Funny how you can go to a doctor’s offices and find magazines that are years old in the lobby. I had to go to a dentist two week ago and found a Golf magazine from the 80’s. I also found a magazine that told me the following story:
Decades ago, a young American was flying across the mountain ranges of Europe on his way to London. Accompanying his friend, a Catholic priest, the two were scheduled to have a meeting with the Pope in England. As the priest talked, the plane suddenly rocked. Then rocked again.
Something told the priest the plane was not destined to ever touch
The passengers, busy in their individual conversations, failed to notice, the priest observed, until a flight attendant made an announcement of impending doom. The plane was over a mountain range and losing altitude.
As expected, panic set in.
The priest loosened his seat belt, realizing he had but minutes to offer last rites to any who might desire them. His young friend, Richard, sat motionless, staring at the seat before him. The priest went about his duties.
Then, all at once, reality hit Richard in the face and he noticed that behind his seat and to the right was a child, two children, several children. If indeed this was to be the last moments of their short lives, Richard determined, he would make sure the children never knew it.
The young American rose to his feet and started to make faces at the kids. Horrible faces, ugly faces. Most of the youngsters laughed, but one did not. This boy, about the age of 5, became Richard’s focus. Richard stuck his tongue out. So did the boy. Richard did it again, making an awful face. The boy imitated him.
As the priest delivered last rites, Richard kept the children amused. None of them knew the earth was rushing up to meet their craft in spikes of ancient stone.
Meanwhile, the pilot had been amazed that the plane had cleared most of the rough crags that reached for the skies. One lone mountaintop was left to clear; their fate waited on its other side. By inches, the plane cleared that last mountain. What lay on the other side was a large cow pasture with soft, rolling grasses. The craft slid in on a cushion provided by Mother Nature – rough, but not the landing the pilot and most of the passengers had imagined.
Certainly not what either the priest or Richard had expected.
Those young children never knew how close they had approached Heaven’s gates, nor did many of them ever know the young, auburn-haired performer who kept that knowledge from them miles above the earth.
His name was Richard but we knew him as Red Skelton.
Skelton’s show business career began in his teens as a circus clown and went on to vaudeville, Broadway, films, radio, TV, clubs and casinos. He was also known as a painter.
It was 10 years ago when Red Skelton took his Final Taxi on September 17th 1997.
I remember Red as a child in the late 60’s. The Red Skelton Show began in 1951 on NBC as a comedy-variety show and then moved to CBS and made the Nielsen Top Twenty, where it stayed until its end in 1970 when it was cancelled. In the early 1980s a series of superb performances at Carnegie Hall received critical praise and briefly thrust him back into the public spotlight, but since his show seldom re-ran and is not syndicated, it is easy to forget his popularity. Based on longevity and audience size, The Red Skelton Show was the second most popular show in TV history (Gunsmoke is first).
I was recently talking to a twenty –four year old about Skelton and he did not know who I was talking about. That was a shame.
When I saw the story about him distracting the children on the plane I want Final Taxi readers to remember America’s famous clown.