Red Buttons, an impish former burlesque comic, became an early TV sensation and an Academy Award-winning character actor during a career that spanned more than seven decades.
"Red was one of the few comedians who was a great actor, and he opened the doors to a lot of us," said his longtime friend, comedian Jack Carter.
The diminutive comic — 5 feet 6 and 140 pounds — inspired children around the country to mimic him singing his signature "Ho Ho Song," in which he hopped around singing, "Ho Ho! Hee Hee! Ha Ha! Strange things are happening."
A product of New York's Lower East Side, Buttons had already performed in Minsky's Burlesque and in Broadway plays and musicals by the time he became an overnight hit on television in 1952 with the launch of "The Red Buttons Show" on CBS.
The Academy of Radio and Television Arts and Sciences named Buttons Comedian of the Year in 1954.
But his time at the top on TV was short-lived.
His show's popularity slipped in the second season and it was canceled. It was then picked up by NBC, which turned the variety show into a situation comedy in midseason before canceling it in the spring of 1955.
After the show was canceled, Buttons said years later, "I couldn't get arrested." Indeed, as he said at the time, "I found out how tough show business can be."
But in late 1957 he was unexpectedly back on top with his dramatic supporting role in the screen adaptation of the James Michener novel "Sayonara," starring Marlon Brando as a major who falls in love with a Japanese woman after he is assigned to an air base in Japan during the Korean War.
Buttons' role as the tragic Airman Joe Kelly, who marries his Japanese sweetheart despite a military policy forbidding interracial marriage, earned him an Oscar and a Golden Globe for best supporting actor.
"I'm a little guy," Buttons said at the time, "and that's what I play all the time — a little guy and his troubles."
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