Red Buttons died Thursday, July 13, 2006. He was 87.
Buttons was born lucky. He was born on the lower east side of
Manhattan in that miracle square mile that gave show business Fanny
Brice, Eddie Cantor, George Burns, Jimmy Durante, George Gershwin, to
name a few.
age seven, Red (who was really Aaron Chwatt, and whose nickname was
"Irish" because of his red hair, blue eyes and a green sweater
which he wore in his public school graduation) could be seen performing
on street corners for pennies. The act at that time consisted of singing
the popular songs of the day his boyish alto voice was a natural
for choirs, and Red sang in the celebrated Coopermans Choir for three
years with the then world famous Cantor Joseph "Yussele"
At age twelve, Red worked every amateur contest he
could enter. The Depression was on thick and heavy, and a five dollar
first prize was a bonanza. At age sixteen, while he was still attending
Evander Childs High School in the Bronx, Red auditioned for and got the
job as an entertaining bell hop at a tavern called Ryan's in City
Island, New York. The red hair and the bell hop's uniform with all those
buttons inspired Dinty Moore, the world renowned orchestra leader, to
dub our hero Red Buttons a perfect name for the times
there being very few performers with names like Aaron Chwatt.
summer, Red Buttons worked his first job in the Catskills (that
great training ground that gave us, among others, Danny Kaye, Robert
Merrill, Moss Hart, Jerry Lewis, etc.,) at the Beerkill Lodge for one
dollar fifty per week plus room and board. His straight man was Robert
Alda, whose wife was pregnant with Alan.
In 1939, Red went to work for Minsky, the youngest
burlesque comedian in the business. He billed himself as the "Only
Burlesque Comedian With All His Own Teeth." In 1941, Jose Ferrer
plucked Red out of burlesque for his first Broadway show, "The
Admiral Had A Wife." The show was supposed to open on December 8,
1941, but it never did.
The show was a farce comedy about Pearl Harbor great
In 1942, Red Buttons did "Vicki" on
Broadway with Jose Ferrer and Uta Hagen. Also, in 1942, Red appeared in
"Wine, Woman and Song" for Minsky. This was the last burlesque
show in New York City since the La Guardia administration was determined
to close it. Red was on stage when the place was raided. In 1943,
Buttons, now in the Army Air Corp., was chosen for a role in Moss Hart's
"Winged Victory." First he did the Broadway show, and then the
motion picture for Darryl Zanuck with George Cukor directing.
When "Winged Victory" disbanded, Red joined
Mickey Rooney's outfit in France, and together with Mickey, entertained
the troops all through the European Theater of Operations during World
War II. Red had the honor to perform at the Potsdam Conference and was
among the first troops to enter Berlin. After the service, Red did two
more Broadway shows George Abbott's "Barefoot Boy with
Cheek" with Nancy Walker, and Michael Kidd's "Hold It."
From 1948 to 1952, Red Buttons played the
Broadway movie houses with the big bands the Paramount, the
Loew's State, etc.; the cafe circuit The Copa, Latin Quarter,
etc.; television guest shots The Milton Berle Texaco Hour,
Cavalcade of Stars, and more. In 1952, came "The Red Buttons
Show" on CBS. A smash! He won the Academy of Radio and
Television Arts and Sciences Award (which later became the Emmy) as
"Best Comedian of 1953." The series lasted three years, the
last season on NBC.
In 1956, Red did "A Midsummer Night's Dream"
with Basil Rathbone and Leopold Stokowski directing a new score written
by Carl Orff. 1957 brought the film "Sayonara" with Marlon
Brando, and Josh Logan directing. In 1958 Red won the Best Supporting
Actor for "Sayonara" and the Golden Globe Award for Best
A movie career followed with "Imitation
General" with Glenn Ford, "The Big Circus," "Hatari!"
with Howard Hawks and John Wayne, Darryl Zanuck's "The Longest
Day," a cameo in Billy Wilder's "One, Two, Three",
"A Ticklish Affair," "Your Cheating
Heart," "Gay Puree" with Judy Garland, "Five Weeks
In a Balloon," "Up From the Beach," "Harlow"
(for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting
Actor), "Stagecoach" (the remake), "They Shoot Horses
Don't They?" (for which he received another Golden Globe Award
Nomination for Best Supporting Actor) with Jane Fonda, "The
Poseidon Adventure," "Gable and Lombard," "Movie,
Movie" with George C. Scott, "Viva Knievel," "When
Time Ran Out," "Off Your Rocker," "Reunion at
Fairborough" with Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr, "The
Ambulance" with Eric Roberts and James Earl Jones, and "18
Again" with George Burns.
In 1966, Red Buttons did the ABC television series,
"The Double Life of Henry Phyfe." He guested on
every major television show Ed Sullivan, Andy Williams, Dinah
Shore, Perry Como, Redd Foxx, Eddie Fisher, Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin,
Mike Douglas, Bill Cosby Show, and Dean
Martin Roasts (where he did his famous "Never Got a Dinner"
routine). Dramatic shows included "Playhouse 90," "U.S.
Steel," "Studio One," "General Electric,"
"Knotts Landing," and the Emmy Award winning
Specials included "Louis Armstrong, Chicago
Style" with Ben Vereen, "Telethon Power," "Leave 'Em
Laughing" with Mickey Rooney, "The Users," and
"George Burns 95th Birthday Special." Red was a frequent guest
star in the gambling palaces of Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe, Reno and Atlantic
City. He wrote and recorded a children's album of poems on the Golden
Record label entitled "Poems for My Daughter and Other Little
People, Love Daddy."
Red Buttons has a star on Hollywood and Vine
full circle for a ghetto kid who started by entertaining on street
corners. Red Buttons was honored by The City of Hope
"Spirit of Life" Award, the Eddie Cantor Foundation's
"Suzie" Award, the Friar's Club "Lifetime
Achievement" Award, and the Junior Achievement Award for his
contributions to all causes.
Red Buttons will be missed!
Born: in New York
in New York
Feb 5, 1919
in Los Angeles
Jul 13, 2006