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Published: Friday, 3/19/2004

Performer pays homage to Red Skelton

Tom Mullica recreats Red Skelton. Tom Mullica recreats Red Skelton.
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A single meeting with the late funny man Red Skelton almost 25 years ago changed performer Tom Mullica's entertainment career forever.

"He was my friend. I first met him when I was doing a magic show in Atlanta. I told him once that I would love to do a show in [his] honor .●.●. he was flattered," said Mullica.

The Wisconsin-reared performer will bring his one-man "Red Skelton: A Performance Tribute by Tom Mullica" to the Ritz Theatre, 30 S. Washington St., Tiffin, for a 2 p.m. show Tuesday.

Mullica met Skelton, who died at age 84 in 1997, in 1980 at an Atlanta nightclub he owned called the Tom-foolery Magic Bar Theatre. The late performer, known for his radio, television, and stage performances and various characters, liked Mullica's performance and encouraged him to change his act to a cleaner version.

Mullica, a magician by trade, said that, "As a kid, I was brought up with that style of humor. And when people saw me perform they always compared me to Red Skelton. We have the same facial expressions. Before I met him, people said I acted like him, and we have the same body frame."

Mullica, who was born in 1948, said Skelton was more than a mentor and became a father figure to him. Skelton's son, born the same year as Mullica, died at 9 of leukemia.

Skelton, Indiana-born son of a former circus clown, began performing at the age of 10 for a traveling medicine show, and later developed his act to include performances as a clown and minstrel.

Skelton is best known for his characters Clem Kaddiddlehopper, Freddie the Freedloader, Willie Lump Lump, Sheriff Deadeye, Bolivar Shagnasty, San Fernando Red, Cauliflower McPugg, and Junior The Mean Widdle Kid.

Mullica said his tribute performance, which includes some of those characters, is reminiscent of Skelton's later years in the entertainment business.

"My show looks like the way he performed during his concert years when he was traveling to state fairs, casinos, and hotels, during that time of his career that was in the 1950s and '60s," Mullica said.

The entertainer said what he cherishes most about the memory of his famous friend was his humility.

"He was a humanitarian and gave to so many worthy causes. He wasn't a Hollywood party-goer. He was a regular guy, even though he was a celebrity." said Mullica.

"Red Skelton: A Performance Tribute by Tom Mullica" is scheduled at 2 p.m. Tuesday at the Ritz Theatre, 30 S. Washington St., Tiffin. Tickets range from $12 to $16 and are available by phone at 419-448-8544 or online at www.ritztheatre.org.

Contact Rhonda B. Sewell at: rsewell@theblade.com

or 419-724-6101.

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