Comedian performed in duo for '60s, '70s TV

Comedian Bill Skiles, one half of the Skiles and Henderson comedic team with Newport-Mesa roots who went on to appear on "The Ed Sullivan Show," "The Tonight Show" and other TV programs in the 1960s and 70s, has died. He was 79.

Skiles died of kidney cancer in St. Cloud, Fla., on Monday at a hospice, said Pete Henderson, the other half of the duo, in a phone interview Wednesday from his home in Branson, Mo.

Their partnership started at Disneyland in 1958 and lasted 52 years. The duo last performed in 2010, Henderson said.

When they started out, the two performed at Disneyland for 19 months before moving on to the Sportsman club, on 17th Street and Newport Boulevard in Costa Mesa.

The Sportsman seated between 45 and 50 people, but teemed with patrons while Skiles and Henderson were there. The duo performed in a musical quartet and did comedy routines.

"We packed it every night because there weren't that many seats," Henderson said.

The two went on to perform at venues in Newport Beach, including the since-shuttered Villa Marina Yacht Club and on the Reuben E. Lee, a Mississippi-style riverboat, between 1966 and 1972.

Their TV appearances also included Dean Martin's show and about 80 episodes of "The Hollywood Squares," Henderson said.

"If you had a TV show, you had Skiles and Henderson," Henderson said.

Skiles moved to the Newport area from Texas when he was 5. He lived near Hoag Hospital and would chase and hunt rabbits, Henderson said.

Skiles was seven years older than Henderson. They both graduated from Newport Harbor High School, where they met in 1953, when Henderson was still studying there.

"Bill graduated from Harbor High in 1949. He was in a lot of high school plays and made fast friends with the drama/oral English teacher Bob Wentz, who was almost a legend to those who knew him when they attended Harbor High," Henderson recalled.

"Bill was visiting Mr. Wentz in his classroom after getting out of the Air Force in 1953, when I came down the hall after school," he continued. "Bob's classroom door was open, and he saw me as I was passing and told me he had someone there that he wanted me to meet. I was just 15 years old and Bill was 22. We sniffed around each other like two strange dogs."

Skiles leaves behind a wife, three children and "a bunch of grandkids," Henderson said.


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