Skiles and Henderson
Skiles and Henderson were the comedy team of Bill Skiles and Pete Henderson.
William Al Skiles (July 5, 1931 – May 16, 2011) and Pete Henderson (born 1938) met in 1953. Bill, born in San Antonio, Texas, had just been released from the Air Force while Pete was a sophomore in high school. Bill formed a small dance combo which Henderson joined, playing bass fiddle.
Skiles was the clown and Henderson the straight man, so when Bill started doing goofy things on the bandstand, Pete would egg him on. In 1955 Pete left for college at USC where he pursued his own musical endeavors, and Bill spent a year as part of a vocal quartet called The Jolly Rogers that made a small splash in the Tropicana lounge in Las Vegas.
Bill wasn't happy as a musician and in the summer of 1956 he persuaded Pete (still at Southern Cal) to audition with him for a job at Disneyland doing a show demonstrating homemade instruments to kids in Frontierland. Bill's father had built and played these same instruments with his vaudeville band, The Bob Skiles Haywire Orchestra. Bill and Pete showed up in Frontierland dressed up as Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn and auditioned for Tommy Walker, the Disneyland entertainment director. He was approving of the act, but didn't have a slot for that kind of show.
By the summer of 1958 Pete had left school when his step-dad died and began working in a show band for Disneyland DateNites, playing bass. After finishing a round of golf one day with Skiles, Bill offered to drive Pete out to Disneyland to pick up some of Pete's paperwork in the entertainment office. Bill started clowning around for the secretaries and Tommy Walker suddenly peered out at them from his office door. Even after two years he still remembered the name - "Is that Skiles and Henderson?" he asked. Then he went on to describe a new stage called the Plaza Gardens that might be right for the duo. They re-auditioned there the next day, were hired and began their long career on 13 June 1958.
Their 20-minute show wasn't all music, although the musical tire pump and the tin can xylophone and the tuned skillets and musical saw and washtub bass were a large part of the act. They starting working new material into their show lampooning the various "lands" comprising the park. Frontierland, Adventureland and Tomorrowland all were grist for the Skiles and Henderson mill. Sound effects became important to their style and remain so today.
At the end of their first summer at the park their workload was reduced to weekends only. They were asked to participate in a new program called Tour Guides but that only lasted a short time for them. By the summer of '59 they were leading their own DateNite band in Frontierland and still had their day job in the park. But it was time to move on to the real world.
The team began working in night clubs in late 1959 in a small bar (The Sportsman) in Newport Beach with a hired pianist, Pete on bass and Bill on an abbreviated drum set. After adding a trumpet player and girl singer they moved on to the lounges of Las Vegas, playing at the Golden Nugget when it was strictly a western venue. They went on to tour the West Coast in various locations from San Diego to Bakersfield to Seattle.
By the middle of 1960 they were once again a duo, at a lounge in Newport Beach, The Villa Marina. After four-and-a-half months at the Villa, they opened at Harrah's lounge in Lake Tahoe, bouncing from there back to the Villa, to Reno, to Tahoe to Elko, Nevada and then, in August, 1961, to Melbourne, Australia. By this time Bill had married his first wife, Marilyn, and had a son, William Stacy Skiles.
During their stay Down Under they worked nightly at an upscale showroom called Mario's as the headline act and did two TV shows a week at station GTV 9. They were featured mostly on host Graham Kennedy's late-night show, In Melbourne Tonight, but also did the BP Super Show and a few others.
Disaster struck upon their return home that September when Pete was conscripted into the U.S. Army. Bill saw him off to Fort Ord and began two years surrounded by two musicians and a girl singer to replace Pete.
By the time Pete was released from the Service in 1963, Bill was divorced and remarried to his girl singer, Arlene Adams, and Pete was also married to his Army sweetheart, Brenda. They had a little girl, Paulette.
There followed a rather uncreative time on tour with Arlene doing vocals and another musician on bass and trombone with Pete on piano until Bill and Pete's old managers, Greif and Garris proposed to hire them to join The New Christy Minstrels, a well-known folk ensemble. They agreed as long as they didn't lose their identity as Skiles and Henderson and had their own portion of each concert to themselves. It was during this period that they discovered that they could be effective in front of large audiences and began to get some TV exposure on The Red Skelton Show, Bell Telephone Hour, The Today Show and others.
Upon their departure from the Christys, it was back to the lounges once again as a duo. Soon they found themselves back home ensconced in the lounge of a faux riverboat/restaurant/bar, The Rueben E. Lee in Newport Harbor. In the next few years their popularity soared in the Orange County area. From 1966 to 1968 they were a fixture on the showboat and during that time caught the attention of several important scouts. Their new manager, Ed Yelin got them a spot on The Dean Martin Show in 1967 which blossomed into eight appearances on the summer show Dean Martin's Goldiggers in 1968. In 1970 they did a 6-week tour of summer theaters in the East with Rowan and Martin and the then-unknown Lily Tomlin.
In their personal lives, Bill and Arlene had two new daughters, Shannon and Jennifer and Pete had remarried and had a son, Peter Jackson, AKA P.J., although that second marriage was unsuccessful after three years, ending in divorce.
The TV exposure enabled the duo to make the leap from lounges to showrooms in Vegas and Tahoe/Reno as a supporting act to such headliners as Trini Lopez, Andy Williams, Eddy Arnold, Roger Miller, Loretta Lynn, Don Ho and many others, working the big showrooms in Vegas at The Flamingo, Sahara, Caesar's Palace, Riviera and in Reno and Lake Tahoe at Harrah's. In addition the boys were still being offered TV spots on all the major variety shows of the day and a number of talk shows with hosts Merv Griffin, Johnny Carson, Steve Allen, Della Reese, Dinah Shore and just about everyone else who had a talk show in the 70's. They even co-hosted for a week with Mike Douglas.
In 1972, the duo started touring with The Carpenters, doing the first half of the singers' concerts and Pete singing in the Carpenter's "Oldies Medley" at the end of each concert. At this time they made a brief return to Disneyland as guests on the "Music" episode of the children's TV show The Mouse Factory, where they incorporated pie-in-the-face gags into a few of their comic acts.
The Skiles and Henderson itinerary began including charity functions. They participated in many golf tournaments hosted by Andy Williams, Dinah Shore, Bob Hope and others. They hosted their own celebrity tennis tourney for several years in the 70's.
In the 80's, the team continued on TV, personal appearances at corporate events and showrooms. By the 90's they were being featured on cruise ships, mainly Royal Caribbean, for four years and over 160 cruises, and in 1995 began several engagements in Branson, MO theaters. By 2009 they were still at it, doing comedy concerts from time to time all over the U.S.A. The team's last concert series was a 27-show marathon in March 2010 in Southern Arizona.
Skiles died at the age of 79 in St. Cloud, Florida in 2011. Pete Henderson is now performing with the revived New Christy Minstrels again, playing bass, piano and singing. He also contributes the occasional joke or funny routine.