Because I'm relatively young, my best memories of Red Buttons come from the live-action/animation hybrid Pete's Dragon, in which he played Hoagy, assistant to the weaselly villain Dr. Terminus. Between that film and C.H.O.M.P.S., which is another kids' movie he appeared in around the same time, I became familiar with his face early on. Of course it took me a few years to get the name right -- I kept confusing him with Red Skelton -- but he had an easily recognizable and somewhat goofy appearance that could put a smile on my face at anytime. Yet Buttons, who was born Aaron Chwatt and got his stage name from his hair color and a button-filled uniform he used to wear as a bellhop, was working for decades before I ever set eyes on his cute little face.
He started as a stand-up comedian when he was only 16, became an accomplished singer and composer, and eventually broke into television and movies. In 1958 he won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar and a Golden Globe for Sayonara, which starred Marlon Brando. His best recognized role these days, however, has to be nice guy James Martin from the original The Poseidon Adventure. He also appeared in The Longest Day, Harlow (which brought another Golden Globe nomination), They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (and another), the TV-movie Leave 'em Laughing and, most recently, The Story of Us.
He died Thursday of vascular disease at the age of 87 and had been ill for some time.