A few years ago, I randomly chose to write a blog in tribute to Red Buttons. To clarify, the narrative subject I’m was the late actor/comedian who bore that moniker; not the TV remote control button pressed to acquire BBC iPlayer.
Born Aaron Chwatt, he changed his name to Red Buttons as his agent pronounced his ch’s as t’s. The actors decision made after concluding casting directors would be reticent to employ an actor whose agent introduced him as Aaron Twatt!
Folklore alludes to his choice of the name Red Buttons was driven by desiring a moniker containing both a colour and word for fastening clothes. His original choice was Orange Velcro, however as a balloon bender from Wichita, Kansas, already bore that stage name, that aspiration was scuppered.
He chose Red Buttons after an epiphany while food shopping in Walmart. During this episode, god telling him “Choose the stage name Red Buttons and you’ll never look back!”
That’s how the anecdote has been passed through Hollywood legend, anyhow. Close friends of his (that’s Buttons not god) suspect, though, the voice actually told him “Toose the stage name Red Buttons and you’ll never look back!” Implicating his controlling agent, hidden behind a stack of baked bean tins, as soothsayer.
Regardless of whose voice it was, Red adopted the enigmatic voice’s suggested moniker and as predicted never looked back. This approach a boon for his acting profile, but bloody dangerous when he was reversing his car out of his drive!
The inaugural occasion Red Buttons drifted onto my existential radar was in the mid-1970’s, in movie The Poseidon Adventure. In it he portrayed a timid, red headed haberdasher called James Martin.
Coincidentally, British TV chef James Martin once played Red Buttons in the drama Making A Souffle…… If you’re intrigued enough to watch this dubious piece of broadcasting history, it’s available by pressing the remote control red button to select BBC iPlayer…… A situation which consequential affords access to Red Buttons via the red button.
As alluded to above, 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 aforementioned balloon bender Orange Velcro.
However, Buttons didn’t leave the ceremony empty handed, winning the BAFTA in the ‘Actor Whose Agent Pronounces Ch as T’ category.
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 in the prevailing 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 tryst along the lines of Romeo and Juliet, or ventriloquist 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!
The movie won 4 Oscars overall, opening 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 in 1967 when finding a New York taxi driver’s anecdote interesting during a journey to swimming lessons in Brooklyn!
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 patronised online encyclopedia site, following the actor/comedians funeral “His ashes were given to his family after cremation.”…… A statement that, on reading, led to me muttering to myself “Who the hell else would they have been given to?!”
A chirpy man, Red Buttons contributed towards the warmer 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, will always be among my favourite actors.
Red Buttons, with the Inter City Fairs Cup in his playing days for Leeds United, 1968
Disclaimer – Red Buttons agent probably could pronounce his ch’s!