Red Buttons was born lucky - he was born poor - show me a comedian who was born rich? He was born on the lower east side of Manhattan in that miracle square mile that gave show business Fanny Brice, Eddie Cantor, George Burns, Jimmy Durante, George Gershwin, to name a few...
At age seven, Red (who was really Aaron Chwatt, and whose nickname was "Irish" because of his red hair, blue eyes and a green sweater which he wore in his public school graduation) could be seen performing on street corners for pennies. The act at that time consisted of singing the popular songs of the day - his boyish alto voice was a natural for choirs, and Red sang in the celebrated Coopermans Choir for three years with the then world famous Cantor Joseph "Yussele" Rosenblatt.
At age twelve, Red worked every amateur contest he could enter. The Depression was on thick and heavy, and a five dollar first prize was a bonanza. At age sixteen, while he was still attending Evander Childs High School in the Bronx, Red auditioned for and got the job as an entertaining bell hop at a tavern called Ryan's in City Island, New York. The red hair and the bell hop's uniform with all those buttons inspired Dinty Moore, the world renowned orchestra leader, to dub our hero Red Buttons - a perfect name for the times - there being very few performers with names like Aaron Chwatt. That summer, Red worked his first job in the Catskills (that great training ground that gave us, among others, Danny Kaye, Robert Merrill, Moss Hart, Jerry Lewis, etc.,) at the Beerkill Lodge for one dollar fifty per week plus room and board. His straight man was Robert Alda whose wife was pregnant with Alan.
In 1939, Red went to work for Minsky, the youngest burlesque comedian in the business. He billed himself as the "Only Burlesque Comedian With All His Own Teeth". In 1941, Jose Ferrer plucked Red out of burlesque for his first Broadway show, "The Admiral Had A Wife". The show was supposed to open on December 8, 1941, but it never did. The show was a farce comedy about Pearl Harbor - great timing! In 1942, Red did "Vicki" on Broadway with Jose Ferrer and Uta Hagen. Also, in 1942, Red appeared in "Wine, Woman and Song" for Minsky. This was the last burlesque show in New York City since the La Guardia administration determined to close it. Red was on stage when the place was raided. In 1943, Buttons, now in the Army Air Corp., was chosen for a role in Moss Hart's, "Winged Victory". First he did the Broadway show, and then the motion picture for Darryl Zanuck with George Cukor directing. When "Winged Victory" disbanded, Red joined Mickey Rooney's outfit in France, and together with Mickey, entertained the troops all through the European Theater of Operations during World War II. Red had the honor to perform at the Potsdam Conference and was among the first troops to enter Berlin. After the service, Red did two more Broadway shows - George Abbott's "Barefoot Boy with Cheek" with Nancy Walker, and Michael Kidd's "Hold It".
From 1948 to 1952, Buttons played the Broadway movie houses with the big bands - the Paramount, the Loew's State, etc.; the cafe circuit - The Copa, Latin Quarter, etc.; television guest shots - The Berle Texaco Hour, Cavalcade of Stars, and more. In 1952, came "The Red Buttons Show" (on CBS). A smash! Buttons won the Academy of Radio and Television Arts and Sciences Award (which later became the Emmy) as "Best Comedian of 1953". The series lasted three years, the last season on NBC.
In 1956, Red did "A Midsummer Night's Dream" with Basil Rathbone and Leopold Stokowski directing a new score written by Carl Orff.
1957 brought the film "Sayonara" with Marlon Brando, and Josh Logan directing. In 1958 Red won the Best Supporting Actor for "Sayonara" and the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor. A movie career followed with "Imitation General" with Glen Ford; "The Big Circus"; "Hatari!" with Howard Hawks and John Wayne; Darryl Zanuck's "The Longest Day"; a cameo in Billy Wilder's "One, Two, Three"; "A Ticklish Affair"; "Your Cheating Heart"; "Gay Puree" with Judy Garland; "Five Weeks In a Balloon"; "Up From the Beach"; "Harlow" (for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor); "Stagecoach" (the remake); "They Shoot Horses Don't They?" (for which he received another Golden Globe Award Nomination for Best Supporting Actor) with Jane Fonda; "The Poseidon Adventure"; "Gable and Lombard"; "Movie, Movie" with George C. Scott; "Viva Knievel"; "When Time Ran Out"; "Off Your Rocker"; "Reunion at Fairborough" with Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr; "The Ambulance" with Eric Roberts and James Earl Jones; and "18 Again" with George Burns.
In 1966, Red did the ABC television series, "The Double Life of Henry Phyfe". Buttons has guested on every major television show - Ed Sullivan, Andy Williams, Dinah Shore, Perry Como, Redd Fox, Eddie Fisher, Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin, Mike Douglas, Bill Cosby Show, and Dean Martin Roasts (where he did his famous "Never Got a Dinner" routine). Dramatic shows include "Playhouse 90"; "U.S. Steel"; "Studio One"; "General Electric"; "Knotts Landing"; and more recently, the Emmy Award winning series "E.R."
Specials include "Louis Armstrong, Chicago Style" with Ben Vereen; "Telethon Power"; "Leave 'Em Laughing" with Mickey Rooney; "The Users"; and "George Burns 95th Birthday Special."
Red is a frequent guest star in the gambling palaces of Las Vegas - Lake Tahoe, Reno and Atlantic City. He wrote and recorded a children's album of poems on the Golden Record label entitled "Poems for My Daughter and Other Little People, Love Daddy."
Red Buttons has a star on Hollywood and Vine - full circle for a ghetto kid who started by entertaining on street corners.
Red Buttons has been honored by The City of Hope "Spirit of Life" Award; the Eddie Cantor Foundation's "Suzie" Award; the Friar's Club "Lifetime Achievement" Award; and the Junior Achievement Award for his charitable contributions to all causes.