Submitted by Karl Breckenridge
We take you now to Sparks, where Red Skelton is appearing in the Circus Room of the Nugget, and yours truly is the room announcer. (Bill Ruff was the principal announcer and Ed Smith, the ol’ redhead, was second banana. I came along as third and Ruff’s and Smith’s resounding voice made mine sound like Donald Duck.) But no matter – onward:
The year I’ll peg as 1966 and explain that later. Red was involved with the audience as Klem Kadiddlehopper, his beloved clown persona. But wait – another clown in professional makeup, clothing, big eyes on a stage-makeup white face and a big red nose, enters the stage from center rear!
Skelton/Kadiddlehopper is clearly bemused. The intercom is crackling between me – seated at the audio console low and to the left of center stage – and the light booth, high above the rear of the room. “Who the hell is that?” That question is being asked all over the room, husband-to-wife, or wife-to-husband: “Who is he?”
One by one all in the room over age 10 realize who “he” is, the most popular clown in the land, and slowly the room falls as silent as I ever heard it. The audience, and I suspect Skelton, were mesmerized.
Clowns don’t speak; we all know that. And the two, with their four large floppy shoes toe-to-toe examined each other, circling around with no expression on their faces for what seemed like five minutes, but our tape actually revealed as 68 seconds.
Finally, the intruding clown held up his hand, palm toward Kadiddlehopper, and waved at him, moving only his fingers from their MC joint with his hand. Kadiddlehopper waved back – similarly – in one of the most touching scenes ever to hit the Circus Room. Clowns are by nature sad, you know, and at this point the intruder feigned sadness as he swept a tear from his eye with his hand, at the prospect of their imminent parting.
I’d say everyone in the house that night had already a tear in their eye at these two classic men’s antics. Heck, I’m glistening a bit as I type this on Sunday morning…
The intruder left the same way as he came; all the while one could have heard a pin drop in the Circus Room. Skelton finally stood on the stage alone – motionless. He walked off, shaking his head, with a slight wave to the audience.
Shortly I was handed a note: “Would you please announce that Mr. Skelton will not be returning to the stage, and thank the audience for joining us tonight?” (He was fine at the later cocktail show.) I still have that note…
Emmett Kelly was America’s favorite clown. He had closed his show at Harrah’s Tahoe the night before and decided to drop in on his buddy Red Skelton (Skelton had opened Harrah’s South Shore Room on January 1, 1960). Apparently only three souls knew that he’d be joining Kadiddlehopper on stage: Kelly’s makeup man, somebody on the Nugget staff who opened the stage door (and no one took much time to investigate!), and Emmett Kelly himself.
The year 1966? The only year Emmett Kelly played the South Shore Room when Skelton was at the Nugget. And the night and the event? Sixty-eight seconds evocative of the culture between casinos in 1966: humans, not corporations, owning them – Bill Harrah saying to Emmett Kelly, (if Kelly even asked him), “Sure – do it – Ascuaga will get a big kick out of it!”
Thanks for reading this; see y’all back here tomorrow. We’ll let the text take us somewhere else. Be safe, huh?
Karl Breckenridge was slowly going nuts. So he decided to help out This is Reno by writing a daily out-of-his-mind column for the duration of the coronavirus shutdown. Now that it’s over he’s back to his usual antics, drinking coffee with the boys at the Bear and, well, we’re not sure what else. But he loved sharing his daily musings with you, so he’s back, albeit a little less often, to keep on sharing. Karl grew up in the valley and has stories from the area going back to 1945. He’s been writing for 32 years locally.
Read more from Karl Breckenridge
Karl’s pal Jody shares the rich history of bootlegging, decorating, and engineering within the confines of the Truckee River’s banks and its picturesque islands.
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