A little more than 50 years ago one of the most inspiring statements for all Americans came from the creative mind of a Vincennes native. The message lasted a mere 3 minutes and 57 seconds, but it has made an undeniable influence on the patriotism of millions and generations since its first broadcast over network television.
Red Skelton presented his interpretation of “The Pledge of Allegiance” in a segment of his award-winning TV show, “The Red Skelton Hour,” on Jan. 14, 1969. The monologue immediately sent the telephones ringing off the hook at the CBS network offices as more than 200,000 requests for Red’s view of the pledge came in the next couple of days.
The astonishing demand encouraged CBS to release Red’s words on a single for Columbia Records in March 1969. The reverse or “B” side of the 45 rpm record carried Red’s poem, “The Circus.”
The record spent six weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 music charts after its March 15, 1969, debut, and peaked at No. 44 on April 12. The recording went to No. 25 on the Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary charts the same day.
Lost in many of the early reports on Red’s interpretation is the fact Skelton composed the music heard in the background. The tune appropriately is entitled, “Red’s White and Blue March.”
“Red’s Pledge,” the nickname given to both the rendition and record early on, has been read into the Congressional Record and presented at the White House. Several internet sources reported the Skelton TV broadcast of the Pledge received more than one million views in the days following the attacks of 9/11.
“The Pledge of Allegiance” is a grand part of Red’s legacy and now you have the opportunity to join this heritage in a small way through an invitation from the Red Skelton Museum of American Comedy. The museum is hoping to set a world record for the most people saying “The Pledge of Allegiance” at the same time on June 16 at 2 p.m., in the Red Skelton Performing Arts Center on the Vincennes University campus.
The event, which is dubbed “Red Skelton and The American Flag,” includes presentations on proper flag etiquette, fun flag information plus free admission to the museum. Children will have the chance to take in a free interactive patriotic exhibit as well.
You can sign up online for the world record effort at RedSkeltonMuseum.org or call 812-888-4184 for more information.
The occasion continues the museum’s 50th anniversary celebration called “Year of the Pledge.” The remembrance includes a special exhibit featuring artifacts, news articles, communications from prominent Americans and the letter to his second wife, Georgia, or “Little Red,” in which Red first wrote his rendition of the Pledge.
The letter is dated Sept. 1, 1967, and contains almost verbatim the eventual broadcast language concerning the word interpretations:
Dear Little Red,
Since I was a small boy, I have been listening to Americans recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the United States. Of late, it seems as though it is becoming monotonous to those who recite it. Could it be we do not really understand fully the meaning of each word?
They (words) are filled with a depth of reason, the sum of all intended to make us proud that we are Americans.
Red continues in the correspondence to break down the words of the Pledge and add his meaning to each one. The letter’s contents nearly match the recitation Red gave on his 1969 show with a few major exceptions.
There is no mention of his teacher, James S. Lasswell, or Red making himself a spectator in the Pledge narrative.
Within months following the TV broadcast, Red gave an interview to local radio reporter Howard Greenlee Jr. of WAOV in Vincennes to discuss the rendition and it revealed a reason for the differences. Red stated he inserted Lasswell and himself as a youth listening to the teacher into the monologue to give it more weight because he feared some viewers would not think a comedian such as him could have written those powerful words.
Red wanted the full meaning of the words to truly resonate with his audience and felt it best at the time that they be attributed to a respected, life-long educator such as Lasswell.
Also, Red referred to 50 states and not 48 in his note and did not include the phrase, “under God,” in the list of interpretations. Obviously, Red had to change the script to 48 states to fit into the narrative he created with Mr. Lasswell, but there is no explanation in the letter for leaving out the latter phrase.
The letter to Georgia ended with the main reason Red thought of these words and how he might deliver them to the public someday.
“I think I should read this on my show. I feel it is much needed. It might help combat Russia and Hitler’s beliefs that America will be conquered from within,” he wrote.
Red penned and later spoke these patriotic words to impact all Americans more than five decades ago but now, Skelton fans, it is your time to dood it.
Doug Carroll can be reached at email@example.com.