Red Buttons

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Red Buttons
Red Buttons - 1959.jpg
Buttons in 1959
Born Aaron Chwatt
(1919-02-05)February 5, 1919
New York City, New York, U.S.
Died July 13, 2006(2006-07-13) (aged 87)
Century City, Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Occupation Actor, comedian
Years active 1935–2006
Spouse(s) Roxanne Arlen (m. 1947–49)
Helayne McNorton (m. 1949–63)
Alicia Prats (m. 1964–2001)

Red Buttons (born Aaron Chwatt; February 5, 1919 – July 13, 2006) was an American comedian and Academy Award winning actor.

Early life[edit]

Red Buttons was born Aaron Chwatt[1] on February 5, 1919, in New York City, to Jewish immigrants Sophie (née Baker) and Michael Chwatt.[2][3] At sixteen years old, Chwatt got a job as an entertaining bellhop at Ryan's Tavern in City Island, Bronx. The combination of his red hair and the large, shiny buttons on the bellhop uniforms inspired orchestra leader Charles "Dinty" Moore to call him "Red Buttons," the name under which he would later perform.

Later that same summer, Buttons worked on the Borscht Belt;[1] his straight man was Robert Alda. Red Buttons was working at the Irvington Hotel in South Fallsburg, New York, when the Master of Ceremonies became incapacitated, and he asked for the chance to replace him. In 1939, Buttons started working for Minsky's Burlesque; in 1941, José Ferrer chose Buttons to appear in a Broadway show The Admiral Had a Wife. The show was a farce set in Pearl Harbor, and it was due to open on December 8, 1941. It never did, as it was deemed inappropriate after the Japanese attack. In later years, Buttons would joke that the Japanese only attacked Pearl Harbor to keep him off Broadway.

Career[edit]

In September 1942, Buttons made his Broadway debut in Vickie with Ferrer and Uta Hagen. Later that year, he appeared in the Minsky's show Wine, Women and Song; this was the last classic Burlesque show in New York City history, as the Mayor La Guardia administration closed it down. Buttons was on stage when the show was raided.

Drafted into the United States Army Air Forces, Buttons in 1943 appeared in the Army Air Forces' Broadway show Winged Victory, along with several future stars, including Mario Lanza, John Forsythe, Karl Malden and Lee J. Cobb. A year later he appeared in Darryl F. Zanuck's movie version of Winged Victory, directed by George Cukor. Buttons also entertained troops in the European Theater in the same unit as Mickey Rooney.

After the war, Buttons continued to do Broadway shows. He also performed at Broadway movie houses with the Big Bands. In 1952, Buttons received his own variety series on television, The Red Buttons Show," which ran for three years, and achieved high levels of success. In 1953, he recorded and had a two-sided hit with Strange Things Are Happening/The Ho Ho Song, with both sides/songs essentially being the same.

His role in Sayonara was a dramatic departure from his previous work. In that film, co-starring with Marlon Brando, he played Joe Kelly, an American airman stationed in Kobe, Japan during the Korean War, who marries Katsumi, a Japanese woman (played by Miyoshi Umeki), but is barred from taking her back to the United States. His moving portrayal of Kelly's calm resolve not to abandon the relationship, and the touching reassurance of Katsumi, impressed audiences and critics alike; both he and Umeki won supporting actor and actress Academy Awards for the film.

Buttons as Henry Phyfe.

After his Oscar-winning role, Buttons performed in numerous feature films, including the Africa adventure Hatari! with John Wayne, the war epic The Longest Day, the biopic Harlow, the disaster film The Poseidon Adventure, the dance-marathon drama They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, the family comedy Pete's Dragon, the disaster film When Time Ran Out with Paul Newman and the age-reversal comedy 18 Again! with George Burns.

In 1966, Buttons again starred in his own TV series, a spy spoof called The Double Life of Henry Phyfe, which ran for one season. Buttons also made many memorable guest television appearances on programs including The Eleventh Hour, Little House on the Prairie, It's Garry Shandling's Show, ER and Roseanne. His last regular role was as a homeless man on CBS' Knots Landing.

He became a nationally recognizable comedian, and his "Never Got A Dinner" routine was a standard of The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast for many years. He was number 71 on Comedy Central's list of the 100 Greatest Stand-Ups of All Time.

Buttons received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for television, his star being located at 1651 Vine Street.

Personal life[edit]

Buttons married actress Roxanne Arlen in 1947, but it soon ended in divorce. He married Helayne McNorton on December 8, 1949, and they divorced 1963. His last marriage was to Alicia Pratt, and lasted from January 27, 1964, until her death in March 2001. Buttons had two children, Amy Buttons and Adam Buttons. He was the advertising spokesman for the Century Village, Florida, retirement community.

Buttons was an early member of the Synagogue for the Performing Arts, and at the time, Rabbi Jerome Cutler was the Rabbi.[4]

Death[edit]

Red Buttons died of complications from high blood pressure on July 13, 2006, at his home in Century City, Los Angeles. He had been ill for a while and was with family members when he died. His ashes were given to his family after cremation.[1]

Filmography[edit]

Buttons in 1978
Year Title Role Notes
1947 Winged Victory Whitey/Andrews Sister as Cpl. Red Buttons
1947 13 Rue Madeleine Second Jump Master uncredited
1951 Footlight Varieties Himself
1957 Sayonara Airman Joe Kelly Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture
Nominated—BAFTA Award for Most Promising Newcomer
1958 Imitation General Cpl. Chan Derby
1959 The Big Circus Randy Sherman
1961 One, Two, Three MP sergeant uncredited
1962 Hatari! Pockets
1962 Five Weeks in a Balloon Donald O'Shay
1962 The Longest Day Pvt. John Steele
1962 Gay Purr-ee Robespierre voice
1963 A Ticklish Affair Uncle Cy
1964 Your Cheatin' Heart Shorty Younger
1965 Up from the Beach Pfc. Harry Devine
1965 Harlow Arthur Landau Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture
1966 Stagecoach Peacock
1969 The Moviemakers Himself short subject
1969 They Shoot Horses, Don't They? Sailor Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture
1971 Who Killed Mary What's 'Er Name? Mickey
1972 The Poseidon Adventure James Martin
1975 The New Original Wonder Woman (pilot) Ashley Norman
1976 Gable and Lombard Ivan Cooper
1977 Viva Knievel! Ben Andrews
1977 Pete's Dragon Hoagy Nominated—Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor
1978 Movie Movie Peanuts/Jinks Murphy
1978 The Users Warren Ambrose TV movie
1979 C.H.O.M.P.S. Bracken
1979 Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July Voice of Milton
1980 When Time Ran Out Francis Fendly
1985 Alice in Wonderland The White Rabbit
1988 18 Again! Charlie
1990 The Ambulance Elias Zacharai
1994 It Could Happen to You Walter Zakuto
1999 The Story of Us Arnie Jordan
2001 Odessa or Bust The Old Man short subject
2004 Goodnight, We Love You documentary
2005 Sid Bernstein Presents... Himself documentary

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Comedian Red Buttons dies at 87. BBC News. 14 July 2006.
  2. ^ "Motion Pictures". Encyclopaedia Judaica. Keter Publishing House. 1971–1972. 
  3. ^ http://www.filmreference.com/film/55/Red-Buttons.html
  4. ^ http://www.forward.com/articles/8150/ The Forward

External links[edit]