Red Buttons

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Red Buttons
Red Buttons - 1959.jpg
Buttons in 1959
Aaron Chwatt

(1919-02-05)February 5, 1919
DiedJuly 13, 2006(2006-07-13) (aged 87)
Century City, Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Occupation Actor & Comedian
Years active19352006
Roxanne Arlen
(m. 1947;div. 1949)

Helayne McNorton
(m. 1949;div. 1963)

Alicia Prats
(m. 1964;her death 2001)
Children2 (with Prats)

Red Buttons (born Aaron Chwatt; February 5, 1919 July 13, 2006) was an American actor and comedian. He won an Oscar and a Golden Globe for his supporting role in the 1957 film Sayonara .

Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor one of the Academy Awards of Merit

The Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor is an award presented annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). It is given in honor of an actor who has delivered an outstanding performance in a supporting role while working within the film industry. The award was traditionally presented by the previous year's Best Supporting Actress winner. The Academy's official name for this award is Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role.

The Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture was first awarded by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association in 1944 for a performance in a motion picture released in the previous year.

<i>Sayonara</i> 1957 film by Joshua Logan

Sayonara is a 1957 Technicolor American film starring Marlon Brando in Technirama. The picture tells the story of an American Air Force flier who was an ace fighter pilot during the Korean War (1950–1953).


Early life

Red Buttons was born Aaron Chwatt [1] on February 5, 1919, in Manhattan, [1] to Jewish immigrants Sophie (née Baker) and Michael Chwatt. [2] [3] At sixteen years old, Chwatt got a job as an entertaining bellhop at Ryan's Tavern in City Island, Bronx. The combination of his red hair and the large, shiny buttons on the bellhop uniforms inspired orchestra leader Charles "Dinty" Moore to call him "Red Buttons," the name under which he would later perform.

Manhattan Borough in New York City and county in New York, United States

Manhattan, often referred to locally as the City, is the most densely populated of the five boroughs of New York City and its economic and administrative center, cultural identifier, and historical birthplace. The borough is coextensive with New York County, one of the original counties of the U.S. state of New York. The borough consists mostly of Manhattan Island, bounded by the Hudson, East, and Harlem rivers; several small adjacent islands; and Marble Hill, a small neighborhood now on the U.S. mainland, physically connected to the Bronx and separated from the rest of Manhattan by the Harlem River. Manhattan Island is divided into three informally bounded components, each aligned with the borough's long axis: Lower, Midtown, and Upper Manhattan.

Jews ancient nation and ethnoreligious group from the Levant

Jews or Jewish people are an ethnoreligious group and a nation, originating from the Israelites and Hebrews of historical Israel and Judah. Jewish ethnicity, nationhood, and religion are strongly interrelated, as Judaism is the traditional faith of the Jewish people, while its observance varies from strict observance to complete nonobservance.

Bellhop Hotel porter who helps patrons with their luggage while checking in or out

A bellhop or hotel porter (international) is a hotel porter, who helps patrons with their luggage while checking in or out. Bellhops often wear a uniform, like certain other page boys or doormen. This occupation is also called bellman and bellboy in North America.

Later that same summer Buttons worked on the Borscht Belt; [1] his straight man was Robert Alda. Buttons was working at the Irvington Hotel in South Fallsburg, New York, when the Master of Ceremonies became incapacitated, and he asked for the chance to replace him. In 1939 Buttons started working for Minsky's Burlesque; in 1941, José Ferrer chose Buttons to appear in a Broadway show The Admiral Had a Wife. The show was a farce set in Pearl Harbor, and it was due to open on December 8, 1941. It never did, as it was deemed inappropriate after the Japanese attack. In later years Buttons would joke that the Japanese only attacked Pearl Harbor to keep him off Broadway.

Borscht Belt area with (now mostly defunct) summer resorts in the Catskill Mountains, in the Sullivan, Orange, and Ulster counties, New York; so called because many Eastern European Jewish Americans from New York City would vacation there in the 1920s–1970s

Borscht Belt, or Jewish Alps, is a nickname for the summer resorts of the Catskill Mountains in parts of Sullivan, Orange, and Ulster counties in New York. Borscht, a soup associated with immigrants from eastern Europe, was a colloquialism for "Jewish". These resorts were a popular vacation spot for New York City Jews between the 1920s and the 1970s. Most Borscht Belt resorts hosted traveling Jewish comedians and musicians, and many who later became famous began their careers there.

A double act, also known as a comedy duo, is a comic pairing in which humor is derived from the uneven relationship between two partners, usually of the same gender, age, ethnic origin and profession but drastically different in terms of personality or behavior. Often one of the members of the duo — the straight man, feed, dead wood, or stooge — is portrayed as reasonable and serious, while the other one — the funny man, banana man or comic — is portrayed as funny, less educated or less intelligent, silly, or unorthodox. If the audience identifies primarily with one character, the other will often be referred to as a comic foil. The term "feed" comes from the way a straight man sets up jokes and then "feeds" them to his partner.

Robert Alda American theatrical and film actor; father of actors Alan and Antony Alda

Robert Alda was an American theatrical and film actor, a singer, and a dancer. He was father of actors Alan and Antony Alda. Alda was featured in a number of Broadway productions before moving to Italy during the early 1960s. He appeared in many European films over the next two decades, occasionally returning to the U.S. for film appearances such as The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1969).


In September 1942 Buttons made his Broadway debut in Vickie with Ferrer and Uta Hagen. Later that year he appeared in the Minsky's show Wine, Women and Song. This was the last classic Burlesque show in New York City history, as the Mayor La Guardia administration closed it down. Buttons was on stage when the show was raided.

Uta Hagen German-born American actress and drama teacher

Uta Thyra Hagen was an American actress and theatre practitioner. She originated the role of Martha in the 1962 Broadway premiere of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee. Because Hagen was on the Hollywood blacklist, in part because of her association with Paul Robeson, her film opportunities dwindled and she focused her career on New York theatre.

American burlesque

American burlesque is a genre of variety show. Derived from elements of Victorian burlesque, music hall and minstrel shows, burlesque shows in America became popular in the 1860s and evolved to feature ribald comedy and female striptease. By the early 20th century, burlesque in America was presented as a populist blend of satire, performance art, music hall, and adult entertainment, featuring striptease and broad comedy acts.

Drafted into the United States Army Air Forces, Buttons in 1943 appeared in the Army Air Forces' Broadway show Winged Victory , along with several future stars, including Mario Lanza, John Forsythe, Karl Malden and Lee J. Cobb. A year later he appeared in Darryl F. Zanuck's movie version of Winged Victory , directed by George Cukor. Buttons also entertained troops in the European Theater in the same Jeep Show unit as Mickey Rooney.

United States Army Air Forces Aerial warfare branch of the United States army from 1941 to 1947

The United States Army Air Forces, informally known as the Air Force,or United States Army Air Force, was the aerial warfare service of the United States during and immediately after World War II (1939/41–1945), successor to the previous United States Army Air Corps and the direct predecessor of the United States Air Force of today, one of the five uniformed military services. The AAF was a component of the United States Army, which in 1942 was divided functionally by executive order into three autonomous forces: the Army Ground Forces, the Services of Supply, and the Army Air Forces. Each of these forces had a commanding general who reported directly to the Army Chief of Staff.

<i>Winged Victory</i> (play) play by Moss Hart

Winged Victory is a 1943 play by Moss Hart, created and produced by the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II as a morale booster and as a fundraiser for the Army Emergency Relief Fund. Hart adapted the play for a 1944 motion picture directed by George Cukor.

Mario Lanza American tenor and actor

Mario Lanza was an American tenor of Italian ancestry, and an actor and Hollywood film star of the late 1940s and the 1950s.

After the war Buttons continued to do Broadway shows. He also performed at Broadway movie houses with big bands. In 1952, Buttons received his own variety series on television, The Red Buttons Show, which ran for three years on CBS. It was the #11 show in prime time in 1952. [4] In 1953 he recorded and had a two-sided hit with Strange Things Are Happening/The Ho Ho Song, with both sides/songs essentially being the same.

Big band music ensemble associated with jazz and Swing Era music

A big band is a type of musical ensemble that usually consists of ten or more musicians with four sections: saxophones, trumpets, trombones, and a rhythm section. Big bands originated during the early 1910s and dominated jazz in the early 1940s when swing was most popular. The term "big band" is also used to describe a genre of music. One problem with this usage is that it overlooks the variety of music played by these bands.

CBS is an American English language commercial broadcast television and radio network that is a flagship property of CBS Corporation. The company is headquartered at the CBS Building in New York City with major production facilities and operations in New York City and Los Angeles.

His role in Sayonara was a dramatic departure from his previous work. In this film, co-starring with Marlon Brando, he played Joe Kelly, an American airman stationed in Kobe, Japan during the Korean War, who marries Katsumi, a Japanese woman (played by Miyoshi Umeki), but is barred from taking her back to the United States. His moving portrayal of Kelly's calm resolve not to abandon the relationship, and the touching reassurance of Katsumi, impressed audiences and critics alike. Buttons won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and Umeki won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for the film.

Buttons as Henry Phyfe Red Buttons Double Life of Henry Phyfe 1965.JPG
Buttons as Henry Phyfe

After his Oscar-winning role Buttons performed in numerous feature films, including the Africa adventure Hatari! with John Wayne, the adventure Five Weeks in a Balloon (1962) (where he received top billing), the war epic The Longest Day , the biopic Harlow , the disaster film The Poseidon Adventure , the dance-marathon drama They Shoot Horses, Don't They? , the family comedy Pete's Dragon , the disaster film When Time Ran Out with Paul Newman and the age-reversal comedy 18 Again! with George Burns.

In 1966 Buttons again starred in his own TV series, a spy spoof called The Double Life of Henry Phyfe , which ran for one season. Buttons also made memorable guest appearances on several TV programs including The Eleventh Hour , Little House on the Prairie , It's Garry Shandling's Show , Knots Landing and Roseanne . His last TV role was in ER .

He became a nationally recognisable comedian, and his "Never Got A Dinner" routine was a standard of The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast for many years. He was number 71 on Comedy Central's list of the 100 Greatest Stand-Ups of All Time.

Another of his catchphrases was "I did not come here to be made sport of," which has been taken up recently by radio talk show host Howie Carr.

Buttons received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for television, his star being located at 1651 Vine Street.

Personal life

Buttons married actress Roxanne Arlen in 1947, but the marriage soon ended in divorce. He married Helayne McNorton on December 8, 1949. They divorced in 1963. His last marriage was to Alicia Pratts, which lasted from January 27, 1964, until her death in March 2001. Buttons had two children, Amy Buttons and Adam Buttons. He was the advertising spokesman for Century Village, Florida, a retirement community.

Buttons was an early member of the Synagogue for the Performing Arts, and at the time Rabbi Jerome Cutler was the Rabbi. [5]


Buttons died of complications from cardiovascular disease on July 13, 2006, at age 87 at his home in Century City, Los Angeles. He had been ill for a while and was with family members when he died. His ashes were given to his family after cremation. [1]


Buttons in 1978 RedButtonsAL1978.jpg
Buttons in 1978
1944 Winged Victory Whitey / Andrews Sisteras Cpl. Red Buttons
1946 13 Rue Madeleine Second Jump Masteruncredited
1951Footlight VarietiesHimself
1957 Sayonara Airman Joe Kelly Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture
Nominated—BAFTA Award for Most Promising Newcomer
1958 Imitation General Cpl. Chan Derby
1959 The Big Circus Randy Sherman
1961 One, Two, Three MP sergeantcameo; uncredited
1962 Hatari! Pockets
1962 Five Weeks in a Balloon Donald O'Shay
1962 The Longest Day Private John Steele
1962 Gay Purr-ee Robespierrevoice
1963 A Ticklish Affair Uncle Cy
1964 Your Cheatin' Heart Shorty Younger
1965 Up from the Beach Pfc. Harry Devine
1965 Harlow (Paramount film starring Carroll Baker)Arthur LandauNominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture
1966 Stagecoach Peacock
1969The MoviemakersHimselfshort subject
1969 They Shoot Horses, Don't They? SailorNominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture
1971 Who Killed Mary What's 'Er Name? Mickey
1972 The Poseidon Adventure James Martin
1975 The New Original Wonder Woman (pilot)Ashley Norman
1976 Gable and Lombard Ivan Cooper
1977 Viva Knievel! Ben Andrews
1977 Pete's Dragon HoagyNominated—Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor
1978 The Users Warren AmbroseTV movie
1978 Movie Movie Peanuts / Jinks Murphy
1979 Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July Miltonvoice
1979 C.H.O.M.P.S. Bracken
1980 When Time Ran Out Francis Fendly
1980 The Dream Merchants Bruce BensonTV movie
1985 Reunion at Fairborough Jiggs Quealy
1985 Alice in Wonderland The White Rabbit
1988 18 Again! Charlie
1990 The Ambulance Elias Zacharai
1994 It Could Happen to You Walter Zakuto
1999 The Story of Us Arnie Jordan
2000 AMC Backstory - The Longest Day Himselfdocumentary
2001Odessa or BustThe Old Manshort subject
2004Goodnight, We Love Youdocumentary
2005Sid Bernstein Presents...Himselfdocumentary

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  1. 1 2 3 4 Comedian Red Buttons dies at 87 Archived 2006-07-20 at the Wayback Machine . BBC News. 14 July 2006.
  2. "Motion Pictures". Encyclopaedia Judaica. Keter Publishing House. 1971–1972.
  3. "Red Buttons Biography (1919-)". Archived from the original on 21 February 2018. Retrieved 4 May 2018.
  4. " TV Ratings > 1950's". Archived from the original on 8 October 2017. Retrieved 4 May 2018.
  5. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-07-17. Retrieved 2008-06-01.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)The Forward