Remember Red Skeleton, the comedian who introduced the clown, Freddie the Freeloader, on his television show in 1952? Born Richard Bernard Skelton on July 18th, 1913, in Vincennes, Indiana, he died on September 17th, 1997, at the age of eighty-four in Rancho Mirage, California. He worked in radio, television, and films in both live and recorded performances from 1937 to 1981. He also pursued a separate career as an artist. He won several Emmy awards, and in 1989, he was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame. To learn more about him, click here.
I didn’t know any of this when I attended my monthly Range Writers meeting last Saturday. We did a group exercise where we each wrote something about Freddie the Freeloader. Everyone else in the group was familiar with Red Skeleton and Freddie the Freeloader, and most wrote about their memories. One woman said her grandfather wouldn’t let her watch the Red Skeleton show at first because he thought it was a horror flick. Being out of the loop and not having done any research, this is what I wrote, much to everyone else’s amusement.
Freddie the Freeloader tried to get as much as he could without paying. In his mid seventies, too young for the Korean War and too old for the Vietnam War, he paid his debt to society by doing carpentry, plumbing, and other odd jobs for people and charging an arm and a leg. He somehow managed to get away without paying property or income taxes. Like the Federales in that song about Pancho and Lefty, the government could have prosecuted him but looked the other way instead.
Freddie visited the local soup kitchen daily for lunch, although he wasn’t homeless and could afford to eat in restaurants or prepare his own meals. He also paid close attention to service notices in the local newspaper. When refreshments or lunch was served after a funeral, he was there. “I went to school with your daddy a long time ago,” he told some grieving daughter. “I remember the times in high school when we dragged Main Street. I drove my Model T Ford, and your daddy stuck his bare butt out the window.”
How did he find out about the funerals? He got his newspapers for free. Every afternoon, he wandered into the local news stand downtown after the papers were delivered there. When no one was looking, he picked up a copy and walked out.
Freddie occasionally went to a nice restaurant in the evening. He ordered an expensive dinner and after eating it told the waiter he couldn’t pay. The manager was obligated to call the police and have him arrested. Freddie spent a few days in jail which was no problem for him since it gave him three meals a day and a place to sleep. After a court appearance, the judge dismissed the charges out of the goodness of his heart.
Freddie had no family in town. His wife died several years earlier, and his children and other relatives were scattered across the country and rarely called or visited him. Because he knew he wouldn’t be able to get free medical care, he rarely saw a doctor. Needless to say, he left this world peacefully one night after brushing his teeth and getting into bed. Despite his stinginess, many people came to his funeral. Someone said, “I remember driving my Model T Ford down Main Street while Freddie stuck his bare butt out the window.”