Ike Murphy first saw Red Skelton as he waved to crowds gathered downtown during a parade in 1963.
As his convertible rounded the corner onto Main Street, something about the vibrant comedian took hold of a young Ike Murphy, and there began a more than 50-year infatuation.
“I just really enjoyed Red,” Murphy said with a wide smile. “I watched his movies, listened to his radio shows, all of that.
“The man is just marvelous,” he said with a chuckle and a shake of his head. “Movies, painting — what can't he do?”
Over the years, Murphy, now 86, has acquired a number of collector's items, everything from lithographs to sculptures and brightly-colored plates featuring all of Skelton's famous characters. His collection also includes books, TV and movie posters, a set of plastic Halloween-type masks, and even a navy blue tuxedo.
Murphy, a Vincennes native and Korean War veteran, gave a portion of his collection to the late Phillip Summers, a leader in the push to add the Red Skelton Performing Arts Center to the Vincennes University campus, in 2011 in the hope that it would someday be a part of the Red Skelton Museum of American Comedy, which didn't open to the public until two years later.
And a portion of it is now finally on display as part of its inaugural Gift of Giving exhibition.
“We have a lot of people like Ike who were big Red collectors, mainly during the 1980s,” said Anne Pratt, the museum's director of marketing. “Every day we get calls from people who have his things.
“Many of them aren't suitable for our everyday collection [because] we simply don't have the space,” Pratt said “So the Gift of Giving concept is meant to honor those donors who have so generously given of their collections to the museum.”
Pratt said they hope to host a new Gift of Giving exhibition annually to allow Vincennes' residents an opportunity to better connect with the museum.
“I think this is going to be a good thing for the museum, I think it will create a lot of interest,” Pratt said. “It keeps the museum fresh. We have a lot of members, and we want our members to revisit the museum. We want those who have already been here to visit again, and exhibits like this gives them more to see.
“And it brings out more aspects of Red's life, ones that can't always be on display,” she said.
The exhibition opens today and will run through Feb. 4, 2018.