Carroll Calling

Doug Carroll

My good birthday buddy, Benjamin Franklin, once proclaimed the only two things certain in this life are death and taxes.

Since Ben first uttered those words of wisdom, others have pointed out a third item must be included and that is change. My dear wife probably agrees with this addition for almost all humans but me.

She on several occasions has remarked to others how living with me during our more than 35 years of wedded bliss has taught her there are only four things certain in life: death, taxes, change and me making a gushing, fawning reference to the late, great Richard “Red” Skelton every single day.

By the way, did you know, according to legendary Indiana author and newspaper reporter Fred D. Cavinder, the highest rating of all times for a television show by a Hoosier belongs to Red Skelton? His show of Feb. 1, 1966, claimed that spot in history with Red hosting guest George Gobel and the rock group, The Hollies.

See what the dear wife goes through daily? I may remark about Red in person, over the phone or by email or text message.

At least for her sake and the neighbors’ as well, I no longer use carrier pigeons.

I am sure she is rolling her eyes right now, if she’s reading this, and muttering, “Oh boy, not another column about Red Skelton.”

Don’t get me wrong, dear readers. My wife enjoys the comedy and achievements of the most famous native son of Vincennes and thinks he was wonderful, but she does not share what in her words is my obsession with Red.

Honestly, I cannot help myself.

Today Vincennes is celebrating his July 18 birthday with the annual Red Skelton Festival. Folks attending the activities at the Red Skelton Museum of American Comedy are learning more about why I admire and enjoy this Renaissance man so much for the legacy of comedy, art, writing, music, patriotism and compassion for his fellow man and woman which he left behind following his 1997 death.

Red Skelton’s humor and award-winning television show got me through difficult times growing up without a father in Lawrenceville, Illinois, and later Cleveland. My earliest recollection of Red Skelton is from around age seven when I watched his weekly television show with my paternal grandfather, Tom Carroll.

Most of those viewings came at Papaw Carroll’s house in St. Francisville, Illinois, on Tuesday nights. Even at such a tender age, I became a huge fan after realizing how Red Skelton’s humor transcended generations to make Papaw Carroll and me chuckle at the same jokes and silly characters.

Papaw preferred Freddie the Freeloader but I was more of a Clem Kadiddlehopper aficionado myself.

Plus, at age 13 I moved to Vincennes, my birthplace as well, and only then discovered Red and I shared that in common. The bond was sealed and led to my promise in a 1984 newspaper column to do what I could to keep the life and achievements of Red Skelton alive for future generations.

I am one of the fortunate ones who had the chance to meet Red more than once.

Our first meeting in February 1978 took place inside Red’s dressing room following his second show at the Bayfront Center Theater in St. Petersburg, Florida. The meeting overwhelmed my senses but showed me the gracious humility of Red Skelton.

Of course I was stunned to be in the presence of this great man and I believe Red noticed it right away. The only words I could muster were along the line of “it’s an honor to meet you Mr. Skelton.”

“No, no, just call me Red,” he said as he reached out to shake my hand.

His reply put me at ease and made the brief meeting so memorable. This is why I often refer to him simply as Red because it was his request and the first words he ever spoke to me.

By the way, did you know, uh, wait a second ... I have already done my gushing over Red for this column.

There are many traits and talents that one of America’s clowns used to lighten the load of daily life for all.

Red’s interpretation of the Pledge of Allegiance still gives me chills since I first heard it during his Jan. 14, 1969 TV broadcast. The words remain rousing in this, their 50th year, plus the fact Red’s rendition is based in part on his Vincennes boyhood makes it more personal to me.

His compassion toward children and others in need led him to both give and raise millions of dollars during his lifetime. His numerous charitable causes included Shriners hospitals, orphans and impoverished school children in his hometown.

All the aforementioned attributes and plenty more are why I believe the only things certain in my life are death, taxes, change and a daily remembrance of the lifetime of brilliance radiated by Richard Red Skelton.

Doug Carroll can be reached at

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