Red Skelton’s Wife: The Untold Influence of Red Skelton’s Wife, Edna Stillwell

Red Skelton’s Wife: The Untold Influence of Red Skelton’s Wife, Edna Stillwell

Photo of author
Written By Joe Martin

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur pulvinar ligula augue quis venenatis. 

Red Skelton’s career is often celebrated for its iconic characters and memorable quips. However, his success owes much to the influence and management of his first wife, Edna Stillwell. Skelton himself once asserted that without Edna, he “would be a bum,” as reported by a Rochester, NY newspaper. Through her comedic insight and business acumen, Edna transformed Skelton from an unknown circus performer into a television and film legend.

Early Life and Meeting Red Skelton

Edna Stillwell was born on May 25, 1915, in Missouri. Her attraction to show business began in her teenage years, leading her to become head usherette at the Pantages Theatre in Kansas City. It was here that she first encountered seventeen-year-old Red Skelton. Although she initially disliked him, fate brought them together again at a walkathon where Skelton was master of ceremonies and Stillwell worked as a cashier. After some persistence, Skelton won her over, and they soon married.

Marriage and Professional Partnership

Their early years together were marked by financial hardship. Skelton was so poor that Edna had to pay for their marriage license. Despite the challenges, Edna took on the role of Skelton’s business manager, a position she held even after their divorce in 1944. She demonstrated her prowess by successfully negotiating Skelton’s salary and managing his finances, investing wisely in real estate, and encouraging him to complete his high school education.

Edna Stillwell: The Creative Force Behind Skelton’s Comedy

Edna’s influence extended beyond business management. She was a talented comedy writer, contributing significantly to Skelton’s material. During Skelton’s vaudeville run in Montreal, Edna’s disdain for subpar routines led her to write new material for him, which became a staple of his performances. Her creativity was also behind some of Skelton’s most famous characters and sketches. The “Junior” character, inspired by Skelton’s antics during their strolls, was one such creation that catapulted his career.

Iconic Sketches and National Fame

One of their most famous collaborations was the “Doughnut Dunkers” sketch. After observing a diner dunking his doughnut in a Montreal café, Edna and Red developed the act that same day, which became an instant hit. This sketch established Skelton as a top variety performer. Edna’s knack for developing relatable and humorous content helped Skelton transition smoothly into vaudeville and later, radio and film.

Transition to Hollywood and Continued Success

By the late 1930s, the Skeltons had moved to Hollywood. Skelton’s role in the film Having Wonderful Time alongside Ginger Rogers and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. earned him a notable $2,000. Despite offers below her set threshold of $1,000, Edna insisted they hold out for better pay, which eventually paid off. Skelton landed a coast-to-coast radio program and thrived in vaudeville at Edna’s negotiated rates.

Edna continued to support Skelton’s career even after their divorce. She wrote for and appeared on his popular radio show and contributed to his success in the film Whistling in the Dark. Their professional collaboration continued until 1952, well after Skelton had achieved national fame with his NBC show.

Legacy and Impact

Edna Stillwell passed away on November 15, 1982, in Los Angeles. Without her sharp intuition and creative talent, Red Skelton might never have achieved the iconic status he enjoyed. Her contributions to his career were significant, shaping his material and public persona, and ensuring his place in entertainment history.


Red Skelton’s career, marked by memorable characters and iconic sketches, was significantly shaped by his first wife, Edna Stillwell. Her influence as a manager and writer played a pivotal role in his rise to fame. Edna’s creativity and business savvy were instrumental in transforming Skelton into a beloved figure in television and film history. Without her, the legacy of Red Skelton might have been very different.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who was Red Skelton’s first wife?

Red Skelton’s first wife was Edna Stillwell, a significant influence on his career as a comedian and performer.

How did Edna Stillwell contribute to Red Skelton’s success?

Edna was Skelton’s business manager and comedy writer. She negotiated his salaries, managed his finances, and wrote many of his famous routines.

What were some of Edna Stillwell’s notable contributions to Skelton’s comedy?

Edna created the “Junior” character and co-developed the “Doughnut Dunkers” sketch, both of which were crucial to Skelton’s success.

Did Edna Stillwell continue to work with Red Skelton after their divorce?

Yes, Edna continued to write for and support Skelton’s career until 1952, long after their 1944 divorce.

What is Edna Stillwell’s legacy in the entertainment industry?

Edna Stillwell is remembered as the driving force behind Red Skelton’s early success, contributing significantly to his material and ensuring his lasting impact on comedy.

Leave a Comment