Today would have been Red Buttons 97th birthday. Just to clarify, I’m referring to the late actor/comedian, not the remote control button you press to acquire BBC iPlayer!
Born Aaron Chwatt, he changed his name to Red Buttons as his agent pronounced ‘ch’ as ‘t’ . He feared casting directors may be reticent to employ an actor whose agent was introducing him as Aaron Twatt!
He chose the name Red Buttons as he wanted a moniker containing a colour and a word for fastening clothes. Originally he wanted the name Orange Velcro, but a balloon bender from Wichita, Kansas, had already acquired that stage name; so a rethink was in order!
He chose Red Buttons after an epiphany while food shopping in Walmart, when god told him “Choose the stage name Red Buttons and you’ll never look back!”
That’s how the story was passed down, anyway. However, his close friends (Buttons not god) suspect that as the voice actually told him “Toose the stage name Red Buttons and you’ll never look back!” it was really his controlling agent, whilst hidden behind the baked beans tins.
Regardless of whose voice it was, he picked the moniker suggested in this epiphany. He never looked back, which was good for his career, but bloody dangerous when he was reversing his car out of his drive!
The first time I became aware of Red Buttons was when I saw the movie Poseidon Adventure on TV in the mid 1970’s. In it he played a timid, red headed haberdasher called James Martin.
Coincidentally, British TV chef James Martin once played Red Buttons in the drama Red Buttons Makes A Souffle…… If you want to watch that it’s available by pressing the red button for BBC iPlayer…… So you get Red Buttons on the red button, you could say!
In the Poseidon Adventure, Buttons character was a shy, meek man who, despite being able to knock up mean soufflé, couldn’t swim. His portrayal as this man who was scared of his own shadow, won him a BAFTA nomination in 1972, in the ‘Actor Requiring Buoyancy Aids’ category.
Surprisingly he didn’t win in the ‘Entertainer Named After A Colour and Fastening Device’ category. That award was snapped up by balloon bender Orange Velcro!
Red Buttons didn’t go home empty handed, however, as he won the Academy Award in the ‘Actor Whose Agent Pronounces Ch as T’ category.
Red Buttons with Shelley Winters in The Poseidon Adventure – “Did you know my real name was Aaron Chwatt, Shelley?”
Seriously, though, the New York born actor did win an Oscar for ‘Best Supporting Actor’ in 1957 for his role in the movie Sayonara.
In the movie he played an American soldier stationed in Japan. His love for a Japanese woman resulting in Buttons’ character being torn with the racial and society pressures, at the time, in American and Japanese cultures.
Red Buttons’ character American pilot Joe Kelly falls for Japanese dancer Katsumi, who he meets in Kobe, Japan. Theirs is a forbidden love, like Romeo and Juliet, and Keith Harris and Orville!
I’m not going to spoil the ending of the movie for you. To be honest, I couldn’t even if I wanted to because I’ve not seen it!
Joe Kelly (Red Buttons) with Katsumi in Sayonara.
The movie won 4 Oscars (including Buttons, Keith Harris and Orville), and opened in cinemas to the following critical acclaim:-
“This movie definitely isn’t shite!” – Little Rock Courier ****
“Brando’s authorative performance, moody persona and pent up anger would make him an excellent mob boss or Superman’s dad!” – Mystic Meg *****
“Red Buttons souffle’s are exquisite!” – TV chef James Martin ****
“Keith Harris and Orville’s souffle is better!” – TV chef Ainsley Harriet ****
“Are they bollocks, Ainsley!” – TV chef James Martin ****
“Marlon Brando’s hair needs a right good cut!” – My mum **
Buttons achievements in the field of entertainment resulted in him earning a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Despite that accolade and winning an Oscar, some claim his biggest achievement was finding the story’s of a New York taxi driver interesting, in 1967!
Red Buttons died of complications from high blood pressure and being overly pressed after his batteries ran out on July 13, 2006, at age 87. He was at home in Century City, Los Angeles with family members when he passed away.
I was interested to read, on a much used online encyclopedia site, that following the actor/comedians funeral “His ashes were given to his family after cremation.” Who the hell else would they have been given to?!
Happy Birthday Red Buttons! A chirpy man who contributed towards the happier times section on my life tapestry. I’ve not seen many of his movies, but as he looked like Leeds United’s greatest ever captain, Billy Bremner, I’ll always count him among my favourite actors!
Red Buttons, with the Inter City Fairs Cup in his playing days for Leeds United, 1968
Disclaimer – Red Buttons agent could pronounce ch’s (Artistic licence was used above).