Wes D. Gehring, professor of Film at Ball State University, is the author of twenty-eight books, many of which examine the lives of Hollywood legends. During his career, Gehring has written about the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, Joe E. Brown, Carole Lombard, W. C. Fields, and Charlie Chaplin.
Gehring's latest book is a biography of Hoosier comedian Red Skelton, Red Skelton: The Mask behind the Mask, recently released by the IHS Press. Here, he talks about the book and Skelton:
You’ve written about a number of famous film comedians, why did you select Red Skelton?
I am a big fan. And when Ball State University gave him an honorary doctorate, I was selected to give the keynote address. He liked it and we got together when he would play Ball State. Though I had written an earlier biography of Red, the wealth of new onformation in recently released private papers attracted me yet again to the comedian.
Was there something about Skelton that surprised you when you were researching your subject?
I was shocked by what I discovered about the true dysfunctional nature of his childhood family--and the elaborate fantasy background he created as a cover.
What was it about Skelton’s comedy that made him such a hit with fans?
Though his comic gift was huge, especially his poignant mime, his enthusiasm to please could sell even the most corny of gags. He was an oh-so-talented favorite uncle.
Does Skelton get the respect he deserves as a comedian?
Sadly, he does not. But part of it was because he always refused to make his television show available for syndication. His TV comedy legacy is as important as Lucille Ball and Jackie Gleason but while their reruns have been on non-stop since the 1950s, the under 40 crowd do not know Red.
What are you working on now?
I have a comic novel coming out in late November (The James Dean Murder Mystery), and a novelized Skelton memior set to appear in early 2009. I am currently researching a biography of Robert Wise, and writing a book about film comedians of the 1940s.