Biography of Edna Stillwell (05/25/1915 – 11/15/1982), better known as Edna Stillwell Skelton, Red Skelton’s first wife. In addition to being Red’s wife, she became his agent, head writer, and manager, and tutor. Positions that she kept for years after their divorce.
Edna Marie Stillwell was born in , Mt. Washington, Jackson Co., MO, on May 25, 1915. Her father was George Vincent Stillwell, her mother the former Dollie Belle Tarwater. She had three older siblings: Ethel, Orville, and Frances.
Little is known about Edna’s childhood. Her father was drafted to serve in World War I roughly three years after her birth. Her parents divorced – date unknown.
By the age of 16, she was working as an usherette at Loew’s in Kansas City. Her, she met comedian Red Skelton for the first time. And she wasn’t impressed — initially. He asked to walk her home one night, and she said no. But, he could the following night … Which they did, and sparks still didn’t fly.
Shortly after, she met him again at a Walkathon. This was a depression-era event where people had to keep walking, until all but one contestant literally remained standing. This began on February 2, 1932 at the El Torreon. The walkathon ended 117 days later. With Edna winning!
Edna Stillwell winning a walkathon – at Loew’s in Kansas City
Red Skelton: “And one night they called in the photographers to take some pictures and they wanted a picture of me kissing a girl,” Red continued. “There was Edna and I grabbed her and kissed her and it made me dizzy. This was it. This was love. I guess we both were dizzy. We got married. Edna paid for the license. I borrowed $10 from her and bought her a new hat. And we went to St. Louis, where I had a deal to do another walkathon show at $75 a week. Only they wanted to cut my salary.
“Edna made me sore by going to the boss and playing manager for me. I told her I’d handle my own affairs. Only she shut me up with the news that I’d get $100 a week. She also tossed the boss into doing my dry cleaning. I said I’d have to have free food, too. I was still mad. The manager said I could have my meals on the cuff. That’s when Edna floored me first. But that was only the beginning. She gradually worked me up to $500 a week in the walkathon business.”If it weren’t for his wife, Edna, he would be a bum – says Red Skelton – The Telegraph-Herald, August 17, 1941
For the record, Edna married Richard “Red” Skelton on June 1, 1932. At this point, the young couple was struggling financially.
Vaudeville in Montreal – Edna Stillwell writes Red’s material
Then Red went into vaudeville. He had a 25 week run in Montreal and he began to run out of material. Edna wrote him some. It didn’t seem funny to that experienced comedian, Red Skelton.
“But the customers laughed,” he said. “Edna knew what she was doing. She kept on writing my material.”If it weren’t for his wife, Edna, he would be a bum – says Red Skelton – The Telegraph-Herald, August 17, 1941
Red’s dunking donuts routine
“It happened in Montreal. Red had just done six weeks at the Club Lido and was buying the tickets back to New York when he ran into a vaudeville producer named Harry Angers. Mr. Angers was in a hurry but he did stop long enough to tell Red that he thought his Club Lido stuff was swell.
“Dream up a new routine and I’ll bill you as headliner at Loew’s State,” Mr. Angers said.
A new routine? The man must be out of his mind. Routines take time to whip up. Also, the classy ones — the kind that rate Loew’s — cost big dough.
“I’ve got an idea. Red,” Edna said, as they sat there eating their farewell breakfast in the hotel coffee shop. She leaned over. “The man on your left,” she whispered, “the man with the lavender tie.”
Red looked and blinked. A Casper Milquetoast of a man was dunking his doughnut, dunking it furtively.
“I don’t see it,” Red said as they were going up the elevator.
“I’ll put it in writing,” Edna said. The rest is history. Edna wrote a little skit about a coffee-dunking little man.”Everything’s Funny but Love, by John R. Franchey, Originally published in Radio and Television Mirror, June 1942
Avalon Time radio show – writer and actress
On October 1, 1938, Red Skelton became the second host of the radio show, Avalon Time. Edna also joined the show’s cast, under her maiden name of Stillwell. They worked on Avalon Time until late 1939.
In 1939, Red was in his second Hollywood movie, Flight Command. The director was Frank Borzage, whom Edna would later marry.
September 22, 1942 – separated from Red Skelton
She disclosed today that she was moving out of their home — giving up her job as his wife but keeping her job as his manager and gag writer.
“It had to be one or the other,” she said. “I feel it is more important to carry on for Red as his manager than try to make a success of both jobs and probably mess them both up.”Mrs. Skelton Quits as Wife, Stays on as Red’s Agent – Philadelphia Post-Gazette, October 30, 1942
February 12, 1943 – divorces Red Skelton
Edna Marie Skelton on Thursday divorced Richard (Red) Skelton, the comedian, and then left the Hall of Justice on the arm of her erstwhile husband. “I just hung around to see that she got along all right,” Red explained.Leave Arm in Arm – Red Skelton, ex-Wife, Still Together After Court Gives Divorce
(originally printed in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, February 12, 1943)
In one of those strange, amicable divorces, Edna continued as Red’s head writer for several years, including the first year of The Red Skelton Show.
In 1945, she wrote the “When Television Comes” segment of Ziegfeld Follies for ex-husband Red Skelton. This included Red’s famous “Guzzler’s Gin” routine, which he performed for decades.
Marriage to Frank Borzage
On November 25, 1945, Edna Stillwell marries Frank Borzage, the Hollywood director.
Red Skelton: “We made out swell. I mean, we worked out everything together were a team you know; only she was the mastermind, she taught me everything I know. Manages my radio show now, you know, a wonderful woman. Fine husband too — Frank Borzage. Yep, she ain’t my wife any more, worse luck, that sure was an awful mistake on my part; but she sure deserves a fine husband and he’s that, you bet!”I Dare Say — Laugh, Clown, Laugh!
(originally published in The Pittsburgh Press, September 14, 1946)
Less than four years later, Edna divorced Frank Borzage on July 18, 1949 for “mental cruelties”.
Ending her work relationship with Red Skelton
Edna’s professional relationship with Red Skelton continued until 1952. This was one year after Red was given his own, groundbreaking television show. Red’s biographer, Wes Gehring contended that their post-divorce work was “a mixed bag-a rousing success professionally, but a stressful distraction for each of their subsequent marriages.”
Later years – Marriages, and death
On June 19, 1962, her ex-husband Frank Borzage died.
Edna’s third and final marriage was successful. On December 10, 1963 she married. Leon George Pound. They remained married until his death on June 16, 1976.
Finally, on November 15, 1982, Edna Stillwell died in Lomita, CA. of cancer at Little Company of Mary Hospital, in Torrance, CA