Entertainer. His show business career spanned nearly 70 years. Best known as a feisty stand-up comedian with a rapid-fire delivery, he was also a fine character actor in Hollywood films. Buttons won an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor for "Sayonara" (1957). Born Aaron Chwatt in New York City, the son of Jewish immigrants, he got hooked on performing after winning an Amateur Night contest at age 12. Originally called "Irish" because of his red hair and puckish features ("They call me the only Yiddish leprechaun", he later quipped), he acquired the name Red Buttons while working as a singing bellboy at a Bronx tavern. He honed his comedic skills in Catskills resorts and by 1939 he was the youngest act in the burlesque circuit. Soon after arriving on Broadway in "Vickie" (1942) he was drafted into the Army Air Corps, where he entertained U. S. troops in Europe and was cast in Moss Hart's wartime propaganda play "Winged Victory". He made his big screen debut reprising this role in director George Cukor's 1944 film adaptation. After the war Buttons rose to headliner status as a nightclub comic but was still relatively unknown when CBS gave him his own weekly television variety program. "The Red Buttons Show" aired from 1952 to 1955, and made him a household name. It won him an Emmy in 1953 and the silly signature song he wrote for it, "Strange Things Are Happening", became a popular catchphrase. But along with success came a reputation for being difficult to work with, which in hindsight he attributed to his inexperience in the medium. Once the show ended he had trouble finding work. Director Joshua Logan finally gambled on casting him in a dramatic role in "Sayonara", as an American soldier in post-World War II Japan whose forbidden romance with a Japanese woman leads to tragedy. Buttons' comeback was a triumph, and after his Oscar win he was flooded with Hollywood offers. For the next three decades he was kept very busy with live performances, numerous TV guest spots, and appearances in such films as "One Two Three" (1961), "The Longest Day" (1962), "Hatari!" (1962), "Gay Purr-ee" (voice only, 1962), "A Ticklish Affair" (1963), "Harlow" (Golden Globe nomination, 1965), "Stagecoach" (1966), "They Shoot Horses Don't They?" (Golden Globe nomination, 1969), "The Poseidon Adventure" (1972), "Pete's Dragon" (1977), "18 Again!" (1988), and "Into Thin Air" (1990). On TV he was at his raucous best in the "Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts", where his frequently updated "Never Had a Dinner" sketch was an inseperable part of the fun. Buttons was roasted himself when the Friars Club gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1982, and he was honored by the City of Hope and many other institutions for his philanthropy and fund-raising efforts. In 1995, at 76, he was still spry enough to appear in a one-man show, "Buttons on Broadway".
Bio by: Bobb Edwards