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Buttons, Red
Written by Diana Saenger   
redbuttonsdrawposadven.jpgButtons A Beloved Comedian

Date of Birth: Feb. 5, 1919

Place of Birth: Manhattan, NY

Date of Death: July 13, 2006

Place of Death: Los Angeles, California

Cause of Death: vascular disease

Red Buttons, the red-headed and affable comedian who made television and film audiences laugh for more than 60 years, died July 13, 2006 at his home in Los Angeles, CA.

Buttons' heyday was in the 1950s when his show, The Red Buttons Show aired on CBS television on Friday nights. Buttons would offer his stand-up comedy, sometimes improving with his quick wit. Since it was family hour he usually had physical bits such as Sad Sack, Kupke Kid and the bumbling Keeglefarven to make the kids laugh or he would sing goofy songs. Paul Lynde, Bobby Sherwood, Pat Carroll and Joe Silver were some of the regular performances on the show.

The Academy award-winning actor and comedian was born Aaron Chwatt on Manhattan's Lower East Side to Michael and Sophie Chwatt.

Filled with a desire to perform, as a child Buttons would stand on street corners and sing to anyone who would listen. His job at age 16 as a waiter/singer at Dinty Moore's Tavern in the Bronx earned him the stage name Red Buttons - after his flaming red hair and the buttons on his uniform.

He soon took his street act to nightclubs and burlesque theaters, adding any burlesque type acts that would win him favor with the audience. He lucked out when he became the youngest comic to work the Jewish-friendly resorts in New York's Catskills Mountains. More luck came his way when he landed bit parts in Broadway plays such as Winged Victory in 1943, the same year he joined the Marine Corps. He also appeared in the film version one year later.

After his discharge, CBS hoped to find competition for rival network NBC's Milton Berlet Show and offered Buttons a contract for The Red Buttons Show. The show was a success and opened more doors in Hollywood. In 1957 Buttons went serious in his role as Airman Joe Kelly in the Korean War love story Sayonara

redbuttonssayonara.jpg
Red Buttons in Sayonara
that also starred Marlon Brando. Buttons won an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor for his performance.

In addition to being an actor, comedian and author, Buttons was also an ASCAP-member composer, penning songs such as "Strange Things Are Happening" and "The Ho-Ho Song," which often became part of his show.

More film roles followed, Imitation General (1958), The Longest Day (1962) and Harlow (1965) also starring Jean Harlow and for which Buttons was nominated for a Golden Globe. He earned another Golden Globe nomination for his role as a sailor in They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969).

During these years and many in the future, Buttons appeared in many TV roles or shows including The Double Life of Henry Phyfe (1966), The Danny Thomas Hour (1967), George M (1970), Wonder Woman,(1977), The Love Boat (1977), Knott's Landing (1979) and Cosby (1997). More than any other performance Buttons is best known to newer generations for his role as James Martin in The Poseidon Adventure (1972).

redbuttonsposadventure.jpg
Red Buttons in
Poseidon Adventure
A lonely haberdasher who gets the third degree by Belle (Shelly Winters) as to why he's not married, Buttons certainly helped the film win its eight Academy Awards nominations.

Buttons was married three times. He married actress Roxanne Arlen in 1947. He married Helayne McNorton in 1949. The couple divorced in 1963 with no children. In 1964 he married Alicia Prats until her death in 2001. The couple had two children, Amy and Adam.

Although he wasn't as active in his retirement years, Buttons never lost his acting genes. He appeared on the Dennis Miller Live show at age 80. From 1995 to 2005, Buttons had a recurring role as Jules 'Ruby' Rubadoux on TV's ER, where he made his last screen appearance. Buttons, who once said, "Ninety isn't old. You're old when your doctor doesn't X-ray you any more - he just holds you up to the light!", was nominated for an Emmy for his role

Red Buttons in Sayonara A.M.P.A.S.

Red Buttons in The Poseidon Adventure Fox Home Entertainment

 

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