Friday, November 13, 2015

Amos 'n' Andy

Amos 'n' Andy is an American radio and television sitcom set in Harlem, Manhattan's historic black community. The original radio show, which was popular from the 1920s through the 1950s, was created, written, and voiced by two white actors, Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll, who played a number of different characters, including the titular Amos Jones (Gosdon) and Andrew Hogg Brown (Correll).

 When the show moved to television, black actors took over the majority of the roles; white characters were infrequent. Amos 'n' Andy began as one of the first radio comedy series and originated from station WMAQ in Chicago. After the first broadcast in 1928, the show became a hugely popular radio series. Early episodes were broadcast from the El Mirador Hotel in Palm Springs, California.:168–71 The show ran as a nightly radio serial (1928–43), as a weekly situation comedy (1943–55), and as a nightly disc-jockey program (1954–60). A television adaptation ran on CBS (1951–53) and continued in syndicated reruns (1954–66). It would not be shown to a nationwide audience again until 2012.

Advertising pioneer Albert Lasker often took credit for having created the show as a promotional vehicle. After the associations with Pepsodent toothpaste (1929–37) and Campbell's Soup (1937–43), primary sponsors included Lever Brothers' Rinso detergent (1943–50), the Rexall drugstore chain (1950–54) and CBS' own Columbia brand of television sets (1954–55). President Calvin Coolidge was said to be among the devoted listeners. Huey P. Long took his nickname of "Kingfish" from the show. At the peak of the popularity, many movie theaters began the practice of stopping the films for the 15 minutes of the Amos 'n' Andy show and then playing the program through the theater's sound system or simply by placing a radio on the stage. Some theaters attempted to attract patrons by noting the fact that they offered the broadcast in their advertisements. NBC sought to stop the practice by charging the theaters who did so with copyright infringement, claiming that charging admission for a free broadcast was not legal.

In 1930, RKO Radio Pictures brought Gosden and Correll to Hollywood to do an Amos 'n' Andy feature film, Check and Double Check (a catchphrase from the radio show). The cast included a mix of white and black performers (the latter including Duke Ellington and his orchestra) with Gosden and Correll playing Amos 'n' Andy in blackface. The film pleased neither critics nor Gosden and Correll themselves, but briefly became RKO's biggest box-office hit prior to King Kong before falling off rapidly. Audiences were curious to see what their radio favorites looked like and were expecting to see African-Americans instead of white men in blackface. RKO ruled out any plans for a sequel. Gosden and Correll did lend their voices to a pair of Amos 'n' Andy cartoon shorts produced by the Van Beuren Studios in 1934: The Rasslin' Match and The Lion Tamer. These were also not successful. Years later, Gosden was quoted as calling Check and Double Check "just about the worst movie ever." Gosden and Correll also posed for publicity pictures in blackface. They were also part of The Big Broadcast of 1936 as Amos 'n' Andy.

Hired by CBS as producers of the television show, Gosden and Correll were ready to try bringing the show to television as early as 1946; the search for cast members went on for four years before filming began. According to a 1950 newspaper story, Gosden and Correll had initial aspirations of voicing the characters Amos, Andy and Kingfish for television, while the actors hired for these roles performed and apparently were to lip-sync the story lines. A year later, both spoke about how they realized they were visually unsuited to play the television roles, citing difficulties with making the Check and Double-Check film. No further mention was made about Gosden and Correll continuing to voice the key male roles in the television series. Corell and Gosden did record the lines of the main male characters to serve as a guideline for the television show dialogue at one point. In 1951, the men targeted 1953 for their retirement from broadcasting; there was speculation that their radio roles might be turned over to black actors at that time.

Adapted to television, The Amos 'n Andy Show was produced from June 1951 to April 1953 with 78 filmed episodes, sponsored by the Blatz Brewing Company. The television series used black actors in the main roles, although the actors were instructed to keep their voices and speech patterns close to those of Gosden and Correll. Produced at the Hal Roach Studios for CBS, the show was among the first television series to be filmed with a multicamera setup, four months before I Love Lucy used the technique. The series' theme song was based on radio show's "The Perfect Song" but became Gaetano Braga's "Angel's Serenade", performed by The Jeff Alexander Chorus. The program debuted on June 28, 1951.

The main roles in the television series were played by the following black actors:

Amos Jones – Alvin Childress
Andrew Hogg Brown (Andy) – Spencer Williams
George "Kingfish" Stevens – Tim Moore
Sapphire Stevens – Ernestine Wade
Ramona Smith (Sapphire's Mama) – Amanda Randolph
Madame Queen – Lillian Randolph
Algonquin J. Calhoun – Johnny Lee
Lightnin' – Nick Stewart (billed as "Nick O'Demus")
Ruby Jones – Jane Adams

No comments:

Post a Comment