Red Skelton saved MAS*H star Jamie Farr’s comedy career countless times. From inspiring Farr to pursue comedy through his movies and TV appearances to giving him his first big break. But it was the last time, the time when Farr needed help the most, that Skelton was there.
Farr grew up in Toledo, Ohio, learning from the greats.
“Jack Benny, Burns and Allen, Bob Hope and — best of all — Red Skelton. I was so crazy about him, he told the Toledo Star. “When his movie of DuBarry Was a Lady came to our movie theatre I broke open my piggy bank to get the 12 cents I needed to see it. I didn’t tell my Mom. I sat through it twice and got a spanking when I got home.”
He fell in love with films and television. So much so, that his parents cashed in their war bonds to and him Pasadena Playhouse in California. Their dream for him was to take over the family store, but his family understood his passion.
He did well in California, landing a role in No Time for Sergeants, which also starred Andy Griffith and Don Knotts. But once that ended, he found himself desperate for any job.
“There weren’t a lot of roles for short Lebanese guys with giant schnozzes,” he joked.
Red Skelton’s writers however had written a character with a big nose who could smell anything. Farr remembers auditioning for Skelton at his Bel-Air Mansion.
“Red took one look at me and asked ‘Was your mother scared by an anteater?’ Like they say in Casablanca, it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
M*A*S*H Star Said Hollywood Has a Short Memory
After serving his two years in the Army, Farr found a chilly reception back in Hollywood. He couldn’t find work, so he decided he’d give up and move back home.
“That’s how fast they forget you in this business. I didn’t want to bother Red, but after months of trying to get a job and failing, I dropped by to see him before I went back home to Toledo.
“He took one look at me and said ‘Oh, my God, you’re not leaving! You have a little bag that says Doctor of Comedy on it. You’re employed by me.’”
Skelton took him in and helped him get casts on some shows, but Farr was still struggling to make ends meet. Until 1972 when MAS*H producers called. They had a character who was trying to get out of the military and sent back home by wearing women’s clothes. The role was supposed to be for one episode. It ended up lasting 11 years.
Farr made Corporal Max Klinger a beloved character on MAS*H. And Farr was too funny to let go. When the show finally ended in 1983, only Alan Alda and Loretta Switt had been in more episodes than Farr, who appeared in 215 episodes.