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Comedian Red Buttons dead at 87

Discussion in 'In Memoriam...' started by eminovitz, Nov 7, 2013.

  1. eminovitz

    eminovitz Research Guru / Moderator Emeritus

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    Jul 13, 2006

    Red Buttons, the veteran comedian whose carrot top led to his stage name, died Thursday in Los Angeles at 87.

    Buttons' career lasted from the 1930s Borscht Belt to 1990s celebrity roasts. He died of vascular disease at his home in the Century City area, said publicist Warren Cowan. Buttons was with family members when he died and had been ill for some time, Cowan added.

    He provided the voice of Robespierre, the friend of mouser Jaune-Tom, in the 1962 UPA animated feature film Gay Purr-ee.

    In the partly animated 1977 Disney feature film Pete's Dragon, he appeared in live action as Hoagy. The Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films nominated him for a Saturn Award for best supporting actor for his role.

    Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July, released theatrically by Rankin-Bass Productions in 1979, cast him as Frosty's friend Milton.

    Born Aaron Chwatt in New York's Lower East Side on February 5, 1919, Buttons had a wide-ranging career. He wrote several popular songs, including "Strange Things Are Happening" and "The Ho-Ho Song," which he often performed himself. He won the the 1957 Oscar as supporting actor for his dramatic role in Sayonara.

    As a boy, he sang in the famous Coopermans Choir for three years with then world-famous Cantor Joseph "Yossele" Rosenblatt.

    He got his name from a uniform he wore while working as a singing bellhop.

    Buttons was a performer since his childhood, when he sang on street corners. At 16, he joined comedy act playing the Catskills resort area in upstate New York (his straight man was Robert Alda, whose wife was pregnant with Alan -- future star of M*A*S*H).

    Burlesque theater owners spotted him, and he became the youngest comic on the circuit. Before he was drafted in 1943, he had small roles on Broadway.

    In Sayonara (based on a James Michener story), Buttons played Sgt. Joe Kelly, a soldier in the U.S. occupation forces in Japan who has an illfated romance with a Japanese woman (played by Myoshi Umeki, who also won an Oscar).

    At first, director Josh Logan was reluctant to cast such a well-known comedian in a serious role. "The tests were so extensive that they could just put scenery around them and release the footage as a feature film," Buttons said.

    After Buttons' Academy Award, he appeared in such movie dramas and comedies as Imitation General, The Big Circus, Hatari!, The Longest Day, Up From the Beach, They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, The Poseidon Adventure and Gable and Lombard.

    Buttons was married three times: to a stripper, Roxanne Arlen, in 1947 (the marriage was annuled two years later), to Helayne McNorton from 1949 until their divorce in 1963; and to Alicia Prats from 1964 until her death in 2001.

    He and Alicia Prats had a son and daughter, Adam and Amy. Besides the children, Buttons is survived by a brother and sister.

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