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Red Buttons

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Biography

The son of a milliner from New York City's Lower East Side, Aaron Chwatt became a performer after winning an amateur contest at age 12. Six years later, he was a singing bellboy in a Bronx tavern. (It was from the uniform that he took his famous moniker, Red Buttons.) A talented and versatile performer of stage, screen, and television, Buttons was equally at home in dramatic or comedic roles, but it was as a burlesque comedian working in the Catskills Mountains that he first made a name for himself. Buttons first appeared on Broadway playing a supporting role in Vickie (1942). He appeared in the play Winged Victory a short while later, and reprised his role in the 1944 screen version. In 1952, the red-haired comedian starred in the CBS television series The Red Buttons Show. Extremely popular during its first season -- Buttons' distinctive theme song in which he'd clap his hands together as if in prayer and sing, "Ho ho! He he! Ha ha! Strange things are happening!" was a sort of hit among American kids -- it was a blend of variety acts and a weekly sitcom. The show declined in popularity during its second season and was canceled, then picked up by NBC the following year, where it ran in different formats until 1955. Buttons' career also went into decline, but the feisty little performer made an auspicious comeback in 1957's Sayonara, playing a tragic, love-struck American soldier who defies the racist policies of the U.S. military and marries a Japanese woman; the role landed him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. After that, Buttons had little trouble finding work as a character actor; his last major appearance was a 1995 one-man show on Broadway titled Buttons on Broadway. ~ Sandra Brennan

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