Red Buttons

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Red Buttons
Red Buttons - 1959.jpg
Buttons in 1959
BornAaron Chwatt
(1919-02-05)February 5, 1919
New York City, New York, U.S.
DiedJuly 13, 2006(2006-07-13) (aged 87)
Century City, Los Angeles, California, U.S.
OccupationActor, comedian
Years active1935–2006
Spouse(s)Roxanne Arlen (m. 1947–49)
Helayne McNorton (m. 1949–63)
Alicia Prats (m. 1964–2001)
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Red Buttons
Red Buttons - 1959.jpg
Buttons in 1959
BornAaron Chwatt
(1919-02-05)February 5, 1919
New York City, New York, U.S.
DiedJuly 13, 2006(2006-07-13) (aged 87)
Century City, Los Angeles, California, U.S.
OccupationActor, comedian
Years active1935–2006
Spouse(s)Roxanne Arlen (m. 1947–49)
Helayne McNorton (m. 1949–63)
Alicia Prats (m. 1964–2001)

Red Buttons (born Aaron Chwatt; February 5, 1919 – July 13, 2006) was an American comedian and Academy Award winning actor.

Early life[edit]

Red Buttons was born Aaron Chwatt[1] on February 5, 1919, in New York City, 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.

Later that same summer, Buttons worked on the Borscht Belt;[1] his straight man was Robert Alda. Red 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.


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.

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 unit as Mickey Rooney.

After the war, Buttons continued to do Broadway shows. He also performed at Broadway movie houses with the Big Bands. In 1952, Buttons received his own variety series on television, The Red Buttons Show," which ran for three years, and achieved high levels of success. 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.

His role in Sayonara was a dramatic departure from his previous work. In that 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; both he and Umeki won supporting actor and actress Academy Awards for the film.

Buttons as Henry Phyfe.

After his Oscar-winning role, Buttons performed in numerous feature films, including the Africa adventure Hatari! with John Wayne, 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 many memorable guest television appearances on programs including The Eleventh Hour, Little House on the Prairie, It's Garry Shandling's Show, ER and Roseanne. His last regular role was as a homeless man on CBS' Knots Landing.

He became a nationally recognizable 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.

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

Personal life[edit]

Buttons married actress Roxanne Arlen in 1947, but it soon ended in divorce. He married Helayne McNorton on December 8, 1949, and they divorced 1963. His last marriage was to Alicia Pratt, and 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 the Century Village, Florida, retirement community.

Buttons was an early member of the Synagogue for the Performing Arts, and at the time, Rabbi Jerome Cutler was the Rabbi.[4]


Red Buttons died of complications from high blood pressure on July 13, 2006, 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
1947Winged VictoryWhitey/Andrews Sisteras Cpl. Red Buttons
194713 Rue MadeleineSecond Jump Masteruncredited
1951Footlight VarietiesHimself
1957SayonaraAirman Joe KellyAcademy Award for Best Supporting Actor
Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture
Nominated—BAFTA Award for Most Promising Newcomer
1958Imitation GeneralCpl. Chan Derby
1959The Big CircusRandy Sherman
1961One, Two, ThreeMP sergeantuncredited
1962Five Weeks in a BalloonDonald O'Shay
1962The Longest DayPvt. John Steele
1962Gay Purr-eeRobespierrevoice
1963A Ticklish AffairUncle Cy
1964Your Cheatin' HeartShorty Younger
1965Up from the BeachPfc. Harry Devine
1965HarlowArthur LandauNominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture
1969The MoviemakersHimselfshort subject
1969They Shoot Horses, Don't They?SailorNominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture
1971Who Killed Mary What's 'Er Name?Mickey
1972The Poseidon AdventureJames Martin
1975The New Original Wonder Woman (pilot)Ashley Norman
1976Gable and LombardIvan Cooper
1977Viva Knievel!Ben Andrews
1977Pete's DragonHoagyNominated—Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor
1978Movie MoviePeanuts/Jinks Murphy
1978The UsersWarren AmbroseTV movie
1979Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in JulyVoice of Milton
1980When Time Ran OutFrancis Fendly
1985Alice in WonderlandThe White Rabbit
198818 Again!Charlie
1990The AmbulanceElias Zacharai
1994It Could Happen to YouWalter Zakuto
1999The Story of UsArnie Jordan
2001Odessa or BustThe Old Manshort subject
2004Goodnight, We Love Youdocumentary
2005Sid Bernstein Presents...Himselfdocumentary


  1. ^ a b c Comedian Red Buttons dies at 87. BBC News. 14 July 2006.
  2. ^ "Motion Pictures". Encyclopaedia Judaica. Keter Publishing House. 1971–1972. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ The Forward

External links[edit]