast and headed for Vincennes University, where the RSMAC is housed. Once there, I made my way to the Red Skelton Performing Arts Center to view a performance by mime J.J. Jones and Red Skelton impersonator Brian Hoffman. Hoffman’s performance enchanted the audience as he took on various Skelton personas and offered a fitting tribute to this comedic legend. From various comedic characters to a profound Pledge tribute and acknowledgment of those who were in the service, Hoffman offered a multifaceted portrayal of Skelton that ended with a hearty “Goodnight and may God bless.”

As Hoffman’s act came to a close, he progressed to the auction portion of the evening, coordinated by RSMAC Executive Director, Anne Pratt. Here, an artist offered a wooden plaque featuring Skelton’s image to be auctioned as part of a fundraiser for the RSMAC. The bids rose in friendly competition until they were down to two bidders. Unlike auctions I have seen in the past, one of the bidders propositioned the artist to make a second copy if they matched the winning bid. The artist agreed, and both bidders left happy. The artist also gifted the RSMAC with a special plaque to be displayed at the museum.

Surely, as Skelton would have wanted, Hoffman took the time to get to know the attendees and pose for some pictures. I was able to chat with him, in addition to Skelton’s niece, Marvel Jean Skelton, who was also in attendance.

Red Skelton Performing Arts Center:

As the evening came to a close, I decided to tour the Red Skelton Performing Arts Center. The venue itself is an excellent gathering space but also features interesting exhibits in the lobby area. One that immediately caught my eye was Skelton’s footprints, in addition to Ed Wynn’s, and Charlie Chaplin’s. Chaplin also has a square that immortalizes his duck-like walk.

The lobby area also had an exhibit dedicated to Skelton’s return visit to Vincennes. One of my favorite items was a certificate in honor of the “I Went to School with Red Skelton” Club. As part of his home visit, he stopped by a Vincennes school and signed certificates for the children who were his “classmates” for the day.

After an enjoyable first day, I was ready for the following day of the RSF and excited to give my presentation.

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