"So you think you can be Snorkel?"
I understood the premise that I had a big nose. I was painfully aware of that during my first meeting with Skelton up at his home on Bellagio Road in Bel Air.
I was a long way from the neighborhood that I grew up in. In my neighborhood, you were either Italian, Greek, Jewish or Lebanese and everyone had a big nose. I wanted to make it clear with Skelton that I wasn't sensitive about my nose. I joked about. He did too, especially when he asked "was your mother frightened by an anteater?" He followed that with a suggestion that I could "hitch that thing up to a horse and plow a field with it." He guessed that I'd "just have to take one big breath in the morning, and that's it for the rest of the day."
We bonded that day. Skelton saw that we had chemistry. I was a performer, and he was a performer. We had something else in common - we both came up in the business the hard way, and we were used to hard work. We were both Cancerians too.
For at least two glorious seasons, I was a regular on The Red Skelton Show. I was being seen by between 20 and 30 million people every week.
I received the call that millions of other Americans had - to serve my country. The firefight had stopped in the Korean War, but Uncle Sam needed the cream of America's youth to monitor the uneasy peace. The Army was drafting those of us, at least, who didn't find deferment by reason of enrollment in college or regular treatments by a shrink. And so it was that I boxed the stuff in my apartment, stored it with my sister, sold my sole means of transportation, a little Vespa motor scooter, and prepared to enter the U.S. Army.
I went to say goodbye to Red Skelton, backstage at CBS Television City. He had been expecting me, and broke the news to me that he'd found a pretty good litttle actor to take my place as Snorkel. He didn't have my nose, but he had some experience acting. His name was Mickey Rooney.
Red was thoughtful enough to present me with a St. Christopher's medal, solid gold, something I still wear, with the inscription, "God Bless You, Jameel. Your friend, Red Skelton."
Red Skelton and the Army
I had been keeping in touch with Red many times - writing to him regularly. Even though I was fortunate enough to be stationed at the U.S. Army Pictorial Center in Long Island City, Astoria, Queens - I enjoyed keeping Red up with my acitivites. I used to complain to him frequently about the KP duty I would pull. You know, scullery work, pot scrubbing, peeling potatoes, mopping up.
A couple of weeks later, I was called into the commanding officer's headquarters, where he waved a telegram under my nose. Major Cohen bellowed "It says I should take you off of KP and it's supposedly signed by Red Skelton! Private, is this your idea of a joke?"
I moved closer and asked if I could see a copy of the telegram. After I had read it, I said "Well, sir, as you can plainly see, this was sent yesterday from Hollywood, California. I could hardly have sent it myself." I then showed him my St. Christopher's medal which I wore right next to my dog tags.
"You mean, you're Snorkel?" He peered at me. "Good to meet you Private Snorkel!"
As luck would further have it, I was later stationed in Tokyo, Japan. Camp Drake became my home for
the foreseeable future. One day I was called
into the commanding officer's office. USAF Maj. Peter O.E. Becker was waving a telegram at me. This time, it was not from Red Skelton, but, it was pretty close to a telegram from Red. It was from the Defense Department. It informed my CO that Red Skelton was going to be touring all the Army bases in Korea, and had requested me, Private Jameel Farah, to join him on tour.
Whatever Mr. Skelton wanted, Mr. Skelton was going to
get. My superiors quickly detached me from my duties at Camp Drake and sent me off to an airport near Tokyo to greet the great Mr. Skelton - along with band, and a lot of the brass to help me salute him when he climbed down
out of a U.S Army Air Corps plane.
I got out of the Army in 1959 and found that Hollywood
was pretty much the same Hollywood I had known before, except that everyone was two years older.