When you hear the name Red Skelton, the first thing that most likely comes to mind is comedy. And while he was a master of comedy, something that I remember even more about Red Skelton is his explanation of the Pledge Of Allegiance.
A few days ago, I discovered a video clip of this performance on YouTube. I am not particularly surprised that it is on YouTube (in multiple versions, no less); I am perhaps more surprised that I did not think to search for it earlier. According to the introduction on one clip, Skelton first performed the sketch on his CBS variety show on January 14, 1969. That introduction also mentioned that it has been read into the Congressional Record twice.
In the performance, Skelton talked about his grade school principal, a gentleman by the name of Mr. Lasswell, and how one day Mr. Lasswell lectured the students following the recitation of the Pledge Of Allegiance. Mr. Lasswell had the impression that the students were finding the recitation monotonous. “If I may, may I recite it and try to explain to you the meaning of each word.”
With that, he began to break down the Pledge phrase by phrase, word by word, explaining the meaning behind each word and phrase. Mr. Lasswell’s words certainly had an impact on Skelton, for him to remember them so clearly decades later.
Skelton ended the performance by saying, “Since I was a small boy, two states have been added to our country, and two words have been added to the Pledge Of Allegiance — ‘Under God.’ Wouldn’t it be a pity if someone said that is a prayer, and that would be eliminated from schools, too?” I would think that this calmly stated line from this gentle man has to be the most stinging rebuke ever delivered to those who feel that freedom of religion means freedom from religion.
As I have said, I found multiple versions of this performance on YouTube. The link below, however, probably has the best audio and video quality:
I am somewhat uncertain as to how I stumbled across this performance. When I did, though, I found a link to another interpretation of the Pledge Of Allegiance, this one by John Wayne. It starts with the Duke reciting the Pledge. Then, as a chorus begins reciting it again, he asks, “What do those words mean to you?” He then proceeds to give his own phrase-by-phrase breakdown of the Pledge. One line that I particularly like describes America as “A land where . . . the ballot box is the sword, and the people, its wielder.” Wayne’s description is different from Skelton’s, but no less accurate. His interpretation can be found here:
There is one other version of the Pledge Of Allegiance that I found while watching the above two interpretations. This one features Don La Fontaine, the narrator of probably thousands of movie trailers. If you have ever heard a trailer that begins, “In a world where . . . ,” then you are familiar with La Fontaine and his distinctive voice. This one does not have any interpretation, just La Fontaine reciting the Pledge, and the US Army Band playing in the background: