Some History of Amos ’n’ Andy

Elizabeth McLeod Posts

The following posts by broadcast historian Elizabeth McLeod are used with her permission.

Date: Sun, 26 Dec 2004 21:56:50 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: A&A's Popularity

Did I hear somewhere that during some period when Amos 'n Andy were on air, that the whole country was listening to them and that during the 15 minutes (7 to 7:15PM) when they were on, there were more cars stolen because everyone but the car thieves were glued to their radios?! Perhaps it was because there was not much in the way of competition at that particular perid??!!!

The peak of A&A's popularity occured in 1930-31, when they attracted an audience estimated at between 30 and 40 million people a night, six nights a week -- nearly a third of the entire population of the United States at that time. There are hundreds of anecdotes from this period about water use declining, car thefts increasing, and suchlike things, but these stories have been repeated and embellished so extensively in the decades since that I've found it impossible to trace these stories to their source for documentation.

But what can be documented with certainty is that the original A&A serial was the radio program that almost singlehandedly laid the creative and commercial groundwork for the OTR era. Correll and Gosden, thru their success, turned dramatized radio from a stage-influenced, stage-actor-dominated medium into an entirely new art form. They were the first radio performers to fully understand that radio's lack of a visual element was an advantage rather than a liability, and they were the first radio performers to build the entire structure of their program around that advantage. It's true that they had little substantive competition during their early years -- but that's because they were building the road everyone else would follow.


"The Original Amos 'n' Andy" -- Coming in Spring 2005 from McFarland & Co.

From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: Amos 'n' Andy
Date: 2001-12-02 10:46:19 PST

If you're looking to get a solid feel for the characters from surviving recordings, I'd suggest episodes from the latter half of the 1943-44 season are your best bet. My personal recommendations would be --

  • 12/31/43 -- Mr. 1943. A fascinating, thoughtful episode with a great dramatic guest shot (literally) by Edward G. Robinson.
  • 1/28/44 -- The $1000 Bill. This script is beautifully constructed along the lines of an O. Henry short story (O. Henry was one of Freeman Gosden's favorite authors, and his influence on the first year or two of sitcom episodes was significant.) and gives you insight into the kind of person Andy really is and the nature of his relationship with Amos.
  • 4/7/44 -- The Get-Acquainted Club. An excellent Kingfish episode, with a serious angle on the Kingfish-Sapphire relationship.

While these are nowhere near as textured as the original serial, they give a far better presentation to the characters (and Correll and Gosden's original vision for them) than the Kingfish's-Scheme-Of-The-Week rut the series fell into by the late forties.

A&A is an awfully complicated series to try and explain, because the social and political baggage it's been forced to carry has essentially obliterated public memory of what the series originally was. Add to this the fact that very few people alive today actually heard the program in its prime (1930-1935) and you end up with a situation where discussions all too often turn into shouting matches. I prefer to simply to let Correll and Gosden speak for themselves, in the form of the script excerpts I've provided in my website.

Subject: Re: Amos 'n' Andy
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Date: 12/4/2001 9:40 AM Eastern Standard Time

I've always wondered why A & A is so often labeled as racist (especially by those who have obviously never seen or heard the show) when other shows that perpetuate much worse racial stereotypes escape comment.

There are many issues of racial-identity politics at work in this controversy, and every person you ask will have a different interpretation for what happened. But from a purely-historic point of view, the reputation of A&A was destroyed by the early-1950s TV series and the protests which surrounded it -- with the memory of the TV controversy having turned the much longer and more complex history of the radio program into little more than a minor footnote. The TV series, in turn, was a victim of extraordinarily bad timing.

The A&A radio show actually generated little serious controversy during the years it was on the air -- other than the Pittsburgh Courier protest of 1931 (which fizzled out after six months because most other African-American newspapers refused to support it) there were no organized protests of A&A until the TV series began in 1951. The early fifties were a very different time from the early thirties, particularly in terms of the influence of the black middle class -- and the A&A TV series was seen as a relic of the past, something that had to be overcome if the middle class was to continue advancing. The Kingfish and his antics were considered by activists as a symbol of everything that stood in the way of that progress.

There had been far more overt stereotypes in popular culture -- the magazine stories of Octavus Roy Cohen, E. K. Means, and Hugh Wiley, and the Stepin Fetchit-Willie Best-Mantan Moreland-Dudley Dickerson type of eye-bugging porters and "feets don't fail me now" chauffeurs in movie comedies, for example -- but by the early fifties most of these had already been eliminated. The A&A TV series was seen as the most prominent remaining target -- and consequently it received the loudest criticism, even though, ironically, it offered a great many non-stereotyped supporting roles to black actors.

The radio series, oddly, was never mentioned during the era of the TV series protests, even though during 1952-53 it was the highest rated radio program in the US. Roy Wilkins, then assistant to NAACP executive director Walter White, even pointed this out in an internal memo at the height of the protest, reminding White that the Association had "never become excited" over the radio series, and that many rank-and-file members couldn't understand why the Association was taking such an aggressive tone against the TV program. Even at the height of the protest, there was by no means a consensus against the series.

There's a definitive discussion of the A&A protest of 1951-52 by the cultural historian Thomas Cripps in the book "American History, American Television," edited by John O'Connor (Frederick Ungar Publishing Co, 1983), and if you can dig up a copy of this it may illuminate the controversy a bit.

Personally, I don't much care for the A&A TV series -- because it's played way too broadly (Gosden thought so too) and fails to capture the depth of characterization of the early radio version. Had the TV program tried to recapture the mood of the original 1930s radio serial, focusing more on the friendship between Amos and Andy than on the doings of the Kingfish and avoiding the eye-rolling slapstick gags, the controversies might well have been blunted.

Subject: Re: Amos 'n' Andy
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Date: 12/9/2001 10:55 AM Eastern Standard Time

Blacks, I am sure, were offended by Amos & Andy during its time, even though it was a well produced show with good actors and writers. I have to admit that some of the story lines from the late 40's for that show are absolutely inflamatory.

The feel of A&A changed substantially during the late forties, coinciding with the sale of the program to CBS. There were a number of factors at work here -- Correll and Gosden themselves were no longer in full control of the program's content, for one thing. CBS put them under the supervision of a producer named James Fonda -- who Gosden didn't much like -- and there were a lot of conflicts going on backstage during this period. CBS also hired the veteran African-American comedian Flournoy Miller to act as its "racial consultant," hoping that his presence would insure that there wouldn't be any controversies over A&A. Part of Miller's job was to flag any material that, in his view, would be racially questionable -- however, Miller was a man whose comic and racial perspectives had been formed in the 1890s, not the 1950s. During his long career in black vaudeville, he had performed material which was extremely broad and stereotypical, and well into the 1930s he was still working in traditional blackface makeup, even before all-black audiences. It can be argued that given his age and his background, he was hardly equipped to judge what would or would not be acceptable to the rising African-American middle class of the postwar period -- a class of people who often saw such old-school black comedians as embarrasments.

Another factor was the overall trend of radio comedy during the postwar era: comedy was much broader all around than it had been during the pre-war era -- it tended to be louder, more aggressive, more insult-oriented, and the characters, in general, were more extreme. Andy and the Kingfish became much more exaggerated -- just as other characters on other programs were becoming more exaggerated: it's interesting to compare late '40s A&A with the "Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show" from the same period, and to notice how similar the basic tone of the comedy actually is. This is because, in part, the Harris-Faye format was created (during the "Fitch Bandwagon" series of 1946-48 by Joe Connolly and Bob Mosher, who also were responsible for many of the A&A scripts from 1946 forward. It can be argued that Phil and Frankie are basically Andy and the Kingfish in whiteface.

Given the presence of so many exaggerated characters on radio during this era, one can argue that the Kingfish and Andy did not stand out as much as they would have had they been the only exaggerated characters in an era in which all the white characters were middle-class and suburban -- and in such circumstances, audiences were less likely to see and judge their antics as exclusively "racial." This doesn't deny the fact that the show was far more extreme in the late forties-early fifties than it had ever before been -- but it does help to put that change into historical perspective.

Subject: Re: Amos 'n' Andy
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Date: 12/7/2001 9:25 AM Eastern Standard Time

What a great website you have, Elizabeth. Kudos to you for your hard work.

Thanks for the kind words -- it's a work in progress, and as new information is uncovered, it gets added in.

Is it possible that any of the early 1932 episodes might have survived?

Very doubtful. There are about fifty episodes currently known to exist from the 438 episodes recorded for syndication in 1928-29.(These should not be confused with the commercially-released Victor records commonly circulated by OTR collectors -- the Presidential Election bit and such. These were not actual episodes, and have nothing to do with the continuing storylines.) These syndication episodes aren't quite as highly developed as the series would be by the early thirties, but there's still material of interest, especially the "Earl Dixon" series of May thru July 1929, which although incomplete is as close as we have to a full storyline. Unfortunately, it's missing the climactic sequence, including Amos's trial and conviction, and the exposure of Dixon as the real criminal.

After the series moved to live NBC broadcasts in 1929, no recordings were made -- and in fact, in the ten years the serial aired over NBC, the network is known to have recorded only six episodes, none earlier than 1936. There is a very poor (essentially unlistenable) home recording of one episode from March 1932, and three home recorded fragments of episodes from January and February of 1933. That's currently all that's known to exist -- and after twenty years of searching, I'm convinced that the odds are against anything more substantial turning up for the 1930-35 era.

Subject: Re: Amos 'n' Andy
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Date: 12/6/2001 9:22 PM Eastern Standard Time

I can respect your years of study concerning A&A, but after reading your post (and others of your A&A in the past), I'm afraid you strike me as an A&A apologist.

Well, I'll admit I'm not exactly unbiased -- under the circumstances, it's hard to be otherwise. A&A have been a part of my life for a long time, and over the years I've gotten to know and understand what it was that their creators were trying to do. You don't read nearly 3000 of their scripts without getting to know the men behind the characters pretty well -- and I'm convinced that they've gotten a rather raw deal from history. So, I guess that does make me an apologist -- but I see it as simply a case of wanting to ensure that their side of the story gets told.

Your contention appears to be, "Well, if you REALLY wanna see racism, go read the early literature and what-nots from the early 20th century. A&A palls by comparison." Frankly, I think that is beside the point.

I look at it this way -- In many ways, Correll and Gosden saw the evils of their time in the way African-American characters were being depicted, and they tried to move beyond those depictions as best as they could. The original serial shows of the late 1920s and early 1930s were astonishingly deep in the way in which they portrayed their characters -- and Correll and Gosden were in fact the only writers in popular entertainment during that time to acknowledge that a complex, multi-layered culture existed in the African-American community -- it wasn't just goofups like Andy or cab drivers like Amos or hustlers like the Kingfish. It was also respected, educated businessmen like Mr. Taylor, white-collar workers like Brother Crawford and F. M. Gwindell, skilled professionals like Lawyer Collins (definitely not a Calhoun-type) and financiers like Roland Weber. Gosden knew this from personal experience -- he had grown up in a section of Richmond where he saw that world around him every day. As a white boy, he was never truly inside that world, but he was close enough to it to realize that the usual myths surrounding African Americans were not true. For a white Southerner of his generation to have acknowledged this -- even to himself -- took a lot of guts.

I think it's to their credit that when fate put them in a position to do so, Gosden and Correll tried to create black characters that were really people -- and not just clowns and caricatures. If they failed, by your estimation, that's certainly your decision to make -- but the important thing is that they were aware of and were trying to break away from the most egregious stereotypes of their era (many of which, unfortunately, are still very much with us, no matter how enlightened we think we are.)

I see A&A as a small but significant step forward along a long road that we've yet to reach the end of. They didn't walk the whole road, certainly -- nor could they have. Nor have any of us today. Nor can we. Hopefully, seventy years from now our grandchildren will look at us and wonder how we could have been so completely screwed up about race while at the same time being so smug about our own supposed enlightenment -- but I also hope they'll be willing to at least give credit where due for those who tried to make progress.

Admittedly, it's hard to see these progressive qualities simply from the A&A programs currently available to OTR collectors - their really vital work was done between 1928 and 1935, and survives only as scripts. And I'll admit that there is much to criticize in the later years of the program -- it got broader and broader, unfortunately, as the years went on, because that was the general trend of radio comedy at the time. (The shrillness of the early 1950s programs sometimes will make even me wince -- but Correll and Gosden had sold the show to CBS by that point, and no longer had full control of its content.) Because Correll and Gosden went along with that trend, most people forgot about what it was that had been so special about the program in the first place. If they had retired for good when the serial ended in 1943, they might be remembered quite differently today.

No, engaging in what I call A&A's "auditory blackface" doesn't draw blood from anyone -- the way a lynching would -- it is still engaging in an activity at the expense of someone else. I can think of the "Beaulah" character who shows up in "Fibber and Molly" episodes. Sure, the character may appear benign, but it is obviously a character drawn to laugh at, rather than with.

Now, I'm with you 100 per cent on Beulah -- she was admittedly a cheap-thrill running gag, with no real substance (at least until Hattie McDaniel took over the role in the spinoff, and then, at least she began to be more of a person.) In her original concept, Beulah had no more substance than the Old Timer or Horatio K. Boomer: she was just your typical Jolly Chucklin' Ol' Mammy figure -- completely a stereotype. And there are A&A characters in the later shows that fit the same mold -- Stonewall and Calhoun come immediately to mind. Eddie Green and Johnny Lee were old-time black vaudevillians who had been doing exactly these types of characters for black audiences for decades -- but the characters had no real inner substance to sustain them: you never cared about Calhoun, for example.

But for me, the original A&A characters created by Correll and Gosden themselves are different -- and this has a lot to do with my exposure to the original series. Having followed ten years' worth of his daily experiences, I feel like I actually know Andy Brown -- he's a loudmouth and a braggart and a screwup, but he's also a tragic, lonely man who covers up his profound insecurity thru a lot of bluster. He gets in trouble not because he's stupid or gullible, but because he's afraid to admit his own weaknesses.

Knowing him as well as I do, when I hear Andy getting flummoxed and frustrated once again, I'm not laughing at "that dumb black guy" -- I'm sympathizing with his problems and at the same time recognizing elements of my own experience, situations when I've let people talk me into things I never should have done but was too proud to back out of. If we look down deep I think we'll find there's a little Andy in all of us. That's the way the show works for me -- the humor is a humor of very subtle recognition, not of ridicule.

Subject: Re: Amos 'n' Andy (as Drama)
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Date: 12/7/2001 8:02 PM Eastern Standard Time

Same with a host of characters on just about any radio sit-com (though I gather A&A started out as a comedy-drama).

Exactly -- and the weight often tended to tip more toward "drama" than "comedy" during the serial era.

A good example of how this was done is the "Earl Dixon Affair" storyline from May-July 1929, several episodes of which survive and are in OTR circulation. The story is spun out very gradually -- Dixon arrives in Chicago to open a rival taxicab company and ingratiates himself with the Kingfish, even though Amos and Andy are suspicious of his motives. The storyline moves along rather slowly for about three weeks, with Dixon gradually becoming more and more of a presence, and Amos and Andy growing more and more suspicious -- and even the Kingfish begins to wonder about Dixon's true game.

Dixon, meanwhile takes a fancy to Ruby Taylor, and decides to cut Amos out of the picture -- even though Ruby tells Dixon in no uncertain terms to stay away from her, smacking him across the face in front of several witnesses to make her point. This only makes Dixon more determined to have his way, and with the aid of his henchman Spud Cook -- who, it is eventually established, is wanted for killing a man in Philadelphia -- Dixon contrives to frame Amos for a $50,000 robbery at a fur store.

At this point, the pacing of the story picks up considerably -- Amos is arrested and his friends rush to his aid. Mr. Taylor agrees to go his bail, and slips Andy fifty dollars to pay for a lawyer. A well-spoken and professional attorney who also happens to be a lodge brother, Lawyer Joseph Wagner, is engaged to take Amos's case.

The trial itself runs for two weeks, during which time the Kingfish begins, much to Amos and Andy's dismay, to spend a great deal of time with Earl Dixon. Finally, Amos is convicted, largely on the basis of perjured testimony from Dixon, and sentenced to five years in prison. Andy is shattered, and unable to face the prospect of remaining in Chicago while his best friend goes to prison for a crime he didn't commit, he prepares to return to Georgia.

The story then comes to a climax: in the space of a single episode, Andy suddenly learns that Dixon and Cook have been arrested. The Kingfish, on Mr. Taylor's suggestion, has been cozying up to Dixon and pumping him for information -- and when he learned the location of Cook's secret hideaway, he reported that information to Mr. Taylor, who turned it over to the police. The police, in turn, installed a dictograph in Cook's room, and planted an undercover detective in the barbershop below the room -- and at the strategic moment, the police burst into the room and took the criminals into custody. Andy, the Kingfish, and Mr. Taylor then drive to the prison, and Amos walks out a free man.

There is very little comedy in this storyline. There are occasional humorous sequences -- usually involving Andy pontificating on some subject or other, like his "business chart" in the 6/21 episode, or the "Law Book" he's never actually bothered to read in the 7/2 episode. But these sequences are not the focus of the story -- rather, they are deliberately inserted to break up the dramatic tension. Correll and Gosden were masters of this - they knew exactly where in a storyline to let off some of the pressure to keep their audience from being overwhelmed. Likewise the pacing of this story -- starting off slow and picking up speed and tension as it progressed - was typical of their work.

The usual practice was to place the more serious, dramatic storylines in the fall-winter-spring months and featuring more lightweight, comedy-oriented material during the summer. This coincided with the usual patterns of radio listenership during the OTR era -- people listened less during warm weather, and would find it difficult to follow an elaborate, dramatic storyline. So it is that the Earl Dixon sequence was followed by a leisurely story about the travails of putting on a lodge Field Day, and then the preparations for Amos and Andy's move to New York.

Correll and Gosden invented these techniques for radio, and I think that few others in the medium equalled their skill in developing continuing storylines -- Carlton E. Morse is their only real rival, for my money.

Date: Sat, 17 Feb 2001 11:46:28 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: A 'n A

I disagree with Owens comments about Amos 'N Andy. Gosden and Correll were not held in high esteem by the black community when they were on the air.

More accurately, Correll and Gosden were held in high esteem by some members of the black community, and were criticised by others -- and still others had more important things on their mind to worry about than a radio program. To argue that the black community was of a single mind on this issue one way or the other simply cannot be supported by any historical facts. Here are a few of those facts, pro and con:

Correll and Gosden were endorsed in 1928 by a straw vote of the Chicago Urban League for "always presenting a creditable side to the characters they portrayed," (Radio Digest, 2/30) and were frequently praised in the pages of the Chicago Defender, the leading African-American newspaper in the US during the Depression era. A personal appearance by the team at a Defender-sponsored event in the summer of 1931 attracted more than 35,000 black Chicagoans. (Defender, 8/22/31)

No less a personality than Roy Wilkins, later head of the NAACP, passionately defended the program in a long letter to the Baltimore Afro-American, published in the issue of 3/22/30. Wilkins expressed concern in the 1940s about the increasingly burlesqued tone of the A&A sitcom -- and later took an active role in the campaign against the TV program -- but at the same time continued to praise elements of the original serial, especially the characterization of Amos as an honest, upright family man. (See Melvin Ely, "The Adventures of Amos 'n' Andy," pp. 215-216) As late as 1942, Correll and Gosden were praised by black newspaper columnist Alamena Davis for "a real understanding of human nature that transcends race." (Los Angeles Tribune, 3/22/42).

The first major public denunciation of the program occurred in December 1930, in an article by Bishop W. J. Walls of the Zion AME Church in Chicago -- an article in which he denounced not just "Amos 'n' Andy," but also jazz and most of the writers of the "Harlem Renaissance" for their emphasis on ghetto imagery. (Abbott's Monthly, 12/30)

Walls' theme was picked up four months later by Robert Vann, publisher of the Pittsburgh Courier, and built into a six-month long crusade in which Vann proclaimed his intent to file legal action to have the show banned from the air. (Courier, 4/25/31) Although the paper claimed to have gathered hundreds of thousands of petition signatures in support of his campaign, Vann abruptly discontinued it in October 1931 in the face of a growing sentiment that it was just another in a long series of Courier publicity stunts. (Ely, pp. 181-183) Although Vann stated at least twice that the NAACP had endorsed the drive it can be demonstrated by checking the NAACP archives in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress that in fact the Association did not endorse the campaign -- a fact that Vann's widow never let them forget. (Letter by Jessie Vann to Walter White, 7/17/51, NAACP Archives). The NAACP was officially silent on A&A until the premiere of the television series in 1951: and even then, it only condemned the TV show, pointedly ignoring the radio program. (NAACP Bulletin, 8/15/51)

And what black actors did they ever hire? They played most of the parts themselves. The daughter, Arabella, was played by a Chinese woman.

Arbadella was indeed played by the Asian-American actress Barbara Jean Wong, who was fourteen when she took the part, and was probably the outstanding female "child impersonator" in Hollywood at the time.

Correll and Gosden played all the male parts in the serial themselves -- but beginning in 1935, they used women quite often. There were almost no experienced black radio actresses working in Chicago during the mid-1930s, but when the performers moved to Hollywood at the end of the decade, they immediately began searching the available talent pool. The Mississippi-born African-American singer Ernestine Wade was hired in April 1939, and soon was playing numerous female roles on the program, from the Kingfish's wife Sapphire to the elegant and wealthy Widow Armbruster.

When the program became a sitcom in 1943-44, the cast expanded -- and Correll and Gosden made every effort to hire black performers wherever possible: James Baskett, Eddie Green, Ruby Dandridge and her daughters Vivian and Dorothy, William Walker, Amanda and Lillian Randolph, Johnny Lee, Jester Hairston, and Roy Glenn. While Green, Lee, and the Randolphs appeared in comic roles, the others -- especially Glenn, Walker, and the Dandridges-- often played straight non-dialect roles. Such opportunities were extraordinarily rare: exactly how many black judges, police officers, or FBI agents ever appeared on "Fibber McGee" or Jack Benny? By any honest account, Correll and Gosden were key figures in promoting integration in Hollywood radio.

Interviewed in 1951 by UCLA graduate student Estelle Edmerson for her masters' thesis "The American Negro in United States Professional Radio," Ruby Dandridge praised A&A as a "well-meaning" program, and indicated that Correll and Gosden encouraged the black performers to speak up about any lines or business that made them uncomfortable. Correll is widely remembered by co-workers as a genuinely warm and friendly man, who treated everyone the same regardless of race. Gosden is remembered less fondly, because of the hard-nosed perfectionist way he ran the show -- but it's interesting that after Correll died, the only A&A veterans that Gosden remained close to were the black performers Ernestine Wade and Jester Hairston.

This show was popular with the white population because it crystallized what they wanted to believe.

This assumes that the white population, likewise, thought in lockstep -- that there was only one possible image of African-Americans in the minds of white Americans, and that A&A pandered to it. I believe that the program -- and the people who listened to it -- were far more complex than that.

For example, how do we explain or understand the portrayal of the successful middle-class businessman William Taylor and his college-educated daughter Ruby, who figured prominently in A&A's serial era? Here were black characters who did not fit any of the prevalent stereotypes -- and yet were presented in a frank, matter-of-fact way that suggests that there was nothing particularly unusual about them. What did they say to white listeners? What does the contextual evidence indicate that Correll and Gosden were trying to say?

And what does Amos's dedication to family, friends, and his own personal advancement say to that audience? Was he a comforting "Uncle Tom" figure, an embodiment of the assimilationist success model, or a demonstration of determined black self-sufficiency? Was he all of these things at once? Do we have any basis at all for believing that everyone hearing the show in the 1930s heard the same messages?

The deeper you study the program and the responses it provokes, the more layered they become -- and the more obvious it appears that interpreting A&A is not simply a matter of "black and white." I'd suggest a careful reading of Melvin Ely's book for the best available dissection of the racial subtext -- and my own newly-expanded A&A website,, for a discussion of the program's actual content in the serial era, illustrated with many never-before-published script excerpts. Documentation is offered for all factual statements made.


Date: Sun, 11 Feb 2001 10:20:05 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: Weddings

Of course, there are many great ones from AMOS N ANDY where a wedding is important to the plot (or a divorce, but that wouldn't be quite appropriate). But I think those shows were while it was a serial, and not many of them are available to my knowledge.

Perhaps the most memorable wedding sequence in the series occurred in 1933, as part of a storyline which ran for over five months. Andy had renewed his relationship with Madam Queen, after the debacle of the breach-of-promise case two years earlier, and the couple had announced their engagement. However, these plans were ruined by the arrival of Frederick Montgomery Gwindell, an arrogant young man who had been hired as an efficiency expert by the owners of the Okey Hotel (which was then being managed by Amos, Andy, the Kingfish, and Brother Crawford.) Gwindell immediately fired everyone but Brother Crawford, and began an energetic pursuit of Madam Queen. Having become jealous because she had seen Andy talking with a young woman named Luella Walker -- a college friend of Ruby Taylor's -- the Madam broke off the engagement and instead agreed to marry Gwindell, shattering Andy's heart.

The lodge threw a bachelor dinner for Gwindell, and to rub his nose in the situation, Gwindell asked that Andy be appointed to serve as one of the waiters. On the night of the dinner, Andy could hold back his anger no longer, and deliberately dumped a plate of hot food into Gwindell's lap -- only to get beaten up by an ex-boxer who Gwindell had brought to the dinner as a bodyguard. All this provided ample subject matter for the Kingfish to use in his gossip column, which he secretly wrote for a local newspaper under the name of Leroy LeRoy.

Andy was not invited to the wedding, but slipped into the church anyway. As Madam Queen came down the aisle, she saw Andy -- and heard him murmur "my darlin'..." The ceremony proceeded -- and just as the minister was about to pronounce the couple man and wife, the Madam turned away from Gwindell, ran to Andy, and threw herself sobbing into his arms.

Enraged by this turn of events, Gwindell immediately filed suit against Andy for alienation of affection, claiming both emotional and monetary damages, and a lengthy trial ensued. Although Andy was well-represented by the skilled attorney Henry Lucas, his conviction seemed inevitable until Amos's detective work uncovered two vital pieces of evidence: the night before the wedding, Madam Queen had consulted Prince Ali Bendo, the local fortuneteller, who had advised her not to go ahead with the wedding. And after the wedding, Gwindell had sold the property he had bought as a wedding present for the Madam at a handsome profit. Amos brought the Prince and the real estate agent who handled the land sale to testify at the last minute, and once again Andy was saved.

Three fragmentary episodes from this storyline survive: a seven-minute fragment from 1/9/33, a 2 minute clip from 2/15/33, and a 7 minute segment of 2/22/33, the latter being the episode in which Andy learns that Gwindell and the Madam have gotten engaged.


Date: Wed, 5 Dec 2001 20:57:25 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: A&A Friday Night Minstrels >And yet another rarity: "The Mystic Knights of the Sea Friday Night Minstrel Show," a short-lived attempt by NBC to broaden the horizons of "Amos 'n' Andy" and bring them into a semi-variety format. Only two of these programs are known to exist and here's one of them, sponsored by Pepsodent and benefiting the Harlem Community Fund.

Not only are there only two programs known, only two were broadcast before the idea was abandoned. I'm not positive whose idea the "Friday Night Minstrel Show" was -- but it was most likely a joint idea of Gosden and Basil Loughrane, the agency supervisor for Lord and Thomas. 1936 was a very unsettled year for A&A, with a lot of experimentation in the storylines to try and find something that could spur the sagging ratings -- and the experimentation with a variety format once a week was deemed worth a try. There was precedent for this: Lum and Abner had done something very similar in 1933 with their "Friday Night Sociables," and in fact Correll and Gosden had done a weekly "WMAQ Minstrels" variety series during 1928-29, coinciding with the first year of the A&A serial. (I don't believe they actually appeared *as* Amos and Andy in that series, however.)

The Mystic Knights of the Sea Friday Night Minstrel Show November 4, 1936 (#901) (15:30) NBC - broadcast 10:15 to 10:30 PM

The date on this one should actually be 12/4/36 -- the only two "Friday Night Minstrel" broadcasts were 12/4 and 12/11/36. The idea was supposed to resume in January 1937, after Correll and Gosden made their annual winter trip to California, but for whatever reason, it didn't happen. It may be that there were logistical problems -- or it may be that Gosden simply got tired of trying to find ways to work the shows into the continuity of the regular series. (The weeks leading up to the 12/4 and 12/11 shows revolved around the backstage efforts at the lodge hall as the members put the shows together.)

The "#901" is not the program number -- A&A was up to the 2400s in episode numbers by December 1936. Most likely it's the NBC Electrical Transcription Division label number assigned to the recording. The time indicates that this is the "second show," broadcast for Chicago and points west. I believe the recording in the NBC-LOC collection is the Eastern broadcast, so there might be noticeable differences in the performance.

This program is very significant in that it's the first time Correll and Gosden broadcast before a live studio audience, and they were both nervous wrecks before going on the air: while they had done plenty of personal-appearance stage shows, in all the years they had been on the air, they had rigidly enforced a strict privacy rule for actual broadcasts, and this was the first time that rule was ever broken.

Although the program was actually broadcast from Merchandise Mart in Chicago, it did in fact benefit the Harlem Community Fund -- a collection was taken up among the studio audience members, and was supplemented by a personal donation from Correll and Gosden. The second program in the series was done on behalf of Christmas Seals on the same basis.

In addition to Correll and Gosden, you can also hear Elinor Harriot as "Mandy" in Frank Parker's guest performance of the song by that name, and Terry Howard as "Pun'kin," the little orphan girl Andy had taken in during the fall of 1936 -- she's the little girl who chirps "what'd you say mister?" (her catchphrase) as Basil Loughrane reads the NBC system cue at the end of the show. Also heard are The Four Vagabonds -- an excellent black rhythm quartet regularly featured on "The Breakfast Club" -- and Joseph Gallicchio's orchestra.

A picture taken from backstage during the actual broadcast of this show -- snapped just as Correll and Gosden were stepping to the microphone after being introduced -- can be seen at


Date: Sat, 6 Jan 2001 12:30:06 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: A&A in Theatres

Yes, it is true! that actually happened. The program was so popular that in order for listeners not to miss a single episode (especially the Andy Brown breach of promise trial) the movie houses "piped in" the show for their audiences.

I've recently been doing a bit of additional research on the "mass listening" phenomenon, and I've been able to determine that it actually began in Washington DC in January or February of 1930. The "Great Home Bank" storyline was going on at this point -- Amos was being pressured to invest his life savings in a "wildcat bank" administered by the Kingfish, his wife, and his associate Pat Pending -- and there was a lot of suspense over whether or not he would agree to do so. This storyline was probably the one which really marked the beginning of the huge A&A craze. It can be documented, though, that "mass listening" was still taking place thru at least the end of 1931.

However, another factor was involved in the practice. During early 1930, Correll and Gosden were making a series of live appearances on the Publix theatre circuit, and opposition houses were seeing their own box office receipts drop in cities where the live appearances occurred. In some cases, it appears the theatre owners were trying to undercut the Publix theatre across the street by putting "Amos 'n' Andy Tonight -- 7pm" on their marquees-- even though what the audience would actually get was a chance to listen in on the broadcast. There's no denying that audiences wanted to hear the broadcasts -- but pleasing them wasn't the only motive.

The NBC Artists Service, which managed the live shows, announced in late February that it would sue to halt the practice of "theatre listening" on the grounds that it was a violation of copyright.


Date: Sat, 19 Aug 2000 13:58:57 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: A&A, from Chicago to NY

When did the story-line start talking about moving to New York? Did it start after Monday Aug 5? If so, my assumption is that somewhere between June 27 and July 10 they found out they were going on NBC and they decided to move the location to New York. If the story-line started before Monday August 5, they must have know of the change prior to June 25, the start of the three days of recording.

The first mention of the move from Chicago to New York happened in episode 377, for Sunday 6/8/29. The Kingfish has been contacted by the Great Supreme Kingfish and asked to relocate to New York to oversee lodge operations there, and he has suggested that Amos and Andy might join him in the move. This sequence comes in the middle of the Earl Dixon-Easy Riding Taxicab Company storyline, a time when Amos and Andy were feeling very threatened in their business activities by an abrasive rival, and they began to seriously consider the idea. Amos was particularly interested because Ruby Taylor was attending school in New York, and the move would bring them closer together.

This would indicate that Correll and Gosden first became aware of the possibility of moving to NBC sometime in May of 1929, even as they were playing to sellout crowds the West Coast on their Pantages vaudeville tour. After this one mention, however, there is no further significant discussion of the idea in the series until episode 422, for Tuesday 7/30/29. The final decision to make the move is episode 427 for 8/5/29, and preparations for the relocation and the trip itself take up the final episodes of the chainless-chain series.

Obviously, Correll and Gosden weren't sure early on that the deal was going to materialize -- and they left themselves an out if the negotiations failed. They did hold all the cards in the negotiations -- NBC wanted them badly, since the chainless chain was growing steadily, and had already made A&A a national craze -- and they were pretty much able to set their own terms with the network. They even successfully insisted that NBC hire their manager, Alexander Robb, for a key position with the NBC Artists Service.

These dates would fit the known timetable for the NBC negotiations. Correll and Gosden were performing in Kansas City, on the final leg of their Pantages tour, when Niles Trammell sent announcer Sen Kaney, an old colleague of the boys from the WEBH days, with a contract offer. Correll and Gosden were in Kansas City from June 14th thru June 20, doing four shows a day at the Pantages, and broadcasting their nightly episode live over WDAF, so they probably were quite busy when Kaney caught up with them. There were further discussions with NBC and Lord and Thomas officials when Correll and Gosden returned to Chicago. In mid-July (they probably left Chicago July 12th) Freeman and Charlie went to New York, where they met with Merlin Ayelsworth of NBC, and also spent several days touring Harlem in order to familiarize themselves with the geography of the region, focusing on the business and residential areas bordered by Lenox and 7th Avenues and 134th to 137th Streets. The initial episodes of the network series reveal the results of this research -- references to real-life Harlem addresses and landmarks abound. A&A would live in a specific three-story rooming house on East 134th Street between Park and Madison, with the taxicab office located on 135th St. just around the corner from Lenox, and the lodge hall in a six-story brownstone on West 137th Street about 150 feet from the Lenox Avenue intersection. The boys made a careful map of these locations during their visit, and this was kept on the wall of their office thruout the run of the serial series.

The first public announcement of the move to NBC appears to have been made in the Chicago Daily News for 7/27/29, when details of the one-year contract were announced, and the point emphasized that other than feeding A&A to NBC, WMAQ will continue to be a member of the Columbia network. NBC issued a press release at this same time, which appeared in many newspapers and radio magazines beginning on July 28th, which offered a capsule biography of Correll and Gosden drawn from the book published earlier in the year by Rand McNally. There have been published claims that the contract itself was signed on the 27th, but I doubt the accuracy of this. I've not seen the actual contract, but I'm confident in stating that it was signed when the boys were in New York, at least two weeks before the announcement was made.

The final syndicated episode, number 438 for 8/18/29, finds Amos and Andy spending the night in a small Pennsylvania town about a hundred miles from New York, reflecting on their past and pondering their future. The next day, the first episode of the NBC/Pepsodent run, A&A get lost driving around the city, and ask a passing policeman for directions to "where de colored people live." Bill Hay's unusually-lengthy introductory remarks for this episode specifically identify A&A as "colored," and briefly summarize the key events of the chainless-chain era: the move from Georgia to Chicago, the establishment of the taxi business, and finally the decision to move to New York. This intro manages to maintain continuity for listeners who were already familiar with the series while at the same time establishing the specifics of the format and the boundaries of the characters' world for people hearing the program for the first time.

One interesting note about the scripts from the last months of the chainless chain era is that Gosden appears to have been keeping track of the matrix numbers for each recording session, because they are noted on each script in his handwriting from the start of the Brunswick period to the end of the syndication. There are also scripts from the Marsh Labs period that include handwritten numbers which may be matrix designations. Recording dates, however, are not written down -- just matrix numbers and notes of timing for each individual side recorded. On last night's program the landlord appears, and I wonder if that character appears in one of the existing recordings. If not, I suppose that he is just guessing at a voice to use for that character. We would certainly have to excuse that potential inaccuracy if no one knows what a voice sounded like.

I do know that Ed has heard at least some of the original episodes, and I've given him a bit of advice on other characters, as well as on various subtleties that don't show up in the scripts like Amos's tendency to stammer in times of stress. Usually, though, it is noted in the script whether a minor character was taken by Correll or by Gosden -- and if you've heard the surviving recordings, you become familiar enough with the range of voices for each man that you can make an educated guess, from the way in which the character is written, what sort of voice was used. In the case of Fred the Landlord, I don't know of any surviving recordings in which he appeared, but I do know Correll played the part. Knowing that is half the battle in figuring out what he was supposed to sound like, because Charlie's range of voices was nowhere as broad as Freeman's.

Several other major characters will be appearing in the series for the first time over the next few months, and it will be interesting to hear how Bolton handles them. Lightning first appears in the 9/4/29 episode, and his voice is well known -- but there are no surviving recordings of episodes featuring Pat Pending, a flim-flam inventor, who appears first in the 9/18/29 episode. Correll played this part, in a slick, fast-talking voice with only a very slight trace of dialect. No recordings are known either of Prince Ali Bendo, the mysterious crystal-gazer, who first appears in the 12/9/29 episode. Gosden played him with a drawn-out French accent, since the character claimed to come from Algeria!

I might announce here that I'm currently working on a project which will transcribe the scripts for an entire A&A serial storyline into HTML form, for posting on the web. The sequence I've selected is the famous "Madam Queen Breach of Promise Case", which runs for 64 episodes between December 1930 and March 1931. If all goes according to plan, I'll be posting an announcement within the next couple of weeks giving the URL where the scripts can be read. And I'll also say this: If you think you know how this sequence ends up -- you're wrong.


Date: Thu, 10 Aug 2000 09:58:19 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: A&A Names and Notes

what are their last names?

Amos Jones, the son of the late Elijah Muppy Jones (killed in a mine accident) and Sarah Edwaleder Jones (died of overwork). Both Amos's parents were natives of Georgia, but his father moved around the South a lot looking for jobs and was rarely home.

Andrew Brown, parents' names unknown, but his father was probably from Mississippi and his mother from Georgia. While Andy has no legal middle name, he began to use the initial "H" in 1930, because that was his favorite letter. Amos claims the "H" stands for "Hog," because Andy's job on the farm in Georgia involved feeding swine. In later years, Andy began to claim that "Hogg" was in fact his middle name. "Halt" sometimes turns up in OTR reference works, but is based on a mishearing of "Hogg" and is incorrect.

Other name trivia of note from A&A --

George "Kingfish" Stevens spent nearly two years (1932-34) working at a Harlem newspaper under the pen name of "Leroy LeRoy," writing an articulate and amusing Winchellesque gossip column, and using his lodge connections as a source of inside information.

Lightning's true name is a point of some controversy. When he married Dixie Davis in 1932, the name on the marriage announcement was "Willie Jefferson," and this is the name he gave in court testimony in the Gwindell vs. Brown alienation-of-affection case in 1933 and which was used in the series from then on. However, when he first met Amos and Andy in 1929, he stated that the people down home in Alabama called him "Alfalfa Washington," and when testifying in the Queen vs. Brown breach-of-promise case in 1931, he got flustered and couldn't remember his name, finally giving it as "Williams."

Sapphire's name was first revealed in 1933, with her maiden name subsequently given as "Carter." In later years, her maiden name was given as "Smith."

Ruby Taylor's kindly Aunt Lillian, with whom she lived while in New York (and who was eventually revealed as her biological mother) was named after Freeman Gosden's real-life housekeeper.

Correll and Gosden had the habit of using the names of their real-life friends and acquaintances for minor characters in their scripts. In one 1929 sequence, "Brother Harrison Holliway" is elected to the office of "Mackerel" in the Mystic Knights of the Sea -- in real life, Harrison Holliway was the program director of station KFRC in San Francisco, an important outlet for the A&A chainless chain. Later that same year, Andy receives a visit from an annoying high-pressure salesman named Trammell -- named after Niles Trammell, the NBC vice president in charge of Chicago operations for the network. There are dozens of these "easter eggs" hidden in the early A&A scripts, and it's quite a challenge to try and document them.


Date: Fri, 21 Jul 2000 11:33:58 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: The Calhoun Dilemma

If there was a politically incorrect participant in the series, it was Calhoun and his lamentable (and laugh provoking) st-st-st-st-utter. Even then, though, one must remember that Calhoun was always identified as a lawyer, with its automatic implication of education and the ability to pass the Bar exam. His problem was his brain moved faster than his mouth.

Calhoun was always something of a sticking point for many listeners in the black community. William Walker, who played various straight roles in the A&A TV series, once said that he would argue the merits of the show with many people, from all walks of life -- and that he'd win most of the points until someone brought up Calhoun. Many middle-class African-American listeners/viewers strongly resented the character (just as many criticised the "Jackie Chiles" character on "Seinfeld" a few years ago -- a characterization that seemed at times to owe as much to Calhoun as he did to Johnnie Cochran.). At a time when a college education was an advantage few black Americans could afford, it's understandable that a broadly comic depiction of a professional character would cause resentment -- even though the shyster tendencies attributed to Calhoun (and predecessors like Stonewall and Gabby Gibson) were generic lawyer gags that were never racially based. The characterization of Calhoun was, indeed, one of the main complaints raised in the formal NAACP protest generated by the TV series in 1951.

Gosden and Correll were sensitive to these concerns, and there are early-fifties episodes in which it's clearly stated that Calhoun isn't a real lawyer, and at least one line in the TV series indicating that he'd been formally disbarred -- lines clearly intended as a response to the controversy swirling around the character. These responses throw up a whole new set of questions about the character -- if he was disbarred, he must have been a real lawyer at one time -- but as internally inconsistent as these explanations are, they do show some effort at addressing audience concerns about a troublesome characterization. Indeed, when the character was first introduced, he was clearly not intended as a lawyer -- he was identified as "Calhoun the Politician". It wasn't until Eddie Green left the series in late 1949 that Calhoun took over the "legal advisor" role -- and for some reason Green's characterization of LaGuardia Stonewall doesn't seem to have generated anywhere near as much controversy, even though the characters were actually quite similar. Perhaps this is due to the high-octane flamboyance of Johnny Lee's performing style -- he tended to dominate any scene in which he appeared, in a way the more matter-of-fact Eddie Green never did.

Calhoun, of course, wasn't created by Correll and Gosden at all -- he was custom-designed to fit a characterization that Lee had been doing on stage for at least twenty years before he joined the series in 1949, and seems to be equal parts "stump-speaker" and a parody of the old-fashioned "gospel shouter." This was a stock characterization in black vaudeville -- Lee spent much of his career performing for African-American audiences, where the character was enjoyed as sort of an "inside joke." But as with a lot of ethnic humor, it's one thing to portray such a character within the confines of the group -- and quite another to take it out into the "outside world." This is by no means a modern-day "politically correct" development -- it has ever been thus.

Correll and Gosden presented a far more balanced view of lawyers during the pre-1943-serial era. While the Kingfish sometimes consorted with a "bucket-shop lawyer" or "alley lawyer" who obtained his credentials under dubious circumstances, this character was offset by the portrayal of honest, competent counselors to whom the characters turned in times of real trouble. In a surviving 1929 serial sequence, Amos is defended against a trumped-up robbery charge by a compassionate and dedicated attorney by the name of Joseph Wagner -- who was played by Correll in a straight Standard English voice. Without the clue of dialect, one has to pay close attention to determine that Wagner was intended to be black: he is identified as a former member of the Mystic Knights of the Sea (which had been specifically defined in previous scripts as a "colored fraternity,") and he is on several occasions pointedly referred to as Brother Wagner, a style never used in A&A in exchanges between black and white characters.

Such subtle contextual clues are often overlooked in analyses of the series -- perhaps because they conflict with preconceived opinions about the program. This leads to the false conclusion that most of the competent, non-dialect characters in the show were white -- perpetuating a very distorted view of the actual tone of the series, and unfairly misrepresenting what Correll and Gosden were actually trying to do.


Date: Thu, 30 Mar 2000 17:45:45 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: A&A on CBS 1939, "Amos 'n Andy" was an NBC Red program. But there's an episode on the September 1939 WJSV complete day set, and WJSV was the CBS owned-and-operated in Washington. Was this actually an indication that the earlier syndicated version was still in circulation and available to non-NBC stations while new episodes were on NBC Red at that point?...

A&A moved to CBS as of April 1st, 1939, by arrangement of the Campbell Soup Company. Campbell's took over sponsorship of the series from Pepsodent as of 1/1/38, and had developed a good relationship with CBS thru their agency, Ward Wheelock -- as a result most Campbell's shows had aired on Columbia -- but they were unable to immediately move A&A because Correll and Gosden were under personal contract to the NBC Artists Service, a five-year deal signed in 1934. That contract expired at the end of March 1939, clearing the way for the show to be moved to CBS -- where it remained thru the end of Campbell's sponsorship in February 1943.

The syndicated shows ran from 3/18/28 to 8/18/29, and ended when the series joined NBC -- to emphasize that recordings were no longer being used, announcer Bill Hay began introducing A&A as "Amos 'n' Andy, in person" at this time. The syndication recordings were only licensed for a single broadcast over the stations that carried them in 1928 and 1929, and the discs were to be returned to the Chicago Daily News Syndicate office immediately after broadcast -- where they were destroyed. I've verified that neither Gosden nor Correll kept a set of these discs, and it's only by sheer luck that about fifty episodes from this run are currently known to survive.

On the question of serial-era A&A recordings, one of the greatest tragedies of the OTR era is that this was one of the few series of its type never to have been extension-spotted by its sponsor -- all stations carrying the A&A serial during its network run carried it live -- so no long runs of recordings were ever made. I'd desperately like to be proven wrong about this -- but no evidence to the contrary has ever surfaced.


Date: Sun, 23 Jan 2000 14:08:05 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: Jester Hairston

I read an obit today for Jester Hairston. The obit said that he "appeared on radio and TV's Amos 'N' Andy. Can someone enlighten me (and hopefully others on our list) about his contribution to A&A. (Thanxxxxxx in advance, Elizabeth.)

Hairston was one of several excellent black actors who worked on A&A during its sitcom era, joining the show around 1944 and continuing into the mid-1950s. He played many one-or-two-line supporting roles over the years -- storekeepers, soldiers, passers-by -- but his best known role on radio was Leroy Smith, Sapphire's brother, and the bane of the Kingfish's existence. Leroy was a pronounced stereotype -- but not a racial stereotype. He was the very embodiment of the goof-off ne'er-do-well brother-in-law, a stereotype almost as common in radio as the battle-axe mother-in-law.

While Leroy wasn't quite the ultimate version of this stereotype(Johnny Sherwood of Easy Aces takes that particular cake) he could still be pretty obnoxious, and the understated, matter-of-fact, of-course-the-world-owes-me-a-living manner in which Hairston played the role made it that much funnier. Especially when Amanda Randolph was added to the cast as Sapphire's and Leroy's overbearing mother, the Smiths fulfilled an essential story function: they served as foils, making the Kingfish into a much more vulnerable, sympathetic character.

On the TV version of A&A, Hairston continued to play Leroy, and also took on a new role -- that of Henry Van Porter, the real estate/insurance agent played on radio by Charles Correll. Hairston's interpretation of this role was quite a bit different from the Babbitty, hail-fellow-well-met portrayal offered on radio. The TV version tended to play most of the characters in a much more exaggerated, cartoony style-- and the TV Van Porter came across as rather flamboyant, with his pince-nez glasses with the long black ribbon, and mannerisms that could be interpreted as just a bit swishy.

Hairston will be better remembered, of course, for the very significant contributions he made to gospel music over the decades (his arrangement of Amen is the arrangement of this song, and just scratches the surface of his accomplishments in this field), and he had mixed feelings about his work on Amos 'n' Andy. On the one hand, he acknowledged in interviews late in life that he never felt entirely comfortable with the idea of white actors playing black roles, but added that he couldn't let it bother him: in his view, it was more important for black actors working in the thirties, forties, and fifties to keep working -- in a time when any roles were few and far between -- and Correll and Gosden gave him an opportunity to work.

Hairston practiced what he preached -- he kept working right up to the end of his life. If you've seen the wonderfully bizarre 1999 film Being John Malkovich, you'll remember him near the end of the picture as one of the elderly people looking forward to gaining eternal life inside Malkovich's brain.


Date: Mon, 1 May 2000 15:27:36 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: More on "The Perfect Song"

The most authentic for OTR purposes is by Gaylord Carter, the A and A organist for many years. Unless he has expired or retired recently, he still plays concerts, always bringing the console up out of the pit with that famous melody.

Carter is without doubt the organist most identified with the theme, and his version seems to have been Freeman Gosden's personal favorite -- Carter was invited back to play the theme one last time when A&A did their final program in 1960. But there was another organ version prior to Carter's -- NBC-Chicago staff organist Dean Fossler played the theme from 1933 to 1936, from the NBC auxiliary studio in the Chicago Civic Opera Company building. Fossler was asked to move west when Correll, Gosden and Bill Hay did -- but he chose to stay in Chicago, opening the way for Carter's involvement with the series. The only recording I've heard of Fossler's version of the theme is marred by severe audio distortion, so it's hard to judge -- but if I had to judge, I'd say Carter's version is more "majestic." By comparison to either organ version, the Joe Galliccio string trio arrangement is a humble, delicate little thing -- but once you've heard it, it really seems to fit the mood of the show.

Question for Elizabeth: "The Perfect Song" does have words, not memorable and hardly the greatest lyric ever written. I have never heard it sung. Did anybody ever produce a vocal recording?

I've never found one. There were many recordings issued of the song in 1929-30, capitalizing on the A&A craze then sweeping the nation -- but these were mostly "salon orchestra" arrangements with no vocal, essentially more elaborate versions of Galliccio's arrangement. A version of this sort on Brunswick seems to turn up most often. There's also a pop-dance arrangement on OKeh by a group called the Penn-Sirens Orchestra, backed with the "Amos 'n' Andy" comic novelty song that was a big hit in early 1930, and another pop version on Harmony by the Hotel Pennsylvania Orchestra. I don't own a copy of either of these records, so I can't say if there are vocals or not.

You're right about the lyric, though -- and I believe it was an after-the-fact addition to the original melody. The lyric was written by Clarence Lucas, and I believe it goes something like this (I don't have my copy of the sheet music at hand, so this is from memory...)

Perfect song of loving hearts united,
Golden dreams of heaven, melting into day...
Perfect song of hearts forever plighted,
Joy with summer blends,
And winter ends,
In perfect love's June day.
That's the chorus - there's also a verse, which no one ever seems to play.

One final bit of A&A theme music trivia -- "The Perfect Song" was controlled by ASCAP, and when all ASCAP music was banned from the networks in a contract dispute as of 1/1/41, A&A had to find a new theme song until the dispute was resolved that summer. They ended up using an 1860s-vintage public-domain melody by Gaetano Braga entitled "The Angels' Serenade," a selection which had been very popular around the turn of the century, and was widely recorded as both a vocal and instrumental piece. It's also extremely similar to "The Perfect Song," so much so that one can't help but conclude that Joseph C. Breil actually plagiarized the melody from Braga! Breil was turning out a great deal of film music and light opera in the 1912-1915 period, and he certainly had no idea that "The Perfect Song" would turn out to be his most enduring work - he died in 1926, three years before Correll and Gosden adopted the song as their theme.

This similarity proved useful years later, when copyright clearance to use "The Perfect Song" could not be obtained for the 1951-53 A&A TV series -- so a Jeff Alexander choral arrangement of "Angels' Serenade" was substituted. So closely does it match "The Perfect Song" that most people don't notice the difference!


Date: Sun, 22 Aug 99 08:40:36 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod (
Subject: Re: Sam and Henry become Amos and Andy

Wondering if there are tapes of "Sam and Henry" from their original WGN Chicago days (prior to becoming Amos and Andy)?

There are no authentic broadcast recordings of "Sam and Henry." There are a number of short clips in circulation, usually without attribution -- and these are not broadcast recordings but rather commercially-released phonograph records, made for Victor in 1926 and 1927. These are not truly representative of the radio program, which featured a continuing storyline, but instead are short, vaudeville-style comedy sketches which were heavily influenced by the work of the black comedy team of Flournoy Miller and Aubrey Lyles. These Victor records are the only audible remains of "Sam and Henry," and at least offer documentation of the fact that the two men had not yet mastered the microphone in this era: Gosden tends to bellow out his lines, while Correll uses an extremely odd mumbled-under-the-breath delivery.

was 1929 the year they changed identities when they moved to the NBC network?

Gosden and Correll left WGN at the expiration of their contract at the end of December 1927, following a dispute with the Tribune Company over their desire to make recordings of the show for syndication -- something the Tribute flat-out refused to consider. WGN attempted to continue the series with other performers/writers, but they lacked the skill of the originals and faded away by the end of 1928.

Meanwhile, Correll and Gosden took their act to the Chicago Daily News station, WMAQ, where they negotiated an agreement which gave them ownership rights to the program and the right to distribute recordings to other stations. They were joined in this move by their announcer, Bill Hay -- who insisted that his leaving WGN at the same time as Correll and Gosden was purely coincidental -- Hay was offered the job of General Sales Manager at WMAQ, and would do his "Amos 'n' Andy" announcing on the side. Gosden, Correll, and Hay would also be featured on a weekly musical variety/minstrel program over WMAQ, which would allow G&C to continue their old harmony act.

"Amos 'n' Andy" began on March 19, 1928, after a high-powered promotional buildup which included the first known use of pre-recorded promotional announcements. Approximately thirty stations carried the show at the beginning, with live broadcasts over WMAQ and previously-prepared recordings of the same episode over the other stations. The program was aired as a sustaining feature over WMAQ, but some of the syndication affiliates signed up local sponsors: most notably KFRC, San Francisco, which sold the show to the Shell Company of California -- and promotional tie-ins at Shell stations all thru Northern California helped to make the show a gigantic success on the west coast -- the first real inklings of the A&A craze that would soon sweep the country.

The program ran in this format until August 18, 1928. However, beginning in April 1929, WMAQ began to air the show from the recordings as well -- allowing Correll and Gosden to go on an extremely successful vaudeville tour of the western and midwestern states, which resulted in turnaway crowds wherever they appeared. This captured the attention of William Benton, the assistant general manager of the Lord and Thomas agency's Chicago office -- who suggested to agency president Albert Lasker that the show would make a good match for one of its clients, the Pepsodent Company. The company liked the idea, and Lasker and Benton travelled to New York for a meeting with NBC president Merlin Ayelsworth to work out the details. Ayelsworth had several concerns -- there had never been a fifteen minute "strip" on the network up to that time, and he was also worried that listeners would not accept a program featuring a relatively-realistic storyline about non-white characters (despite the fact that millions of listeners had already done so!) One factor influencing Ayelsworth's view of the program must have been the fact that New York was one of the handful of major cities which didn't have a station carrying the syndicated A&A recordings. (The nearest station to New York to carry the program was WNAC, Boston, which wasn't heard particularly well in New York.)

This wasn't the first time that A&A had been pitched to a network. At this time, WMAQ was a CBS affiliate, and early in 1929, general manager Judith Waller had travelled to New York to pitch the show to the struggling chain. She was turned down, in a decision that CBS would live to regret.

When Correll and Gosden finished their vaudeville tour in June of 1929, they travelled to New York to meet with NBC and Lord and Thomas executives, to work out the arrangements for the new show, and also to familiarize themselves with Harlem: which would be the setting for the program once it joined the network. In the storyline, the Kingfish was transferred from the Chicago lodge of the Mystic Knights Of The Sea to the New York branch, by order of the Great Supreme Kingfish, and he convinced Amos and Andy that they should move there as well in order to improve their taxicab business. Andy was all for the move, but Amos was skeptical -- until the fact that his fiancee Ruby Taylor was attending college in New York convinced him to go along with the relocation.

Gosden and Correll recorded their final episodes of the syndicated A&A in July of 1929, and spent most of the summer preparing for the big transition, shuttling back and forth between New York and Chicago. Special arrangements also had to be made at WMAQ, which would feed the show to NBC's Blue network, even though it otherwise remained a CBS affiliate (and would remain so until NBC bought the station in 1931.)

The show would air over NBC Blue at 11 pm Eastern time from August 19th thru November 18th, when protests from Eastern listeners led to the program being shifted to 7 PM This in turn sparked protests from Western audiences, which led to an almost immediate decision by Pepsodent to sponsor two broadcasts a night -- one for the East at 7pm EST and one for the Midwest and West at 10 PM CST. This policy began on November 25th, and would continue for the rest of the serial run. Pepsodent sent out a facsimile-autographed photo of Correll and Gosden in costume as Amos and Andy and a descriptive folder about the program to everyone who wrote in about the time change --by one count over a hundred thousand of these acknowledgements were sent out.

The storyline during this period was designed to familiarize new listeners to the program with its characters and situations while keeping up the progress of the story for long-time fans. Amos and Andy arrived in New York on August 19th, after driving their cab from Chicago, and spent a few days sightseeing, with the guidance of a know-it-all New York street character called "Big Boy." They secured office space and a furnished room in Harlem, and the story soon settled into a comfortable pace: Andy met and was smitten by the beauty shop operator across the street, Madame Queen; Amos continued his relationship with Ruby Taylor, the Kingfish became acquainted with a fly-by-night inventor named "Pat Pending," and a skinny homeless teenager from Alabama showed up one day at the taxicab office looking for work -- his name was Alfalfa Washington, but everyone called him "Lightnin'."

The story got serious in October -- with the stock market crash having an immediate impact on the characters. Mr. Taylor lost most of his money in the crash and Ruby had to drop out of college, getting a job as a switchboard operator and moving in with her Aunt Lillian rather than moving back to Chicago. There was much discussion of the impact of the crash, as the show continued its tradition of topical storylines. From this sequence, the show moved into a comical depiction of the Kingfish's domestic problems, when his wife (not yet named "Sapphire") became jealous of his pretty young secretary, Flossie White, and moved out on him. But the situation resolved itself when Flossie unexpectedly eloped with the elderly lodge member "Pop" Johnson. Finally, as 1929 ended, the storyline revolved around yet another flimflam man, a fake spiritualist named Prince Ali Bendo (based on the real-life Chicago charlatan Prince Ali Hindu.) Bendo and his phony mysticism would become recurring features of the show well into the 1930s, until he was finally convicted of fraud and sent to jail in 1937.

what is available on cassette from the very beginning? Only "original" programs of interest. Thanks.

Not much, sad to say. While all the scripts survive and make for enjoyable reading at USC and the Library of Congress, the only recordings that I know to be in circulation are syndicated shows from the following dates from 1929:

1/14/29, 1/15/29, 1/17/29, 4/21/29, 4/22/29, 4/23/29, 4/25/29, 4/26/29, 4/27/29, 5/19/29, 5/20/29, 5/21/29, 5/23/29, 6/8/29, 6/9/29, 6/16/29, 6/17/29 (second side only), 6/18/29, 6/20/29, 6/21/29, 6/22/29, 6/23/29, 6/24/29, 6/25/29, 6//27/29, 6/28/29, 6/29/29, 7/2/29, 7/5/29, 7/23/29, 7/25/29, 7/28/29, 7/29/29, 7/30/29.

The April and May episodes have shown up on the OTR Binaries newsgroup, but the April episodes are very poor, low-level transfers of the original discs. (I know where the original discs are for these shows, but haven't been able to arrange for proper transfers due to ownership restrictions.) The January episodes were recently put into circulation by Ken Piletic, and most of the June episodes are available from Ed Carr. Copies of a number of these shows are also at the Library of Congress.

A number of additional shows from the syndication run are known to survive, but are not available for circulation. These include a number of early episodes from 1928, and several additional shows from January of 1929.

All of these shows are between eight and nine minutes long (except for the 6/17 half-show) and do not include the opening or closing announcements, which were done live at each local station. Cue sheets are not known to survive.

It's important to note that there are also a number of "Amos 'n' Andy" Victor records that were issued in 1928, 1929 and 1930. These are like the Sam and Henry discs, in that they were not broadcasts, not made from broadcast scripts, and were never meant for broadcasting. Some of these are circulating in a thirteen-minute compilation which claims to be a 1929 broadcast -- it isn't. Titles include "The Presidential Election," "Is Everyone In Your Family As Dumb As You Is?." "At The Dairy," "At The Bullfight," and "Check and Double Check."

No complete recordings of the network series are known to exist prior to 1936. There are a few 1933 fragments from Victor Home Recording discs found several years ago in Western Canada, and a few uncoated-aluminum excerpts from early 1935 which are among a large collection of FRC/FCC case recordings currently being processed by the National Archives.

Needless to say, I'm interested in any new discoveries from this era -- if anyone out there knows about any, please speak up!


Date: Sat, 4 Sep 99 12:23:29 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod (
Subject: Re: Radio As A Propaganda Force

To tie this into radio though, I'd like to see a discussion on how radio was used as a propaganda tool, and how it formed public opinion rather than reporting it.

This is one of the subjects I'm finding most interesting in my research into Depression-era radio: the way in which popular programs were often used to promote a particular view of the economic climate.

One of the most overt surviving examples is a broadcast of the Great Northern Railroad's dramatic anthology "Empire Builders," heard over NBC-Blue on 1/5/31. The episode tells the story of Bert Kahn-- a hard-nosed businessman who is on his way to the home office of his company to take decisive action. His response to the Depression is the same as that of many other business leaders of the day: to lay off a large chunk of the workforce, and to slash the pay of those who remain. Bert is presented as a man deeply worried about the state of the economy, and convinced that belt-tightening is the only way to deal with the crisis.

But Bert is sternly rebuked for these views by the genial railroad man known only as "The Old Timer," who urges him to remember the panics of 1893 and 1907 -- and that those bad times passed, just as the current downturn will. And he is also chastened by an outspoken social worker named Laura Gray, who is engaged to marry his nephew:

LAURA: You're one of the very men who make depressions -- who go about at the least flurry, lopping off payrolls and frightening business! Oh, maybe you think you're an "industrial leader," but you're just a big industrial scarecrow!
BERT: Now you look here, Miss Gray! Don't you know times are hard? I'm cutting my payroll because I...
LAURA: Oh, you never cut "payrolls." You just cut wages! And every man, woman, and child in America is on your payroll whether they have jobs or not! Directly, or indirectly, you have to feed them and clothe them!....And every cut you make on that "visible" payroll -- that one you see and keep books on -- every cut you make on that merely adds to America's big invisible payroll that you and I have to help pay.
BERT: Well, I must say -- I've never looked at it quite like that...
LAURA: I know you haven't! You've only thought in terms of profits and dividends -- instead of in terms of human life and happiness! And when you don't think in terms of happiness and life, you're cutting profits! You know, unhappy suffering people don't buy much....

In the end, Bert sees the error of his ways, and decides to do the "right thing for America" by increasing his payroll. There is little subtlety in this episode -- it hammers home the point that a depression feeds on panic.

There were other Depression-era propaganda shows -- but the most noteworthy was the most-listened to program of its era: "Amos 'n' Andy." Correll and Gosden began incorporating socio-economic propaganda into their scripts very early in the run of the show: as early as March 1930, they drove home the importance of not losing faith in the nation's troubled banking system by having Amos decide to keep his savings in a real bank instead of the flimflam alternative proposed by the Kingfish and his associate Pat Pending. At a time when many Americans were turning to just such surrogate banking arrangements out of fear of bank failures, this storyline carried a considerable social resonance.

As the Depression worsened, Amos, in particular, became a full-fledged spokesman for social responsibility -- constantly delivering pointed speeches reminding the audience that those who "had" had a moral obligation to see to the needs of the "have-nots."

"Winter is comin' on -- an' ev'ybody now is thinkin' 'bout de parties dey is gonna go to dis winter, 'bout gettin' tickets to de football games, or goin' to de movin' pitcher shows. But dis winter is gonna be a tough winter fo' a lot o' people, and when I say tough, I mean cold an' hungry an' dat's as tough as it kin git. An if ev'ybody would say to demselfs right now dat dey was gonna deny demselfs o' one or two little things durin' de winter an' he'p somebody dat needs he'p, dat would make life a lot easier fo' de poor souls dat ain't got whut some of us is got." -- Episode 1403, 9/19/32. (Dialect as indicated in original script)

Correll and Gosden offered somewhat half-hearted support of the Hoover Administration's recovery efforts during this period -- but they really shifted into high gear with the arrival of the Roosevelt Administration. Both men became staunch supporters of the New Deal, and during 1933 and 1934, the program was a constant platform for pep-talks exhorting the audience to get behind the new President and to support his programs. On the night of FDR's inauguration, Amos encouraged listeners to pray for Roosevelt's success -- and three nights later, the program devoted much of the dialogue to a discussion of the "bank holiday." FDR's first action had been to close all banks to allow the banking system a chance to stabilize, and as a result, privately-issued "scrip" was being used in place of money in some cities. Many citizens were worried about the what this might mean -- and Gosden and Correll devised a script intended to ease those fears. The Kingfish, as an older, more experienced man, explained the situation in a serious, straightforward manner to the worried teenager Lightnin':

LIGHTNIN': Tell me dis -- is de "scrip" goin' hurt de country?
KINGFISH: Well, dey used it in 1907, an' since dat time de country is done had 25 or 26 years o' de greatest prosperity in de history o' de world. Even den, when de country was in de worst shape it was ever in, dey was right on de edge of havin' de greatest prosperity dey ever had -- an' dey didn't know it! -- Episode 1539, 3/7/33.(Dialect indicated in script)

There is some evidence that the White House itself may have encouraged these didactic sequences in "Amos 'n' Andy" as a way of getting the Administration's message into the minds of the general public. The Gosden-Correll scrapbooks at USC contain occasional letters and telegrams from Roosevelt press secretary Stephen Early -- and Gosden and Correll visited the White House in person several times during the mid-1930s. Both FDR and Mrs. Roosevelt were avid followers of the program, and understood its popularity with the general public.

Whether Correll and Gosden included these sequences at the direct request of the President or his staff, or whether they did so purely out of their own convictions can't be determined for certain -- but either way, the use of socioeconomic propaganda in "Amos 'n' Andy" is an outstanding example of how a popular radio program could offer far more to its audience than just entertainment, even at this early date. The political content of this series was significant thruout the decade -- and deserves much more attention than it's gotten from social historians.


Date: Tue, 27 Oct 98 07:45:21 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod (
Subject: Re: "Amos 'n' Andy" and the Black Audience

I understand that Amos and Andy's popularity did not extend into the (then) Negro community. I remember reading about demonstrations and boycotts. Can any of you experts give us more information or point me toward some sources?

During the peak of "Amos 'n' Andy's" popularity -- approximately 1929 thru 1933 -- there was a considerable split of opinion among black listeners about the program. On the "plus" side, Gosden and Correll were welcomed at meetings of the Chicago Urban League and the DuSable Club -- the city's leading organizations of black business and professional men, and were strongly and frequently praised in the pages of the "Chicago Defender," then the nation's most prestigious black newspaper. Another black newspaper, the "Kansas City Call," published a series of positive articles about the program in answer to requests from readers -- concluding thusly:

"It [the program] has all the pathos, humor, vanity, glory, problems and solutions that beset ordinary mortals -- and therein lies its universal appeal."

That passage was written by "Call" reporter Roy Wilkins -- later head of the NAACP.

On the other hand, however, there were also protests. The most notable was in 1931, when the editor of the "Pittsburgh Courier," Robert Vann, mounted a nationwide petition campaign to drive the show off the air, on the grounds that it "undermined the self respect and general advancement of the Negro in the United States and elsewhere." Vann cited three specific points in his complaint --- that the portrayal of the Mystic Knights Of The Sea held "Negro Social Orders" up to ridicule, that the 1930-31 Madame Queen storyline portrayed "Negro womanhood as indulging in bigamy," and that one of the lawyers hired by Andy during the trial depicted in that storyline was portrayed as a scheming crook.

Vann proclaimed that he would gather at least a million signatures -- he ended up, according to the paper's own count, with a bit over 740,000. Many letters were published during this campaign -- and make it apparent that for the most part, the objections to the show had little to do with the idea of white men playing the roles of black men. Most of the complaints focused on the non-middle-class setting and situations portrayed in the program -- the fact that Amos and Andy and most of their friends were portrayed as poor and uneducated, and speaking in dialect. The opposition, in short, seemed to focus more on class conflict than it did on race.

As Vann's campaign was picking up steam during the summer of 1931, it was derided in the pages of the "Defender." The "Courier" and the "Defender" were bitter rivals in those years, and Vann had frequently mounted loud publicity drives to draw attention to his paper -- often based on opposing something that the "Defender" had endorsed. There was some feeling at the time that the "Amos 'n' Andy" crusade was another such campaign, and the "Defender" made a point that summer of inviting Gosden and Correll to be the masters of ceremonies at its annual summer picnic for the black children of Chicago.

The Vann campaign of 1931 was the most notable opposition movement during the show's early years, but once the "craze" for the show had worn off, the protests lapsed into silence. It wasn't until the TV show premiered in 1951 that the movements began all over again.

By this time, many things had changed. The show was no longer a character-driven serial -- it had become a very formulaic sitcom, with most of its appeal based on slapstick situations and zany comedy lines. Translating this new formula into visual terms led to a sharp conflict between the newly resurgent black middle class and the producers of the show. The NAACP, under the leadership of Walter White, came out strong against the TV show. Roy Wilkins, by this time the national administrator of the Association, explained the organization's position by noting that the show had changed drastically since its early serial years -- and translating this new format into visual terms led to a program "infinitely worse than the radio version."

Even here, though, opinion was divided. Gosden and Correll had long been mainstream Hollywood's leading employers of black talent -- and black performers rallied round the show, pointing out that it was the only show on TV in which black characters turned up in every walk of life -- not just as clowns or domestics. And the rank-and-file of the black community didn't necessarily share the views of the Association -- a survey conducted among black television owners in New York and New Jersey found 70 per cent of respondents supporting the show, and 75 per cent disagreeing with the Association's argument that it reinforced stereotypes.

Be that as it may, the protest generated enough attention that the sponsor, Schenley Distributors, dropped the show in 1953. But the radio version went on as though nothing had happened. Gosden and Correll remained on the air (in their "Music Hall" format) until November 1960 -- and it wasn't protests that did them in, it was an overall CBS decision to drop all weekday dramatic programming.

There is much, much more information about black reaction to the show in Melvin Patrick Ely's definitive book "The Adventures Of Amos 'n' Andy: Social History of an American Phenomenon." (Free Press, 1991) There is also a very detailed account of the 1951-53 NAACP opposition movement -- and an exploration of the class-consciousness which drove it -- in Thomas Cripps' article "Amos 'n' Andy and the debate over American Racial Integration," published in the 1983 edition of John O'Connor's anthology series "American History, American Television: Interpreting the Video Past." These are must-reads for anyone interested in the fascinating history of this series -- and the Ely book includes a comprehensive bibliography that will be invaluable to anyone who wants to pursue further research.


Date: Sat, 3 Jul 99 09:36:17 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod (
Subject: Re: A&A, Again...

I've often wondered about the A&A show. Would you say it was a racist program. As I wasn't around in those days (I'm 24) and not being an American I don't know a thing about how it was received by the black public. I do know that Gosden and Correl were white actors playing a couple of black guys. But was the show making fun of the black people or making fun for them? Were A&A popular among the black population?

The historical record shows that some black listeners enjoyed the program, while others hated it. And still others didn't care one way or the other. During the early thirties, the "Chicago Defender," the most influential black-owned newspaper in the country, supported the program -- while its smaller rival, the "Pittsburgh Courier," mounted a petition campaign to drive it off the air. But by the end of 1931, this campaign had fizzled out, and there was no further organized opposition to the show until the controversy over the TV version in 1951-53. The most complete discussion of black response to the show is found in Melvin Ely's "The Adventures Of Amos 'n' Andy" (Free Press, 1993), which I strongly recommend to anyone really interested in the sociological aspects of this show. It's a fair, even-handed treatment all around.

I think it is safe to say that Gosden and Correll never intended to promote any sort of racist philosophy in their program. The entire theme of A&A during its serial era was not "mockery of black upward mobility" as some writers have claimed -- but rather, a celebration of the traditional values of family, hard work, and personal accomplishment. The "blackness" of the characters was never essential to the stories -- they weren't defined by being black (which is the essence of stereotyping), rather they were human beings who happened to be black. It's a fine distinction, but, I think, an important one.

During the serial years, the show painted a picture of a vibrant, self-reliant black community populated not just by Amos, Andy, and the Kingfish, but by successful black businesspeople, doctors, lawyers, journalists, merchants, and any other category you can think of. If you compare the picture portrayed in 1930s "Amos 'n' Andy" to the images portrayed in the other popular media of the time (as in, for example, the short stories of Octavus Roy Cohen) you'll find that Gosden and Correll were, in their own time, remarkably progressive in the way they depicted their characters. (For those who may be interested, a more detailed analysis of the serial era of the program is available at

Granted, the comedy became much broader during the 1943-55 sitcom years, but even then there were moments of real humanity in the series. The 1943-44 season is especially notable: the show during this first half-hour season was much closer to Gosden and Correll's original vision than it was in later years, and I especially recommend the 1943 Thanksgiving episode as an example of "Amos 'n' Andy" at its most compassionate.

interested to know, which were the first black actors in otr? Were there more than Eddie Anderson and Lilian Randolph, and how were they received?

As far as I've been able to determine, the first non-musician black performers to have their own network show were Flournoy Miller and Aubrey Lyles, a comedy team who had been very popular in all-black stage shows during the twenties. They had a brief run over CBS in 1931, intended as rivals to "Amos 'n' Andy," but were not successful -- mainly because they only did traditional "blackface" comedy material instead of featuring a continuing storyline in the manner of A&A. Miller and Lyles actually sued Correll and Gosden at one point, claiming that material C&G had done in a stage act was swiped from an M&L routine (the famous "mulsifyin' an' revidin'" bit). But Miller later became friendly with the team, working as a writer and consultant on "Amos 'n Andy" during the late forties, and was also instrumental in putting together the cast for the A&A TV series.

By and large, "Amos 'n' Andy" was the most important source of employment for black actors in mainstream radio during the forties and fifties -- by the mid-forties, the cast was fully integrated. Among the black actors doing supporting roles on the show during its sitcom years were Ernestine Wade, James Baskett, Ruby and Dorothy Dandridge, William Walker, Roy Glenn, "Wonderful" Smith, Jester Hairston, Eddie Green, Amanda and Lillian Randolph, and Johnny Lee. Many of the roles done by these actors -- especially Walker, Glenn, Hairston, and the Dandridges -- were in no way stereotypical. The show doesn't often get the credit it deserves for being in the forefront of show-biz integration: not just using a black actor or two in "token" roles, but in offering black performers a full range of roles. And it's also important to note that the show was integrated -- as far back as 1939 -- because that's how Gosden and Correll wanted it.

However, the most impressive venues for black performers during the OTR era were in local radio. Many collectors may be familiar with "New World 'A Comin', " the remarkable civil-rights series done over WMCA during the forties and fifties, or with the original "Destination Freedom," a late-forties WMAQ production. But I've run across little mention -- and no recordings, sadly -- of one of the most extraordinary local-radio talents of the era.

He was Jack L. Cooper, a mainstay of Chicago radio from the late twenties into the fifties. Based at station WSBC, Cooper could do just about anything on the air: he was a singer, an announcer, a journalist, a versatile actor, a glib disc-jockey , a sportscaster, a quiz-show MC -- and even a ventriloquist/comedian. During the early thirties, he even did an "Amos 'n' Andy"-style comedy-drama called "Luke And Timber." Cooper operated his own production company, the J. L. Cooper Radio Advertising Service, and in 1947, was profiled by Ebony Magazine as "the highest paid Negro in radio." Cooper was deeply involved in the Chicago black community, and was as well known for his charitable work as for his broadcasting. He was little-known outside of Chicago - he never went network - but he was a real pioneer who should certainly be remembered.


Date: Fri, 9 Jul 99 08:01:18 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod (
Subject: Re: Gosden and Correll: Their Legacy

Yes, they gave -- and give -- millions of people pleasure, but I understand what Mr. Kelly is saying: in addition the A&A that they did so well, they might have done even more.

One of the most illuminating comments I've ever heard along these lines came from author Jim Harmon: "If they had been any more positive, they wouldn't have been allowed on the air." Charlie Correll himself made a similar remark, I believe, in an interview shortly before his death. This comment points up a sad fact about the realities of American society in the OTR era -- a fact which must be taken into account whenever one debates the pros and cons of A&A.

One of the great tragedies of the era is that there was no black-written view of the African-American experience on mainstream network radio. If a black writer had approached WGN in 1925 proposing to do a nightly serial about the "Great Migration," the station would have slammed the door. Correll and Gosden themselves ran into resistance when their show was brought to NBC: network president Merlin Ayelsworth wondered aloud if the audience would accept a program about "nonwhite, non-Anglo-Saxon-Protestant" characters. In this climate, a stark reality emerges: the only way any kind of black-themed program could get on the air would be for it to be strained thru a white filter. One must, in the end, blame the times for this fact, and not Gosden and Correll themselves.

Gosden and Correll realized this, and they deliberately played both ends in the middle for much of their careers. In doing so, they produced a show that can be interpreted on many levels, depending on the views of the listener. Their use of dialect and certain stereotypical characters (one Alfalfa "Lightnin'" Washington comes to mind) gave the show a familiar feel to white listeners: but once they were hooked, those listeners began to notice the Roland Webers and the Joseph Wagners and the Mr. Taylors: black characters who not only balanced out, but pointedly defied all the stereotypes. No one forced Gosden and Correll to incorporate such characters: that they did so from the very beginning of the series is, to me, a sign that they were very methodically out to shatter preconceived ideas about how black characters should be depicted. They were, in fact, doing as much as they could do, given the tenor of the times. On the one occasion where they tried to go even deeper in exploring racial tensions - a harrowing 1931 scene in which Amos was brutally interrogated by a pair of white cops - they soon found that there were walls that even they couldn't break thru. It wasn't the time for such things -- not yet.

At its best "Amos 'n' Andy" offered a very powerful -- and, for the times, even subversive -- message: deep down, people are all the same. Black or white, we all have the same dreams, the same aspirations, the same vulnerabilities. Our similarities, in the end, far outweigh our differences. Not everyone picked up that message then -- and not everyone sees it today. But if you're willing to look for it, it's there -- and that subtle message of human brotherhood is, to me, Gosden and Correll's real legacy.


Date: Fri, 16 Jul 99 08:32:00 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod (
Subject: Re: A&A -- Recreating the Serial?

Why not find some talented voice actors (be they black, white, or otherwise), and re-perform and record all of the serial shows so that we can re-listen or listen for the first time to these episodes? They should be advertised as remakes, with an explanation as to why their remakes. After reading about these older episodes (both here and elsewhere), I, personally, wish I could listen to at least some of them.

Has anyone else ever thought of this idea? Would there be any copyright problems (or problems getting permission to do it)? Would there be any other problems?

The biggest obstacle to a project like this (aside, of course, from the controversy it would undoubtedly generate, and which I'm specifically not going to address here!) would be the sheer volume of work required: there were exactly 4,090 episodes of the serial between 1928 and 1943 -- of which only about forty are currently known to survive. That's an awful lot of recreating.

In addition, much of the material is inextricably linked to its time: A&A in its serial years was an extremely topical show, not just in addressing specific political and cultural issues but in its general setting. The Great Migration and the Depression were, after all, phenomena of the twenties and thirties, not the nineties -- and the reenactors would need to have a solid understanding of the historical context before beginning the project.

Perhaps a more realistic goal might be to recreate selected storylines -- the "Madame Queen Breach Of Promise Affair" of November 1930-March 1931 (probably the most famous of all the stories), "Ruby Taylor's Illness" from May 1931 (a heart-rending sequence in which Ruby nearly dies of pneumonia); "Amos Charged With Murder" from October-December 1931 (which includes some of the most brutally-realistic scenes in the series' history, including Amos being assaulted and beaten senseless by a street thug), and the lengthy 1934-35 storyline dealing with the black philanthropist Roland Weber, his connection to Amos's late father, and his tragic death (an event which had a profound impact on Amos).

I suspect that it would be very difficult to fully capture the essence of the programs thru recreation -- it would require more than just the scripts. While there is a leavening of humor in each of these storylines, they are primarily drama, not comedy -- and they would have to be played as such. The few surviving recordings of the serial era reveal that Correll and Gosden played their roles in a very low-key, conversational manner -- there was no exaggeration or playing for laughs, and the pacing of the lines was much more deliberate than in the sitcom episodes. Reenactors would have to resist the temptation to puff their chests and tug their vests a la Tim Moore -- the serial wasn't that kind of show.

There was also a very wide variation in the type of dialect used by the various characters -- speech patterns were used as a primary indication of social class -- and while Gosden and Correll spelled out precisely and phonetically how each character was supposed to speak in the scripts, it would probably be very difficult for reenactors to pick up on all of the rather subtle cues they used in depicting different types of characters. (One of the things you learn rather quickly in reading these scripts is that there was no "standard A&A dialect," and it would be very incorrect to deliver all the lines in the same style.)

In the end, one would have to not only have the scripts in hand to do these episodes -- one would have to try to actually get into the heads of Gosden and Correll themselves to know what they were trying to accomplish with the episodes. It's not a project that could be approached casually, and I'm not sure that's it's something that any reenactors, however well-intentioned, could successfully accomplish.

As to copyright, that's one for the legal counsel. The ownership of A&A is a long and tangled road I'm not confident enough to try and navigate. Gosden and Correll sold the show en masse to CBS in 1948, but a Supreme Court case in 1989 ("Silverman Vs. CBS") ruled that the network had lost the right to the "A&A" trademark thru abandonment, and that it could not claim copyright on scripts aired before October 1948. The serial scripts were copyrighted in the names of Correll and Gosden, but determining their current status would best be tackled by a copyright lawyer.


Date: Mon, 23 Aug 99 07:34:24 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod (
Subject: Re: Early A&A

It is believed that the programs were aired live on WMAQ until Sunday April 28, 1929 when the WMAQ logs indicate that the recordings--now being made by Brunswick--were used. Correll and Gosden were leaving Chicago for a vacation trip at that time. Indeed, episodes 383 thru 411 were recorded in Los Angeles.

This trip to the west coast in April and May of 1929 was actually the turning point of Correll and Gosden's careers -- a vaudeville tour of the West and Midwest in which they played to turnaway audiences wherever they appeared. They were greeted by almost fanatical enthusiasm in San Francisco, where the show had become very popular and very well-known over KFRC, under the sponsorship of the Shell Company of California. More than any other factor, it was this tour, and the dramatic response to it, which convinced William Benton and Albert Lasker of Lord and Thomas that the show could be sponsored nationally by one of their clients, the Pepsodent Company. The usual story is that A&A became a national success after they went on NBC -- this simply isn't true. They were a major national success before they joined the network, thanks to the innovative "chainless chain" syndication system.

A little-known story, by the way, is that CBS had a chance to grab Gosden and Correll before NBC. WMAQ was, of course, a CBS affiliate at this time (it had been an NBC affiliate earlier, but then switched to CBS and didn't rejoin NBC until 1931), and early in 1929 WMAQ program manager Judith Waller had travelled to New York to offer the show to CBS -- which turned her down cold. It would be a decision they would live to regret.

On the same subject of early broadcasts, what is available on cassette from the very beginning? Only "original" programs of interest. Thanks.

At present, I know of the following dates in circulation:

1/14/29, 1/15/29, 1/17/29, 4/21/29, 4/22/29, 4/23/29, 4/25/29, 4/26/29, 4/27/29, 5/19/29, 5/20/29, 5/21/29, 5/23/29, 6/8/29, 6/9/29, 6/16/29, 6/17/29 (second side only), 6/18/29, 6/20/29, 6/21/29, 6/22/29, 6/23/29, 6/24/29, 6/25/29, 6//27/29, 6/28/29, 6/29/29, 7/2/29, 7/5/29, 7/23/29, 7/25/29, 7/28/29, 7/29/29, 7/30/29.

The April and May episodes have shown up on the OTR-Binaries group, but are very poor dubs of the original discs: noisy, hissy, and low-level. The three January episodes were recently put into circulation by Ken Piletic, and most of the June shows are available from Ed Carr. All of these are eight-to-nine minutes long (except for the 6/17 half-episode) and do not include the announcer's introductory or concluding remarks, which were read live by each station's local announcer, presumably from a supplied cue sheet. No theme music was used with these shows: "The Perfect Song" didn't become the show's theme song until the start of the network run. Very few of the daily network broadcasts exist prior to the move from Chicago to Hollywood in the late 30s.

I know of no complete network A&A episodes prior to the eighth-anniversary episode of 8/19/36. There are three excerpts from early 1933, originally from Victor Home Recording discs, the longest of which is about 7 minutes long. These clips are from the "Fred Gwindell Romances Madame Queen" storyline, which culminated in Andy being sued for alienation of affection. There are also a few excerpts recorded on uncoated aluminum discs from early 1935. These discs are part of a collection of FRC/FCC case recordings currently being processed by the National Archives. I've not heard any of the clips (yet!) but they would be of particular interest, as they would be from the important "Weber City" storyline. And, finally, there is a brief excerpt recorded off the air on aluminum in Nebraska which includes a fragment of Bill Hay reading a commercial for Pepsodent Antiseptic and then the show closing, followed by a station ID for WENR Chicago. There's no date on this fragment, but it probably comes from the spring of 1933.

Needless to say, I'm always looking for more of these early episodes -- even the most fragmentary bits and pieces. Anyone who knows of any, please speak up!


Date: Fri, 3 DEC 1999 00:23:40 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re:A&A 1954-55

I have a question about Amos and Andy. According to the book ""A Thirty Year History Of radio Programs 1926-1956" in 1954-55 they are listed as having a weeknight show (under the heading "comedy-drama") and a Sunday night show after Jack Benny under "semi-variety". Does anyone know about this? Is this accurate, and what was the difference between the two shows.

1954-55 was the overlap year between the half-hour "Amos 'n' Andy Show" and the "Amos 'n' Andy Music Hall" series. My copy of the Summers book reverses the headings you mention -- the weeknight show is "Semi Variety" and the Sunday show is "Comedy Drama."

In any event, the Sunday night show was the final season for the half-hour weekly sitcom format that had been on the air since 1943. Although Rexall signed off as sponsor at the end of 1954, the show continued on thru the end of the season on a sort of semi-sustaining basis: the final sponsor was CBS-Columbia Electronics, a subsidiary of the network. The final broadcast of the sitcom aired on 5/22/55.

Meanwhile, in the fall of 1954, Correll and Gosden made a rather halfhearted return to the nightly format with "The Amos 'n' Andy Music Hall," which was an attempt to put the A&A characters into a sort of pop-DJ format. The shows supposedly originated from "The Grand Ballroom of the Mystic Knights Of The Sea Lodge Hall in Harlem," but the music itself was extremely white-bread: Amos, Andy and the Kingfish would spin records by such performers as the Ames Brothers, Patti Page, Eddie Fisher, and other bland fifties middle-American personalities. In retrospect, it's tempting to suggest that "Music Hall" could have been a much better show had some effort been made to reflect some of the more interesting trends in pop music during this era. Although they were approaching retirement age during the Music Hall series, Correll and Gosden weren't necessarily musical squares -- Gosden, especially, had always tried to keep aware of current trends in entertainment -- but it's most likely the choice of music was dictated by network demographics.

In between the records, the characters would engage in verbal byplay, and occasionally there would be an attempt at moving along a plot -- but these shows never approached the quality of the sitcom shows, let alone the extraordinarily deep and textured work A&A had done during their 1930s serial days. The production values for "Music Hall" weren't particularly impressive either -- the program was hampered by an obviously canned laugh track, and gave the impression of being pasted together from snippets of tape recorded weeks in advance -- which, of course, it was. Occasionally there would be guests -- Liberace, Jack Benny, and Kay Kyser were among those who contributed bits during the first year of the new series.

The "Music Hall" was promoted in an interesting way when it first started. During September 1955, Correll and Gosden sent out specially-pressed LP records containing the first two programs of the new series, along with a personally-signed letter, to each CBS affiliate, describing the new series and urging station managers to make time for the show on their schedules. In the letter, they also make a point of stressing that the regular sitcom series would continue as well.

Perhaps the most memorable of the "Music Hall" episodes is one from August 1959: in celebration of their thirtieth anniversary on network radio, Amos, Andy and the Kingfish have Freeman Gosden and Charlie Correll as their guests -- interviewing them about the origins of the series. There are some interesting, even though scripted, insights into the philosophy behind the characters in this little exchange -- and Gosden turns in a very impressive performance, switching flawlessly between Amos, the Kingfish and his ordinary speaking voice over the course of the session.

The "Music Hall" ended, as has recently been noted, on 11/25/60. Charlie Correll remembered in an interview late in life that there was no "wrap party," no celebration, no fond backstage farewells. After thirty-two and a half years, the show simply ended. As Correll told a reporter when the cancellation was announced, "The DJs and the newscasters have taken over -- and there's no room for us anymore."


Date: Sun, 7 May 2000 15:23:13 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: A&A Serial Availability

When I first read about this, I thought perhaps..if the Campbell Soup Company made transcriptions of the Orson Welles' series then maybe Amos 'n' Andy 15 minute serial programs which were sponsored by Campbell's (April 3, 1939 - February 19, 1943) might also have been recorded by them. I have never heard if this was the case or not.

I've not found any proof one way or the other. Campbell's hasn't responded to inquiries on this subject, and I've so far come up short in tracking down what became of their advertising agency, Ward Wheelock Inc. I do know that there were no A&A recordings in the archives of Pepsodent's agency, Lord and Thomas. I've been trying to track down what happened to Basil Loughrane, the agency supervisor for L&T, and Diana Bourbon, who supervised A&A for Wheelock, in order to see if their estates hold any recordings -- but so far nothing to report.

I do know that neither the Gosden nor the Correll families have any runs of serial-era recordings (other than the copies that I've given them of the material I have.) However, there are a few serial episodes from the Campbell period that do exist -- the 4/3/39 episode which marked the program's transferal to CBS and the 12/24/41 performance of the Christmas show (only the second time it aired) are both in circulation, and were apparently preserved because they were special occasions. There's also the 9/21/39 episode from the WJSV set.

However, there is also a recording extant from 11/12/40 -- and this episode intrigues me because there's nothing particularly significant about it at all -- Andy accidentally proposed to Brother Crawford's sister at the lodge Halloween party, and is trying to think of a way out of the situation, even as the Kingfish tries to convince him to go thru with it so he can sell Andy an engagement ring. It's a random example of the serial in its late era, and I can't think of any good reason for it to have been recorded -- so it may indicate that someone along the network was having recordings made, perhaps for time-shifting purposes.

The only place I've encountered this recording is as part of a Frank Bresee "Golden Days Of Radio" presentation, in which Bresee interviewed Bill Hay. (If Ken Greenwald is out there, this might be a good place to ask if Hay donated any recordings to Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters!)

As I've noted in past postings, only about fifty of the A&A serial episodes are known to survive -- and most of these are from the 1928-29 syndication period. No complete network episodes are known to exist prior to the 8/19/36 Eighth Anniversary Program, and the only other complete recordings I know to survive from the Pepsodent period are the two Friday Night Minstrel Shows aired on an experimental basis in December 1936. The only Campbell shows I know to survive are the ones mentioned above -- but, hopefully, somewhere there are others. There are also three brief fragments from 1933, recorded on Victor Home Recording discs, and there may be other such discs which have yet to be discovered. I am, of course, extremely interested in documenting any finds of this type which may turn up -- any serial-era A&A fragments, no matter how brief, are very important. I've spent twenty-three years looking -- and I'm not ready to give up yet!

By the way Amos 'n' Andy appeared on the February 24, 1939 "State Fair" broadcast of the Campbell Playhouse . Guest star reciprocity was common on radio shows, and I wonder if anyone knows if Orson Welles made an appearance on the Amos 'n' Andy program.

I've not examined the scripts from the Campbell period -- I've only read thru the end of 1937 -- so I can't confirm this one way or another. A&A did use famous-name guest stars from time to time in the late serial period, and the mind boggles at the thought of Welles putting one over on the Kingfish! There may also have been a Fred Allen appearance in May 1941 -- payback for A&A's guest appearance with Allen on his 5/7/41 program (a wonderful bit, by the way!)

I would dearly like to hear the "State Fair" production, since from what I've read about it, Correll and Gosden appeared out of character and not as A&A. Unfortunately this is one of the few Playhouses not to have found its way into circulation.


Date: Mon, 26 Jun 2000 11:06:56 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: The Legends of A&A

Certainly Amos and Andy were phenomenally popular (perhaps even more so in the black community), however like many "urban legends" I've always taken these stories with plenty of grains of salt. What is the truth? Did any of the above actually happen, or is it part of a myth that has grown up over the years?

While A&A were very popular thruout the 1930s -- they had a longer run in the "top ten" than any other program of the decade -- the period of their peak popularity was 1929-31, and it was during that three-year period that all of these stories began. The legends have been embroidered and expanded over the decades -- but during the "craze" period, much of what's been described actually did occur.

The "walking down the street and hearing A&A coming out of every open window" story originated with William Benton, an executive of the Lord and Thomas advertising agency in Chicago, who claimed that having this experience while taking a stroll one evening in the spring of 1929 helped to convince him that the program's popularity warranted network exposure. While there's no way to prove Benton's specific experience, it does fit in with documentable facts: A&A's very real national popularity as a result of their "chainless chain" syndication enterprise, which directly led to their being approached by Lord and Thomas and NBC. This popularity can be documented by examining A&A's tour of the Pantages vaudeville circuit in April and May of 1929 -- they sold out every theatre on the circuit, from Kansas City to San Francisco, and photos exist of huge "Fresh Air Taxicab" parades held to welcome them in several of these cities.

The interruption of movies by the program first happened during the "Madame Queen Breach of Promise Suit" storyline heard during the first two and a half months of 1931, a very suspenseful storyline which marked the program's peak of popularity. Charles Correll specifically remembered this being done in Chicago, and recalled that at first he and Gosden were upset about it: they felt that the theatres were exploiting their popularity to attract patrons by putting their names up on the marquee. It was only after asking around about the practice among theatre owners in Chicago that they came to realize that delaying the start of the movie presentations for the broadcasts was the only way the theatres could hold an audience.

The A&A craze continued thru 1931, thanks to two very powerful storylines that followed the Madame Queen affair. During April and May, the program revolved around Ruby Taylor's bout with a near-fatal case of pneumonia -- and the May 4, 1931 episode concluded with Amos emerging from her hospital room in tears, describing her condition to Andy and the Kingfish: "She opened her eyes, an' looked up at me, an' said 'Sweetheart, whatever happens I want you to know dat I'll always love you,' an' den she closed her eyes, an' I couldn't see her breath..."

The episode closed as Andy and the Kingfish led Amos away -- and there was a well-documented public reaction. Both the Chicago Daily News and the New York Times reported receiving a barrage of phone calls immediately after the broadcast ended, demanding to know if Ruby had died -- and the Times (5/10/31) reported that in one New York neighborhood, small children ran thru the streets yelling "Ruby Taylor is dead!" The Chicago Defender, the nation's most widely-read black-owned newspaper, also reported on the story (5/23/31) stating that over the course of the storyline, at least six hundred people had sent get-well messages, fruit, and flowers to station WMAQ to be sent on to Ruby.

The third major storyline of 1931 was Amos's trial for murder, a sequence which ran from October to December. The story involved a street punk who robbed Amos after beating him senseless -- and shortly after the robbery, the hoodlum was found stabbed to death. Amos was arrested, brutally interrogated by the police (one of the most genuinely chilling moments in the entire series), charged with first-degree murder, and put on trial. This trial led to considerable controversy: the International Association of Chiefs of Police officially condemned the program's depiction of police brutality (Pittsburgh Courier, 12/19/31) and Pepsodent received a barrage of complaints from listeners threatening to boycott the product if Amos was convicted. Lord and Thomas executives approached Correll and Gosden and advised them of the situation, and urged them to find a way out of the storyline. As Correll remembered it, having written themselves into a corner, there was no way out other than to make the whole storyline a bad dream.

Verifying the popularity of the show among black audiences is more problematic. In a piece published in the Hartford Courant (4/6/30), black writer Valdo Freeman described large crowds gathering around loudspeakers outside appliance and radio stores in Harlem "until the sidewalk is blocked" to hear the show -- comparatively few black families owned radios during the Depression. There was a lot of discussion of the show in the black press during 1930 -- many black listeners during this period assumed that Correll and Gosden themselves were black, and many evidently believed that they were, in fact, the popular stage comedy team of Flournoy Miller and Aubrey Lyles broadcasting incognito. This wave of early popularity was counterbalanced in 1931, however, by the well-documented protest campaign mounted by the Pittsburgh Courier -- in which publisher Robert Vann pledged to gather a million signatures on petitions demanding the show be removed from the air. There's no way to determine for sure how many were gathered -- the paper claimed a peak of 750,000 signatures, but this was never independently verified. (Peak circulation for the Courier was about 10,000 copies an issue during this era.) But by any calculation the campaign did make an impression: it managed to draw both strong support and bitter opposition from various segments of the black community. As passionate as Vann was about his cause, he was unable to convince the national NAACP to support him, and in fact at least one state NAACP chapter specifically repudiated the campaign. The Vann campaign has picked up a legendary status all its own among modern-day media scholars -- but it's really not accurate to claim the black community either loved or despised A&A, because the fact is that there was no unified position on the program.

Perhaps the best gauge of A&A's overall popularity during this period is the amount of publicity the program received during 1929-31. Correll and Gosden employed a clipping service to gather every mention of the series that could be found in the public press, large papers and small -- and kept these clippings in a series of large scrapbooks, which may be examined in the Correll-Gosden Collection at USC. There are ten large volumes covering just the years of 1930-31, containing tens of thousands of individual clippings (compared to one single volume which covers the entire period of 1933-37!). It's clear from these scrapbooks that there was an extraordinary amount of public interest in the program during this period -- from large newspapers and small, from white newspapers and black, from fan magazines to scholarly journals of psychology and sociology. Publicity materials in and of themselves aren't a reliable source for research -- but the sheer volume of publicity generated by the program at its peak is a sure sign that people were fascinated by the show.

I think the lesson from all this is that it's impossible to overstate the impact this program had on audiences of the early Depression era. Certainly there are a lot of legends that have grown up about the show -- but these legends have their basis in fact.


Date: Tue, 27 Jun 2000 18:52:57 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: Amos's Bad Dream

So that's the way they resolved it, with the old "It was just a dream" ending? Were there any audience complaints over this? And what were they planning on doing originally? Sending Amos to jail (or death row) and just writing him out of the series?

They managed to wring the very last drop of suspense out of the storyline -- after dropping hints all along that Amos was going to be convicted, the final episode of the sequence, December 23, 1931, brought the case right down to the point of the jury foreman beginning to read the verdict -- and then suddenly a ringing alarm clock was heard, and Amos woke up, bringing the episode and the storyline to a sudden close.

There were a few rumblings in the fan press about how the sequence ended up, but given the fact that it was two days before Christmas, I suspect the outcry would have been even more severe had Amos been convicted -- it's difficult for people today to realize just how beloved a character he really was. Years later, Charlie Correll admitted that he had always felt that the way they ended the sequence was a "dirty trick," but they couldn't come up with any other way of resolving it.

I strongly suspect, though, that the original idea was for Amos to be convicted and sent to prison. There was precedent for this -- in June 1929, Amos was framed for a fur robbery by a slick criminal who had his eyes on Ruby Taylor, and he was convicted of grand larceny and sentenced to five years in prison. He actually began serving this sentence -- and Andy was ready to go back to Georgia in disgrace for having let his friend get into such trouble --when the crook and his sidekick got caught at the scene of another crime and ratted each other out. I suspect that something similar might have happened in the murder case -- although one of the things that made it so frightening for both Amos and the listeners is that no other suspect was ever even considered: police and lawyers alike all assumed from the beginning that Amos was the killer. Dream or not, one could easily interpret the storyline as being a portrait of just how willing the criminal justice system in 1931 was to railroad an innocent person, especially if that person happened to be poor and black.

As sort of a postscript to this incident, in the summer of 1935 Amos was charged with murder for real: the widow of philanthropist Roland Weber was found poisoned, and it was known that she had been infatuated with Amos, to the point of trying to break up his relationship with Ruby. But this time, there was no police brutality, and Amos remained confident that he wouldn't be convicted because he knew he was innocent. (Apparently, the Chiefs of Police protest in 1931 had made a strong impression on Correll and Gosden.) Sure enough, it turned out that Mrs. Weber was responsible for her own demise -- she was trying to feed arsenic to her neighbor's noisy dog, and ended up accidentally poisoning herself. It wasn't long after this sequence ended that Amos and Ruby decided to finally go ahead and get married -- before anything else could happen!


Date: Mon, 4 DEC 2000 14:50:13 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: A&A on Broadway

I remember reading in Daily Variety several years ago that a new Broadway Musical, "Fresh Air Taxi", based on the A&A radio show was in pre-production and soon to debut. I kept checking and checking the new productions & saw nothing that it was debuting.

"Fresh Air Taxi" was written by a man by the name of Stephen Silverman back in the early 1980s (and was also copyrighted under the alternate title "Amos 'n' Andy in Hollywood,"), but plans for the project were halted by CBS's lawsuit, claiming that Silverman's work infringed on existing CBS copyrights and trademarks. Eventually, a Second District Court in New York State ruled that CBS had abandoned ownership of the A&A trademarks, and that the network could claim copyright only on episodes aired after March 1948 -- episodes prior to that date were in the public domain, since they had been registered as unpublished manuscripts by Correll and Gosden and CBS, after purchasing the A&A property, failed to renew those copyrights on their expiration.

The upshot of "Silverman vs. CBS" was that he had to revise his script so as to eliminate all traces of material introduced into the series after the CBS buyout, including certain lines of dialogue which had been taken from post-1948 episodes and the character of Calhoun, who wasn't introduced into the series until 1949. After all that, it appears that the financing for the project fell thru, and the show never materialized.

Although I've not read the scripts for any version of Silverman's work, I fear it would have fallen far short of the standard of the original radio scripts for the same reason that I find the half-hour sitcom A&A and the TV series disappointing -- the genius of the original series was in the finely-drawn characterizations found in Gosden's writing, and no subsequent writers were ever able to fully capture that magic. The characters will only work if they are played absolutely straight, without a trace of irony or satire -- and modern writers seem functionally incapable of producing that sort of script when dealing with OTR-era properties.

Interestingly, the dreadful 1930 A&A movie, "Check and Double Check", was supposed to have been a musical as well -- but most of the songs were cut during pre-production as a result of the then-current Hollywood backlash against musical pictures. I suspect that more music might have made "Check and Double Check" a somewhat more tolerable picture given the musical background of Correll and Gosden: Gosden, especially, was a very skilled eccentric dancer.

Another A&A project that was supposed to have been in the works a few years ago was a film proposed by Robert Altman and Harry Belafonte, which would have been a semi-biographical treatment of the rise and fall of A&A. This project likewise got bogged down and was abandoned -- although if you watch Altman's 1998 film "Kansas City," you'll notice certain A&A-like elements in the characters, most notably a character named "Madam Queen" -- and these were supposedly inserted by Altman as a conscious tribute to the program.


Date: Tue, 20 Mar 2001 11:11:42 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: The Mystic Knights of the Sea

I would like to get some background information about the MKotS, as discussed in Amos & Andy---history, organization, etc... How did George Stevens get to be the King Fish?? Elizabeth??? Thanks, Bob

There's actually quite a bit of information revealed about the lodge in the early scripts. The Mystic Knights of the Sea were first mentioned in episode 52, 5/25/28, when Amos and Andy were introduced to "Brother Stevens" by their landlord, Fred Washington, and were invited by him to join the organization. The lodge was governed by a body of "high officers," with the Kingfish serving as chairman and chief administrative officer, and the other high officers being the Whale, the Mackerel, and the Catfish (the latter position was later phased out, reducing the body of high officers to three.) The high officers worked with the Executive Committee in making administrative decisions, and there was also a Finance Committee which supervised the handling of money and a Board of Trustees which actually owned the lodge's real estate. There is also a Women's Auxiliary for the wives of members.

In addition to the high officers, there were also minor officers -- the Shad served as secretary/treasurer, the Swordfish guarded the door of the lodge room during meetings, and the Jellyfish oversaw charity work. Rank and file members were known as Sardines, and advancement thru the ranks involved participation in a series of degree rituals.

The initiation ceremonies for the lodge, depicted in episode 65, 6/29/28, were inspired by the experiences of the lodge's founder, a merchant seaman who miraculously survived a shipwreck. The ceremony requires the candidates to be blindfolded and wrapped in white robes, in which state they are ushered thru the lodge room for ritualized lectures from the high officers, culminating with their formal introduction to the Kingfish. In the ceremony, the darkness represents the bottom of the sea -- which in turn represents the uncertainty of everyday life -- and the high officers are represented as those who shed light in the midst of that darkness. The password of the lodge was originally "Ocean-Bottom-Friend," and was later changed to "Ship Ahoy!" There are also secret grips, and a distress signal which can be used in emergencies to alert fellow Mystic Knights of a member in crisis. (In practice, the distress signal seems most often to be used as a prelude to an attempt to borrow a small sum of money.)

When the Kingfish first appeared, he was head of the Chicago lodge, and no details were given as to how he attained that position. It was indicated, however, that he had held the office since about 1919, around the time that the lodge itself received its original charter. Before that, Stevens had held a number of jobs, working as a bartender in the pre-Prohibition era, and also managing a small grocery store. In his youth, he had toured the South as a shill in a medicine show -- an experience which taught him a great deal about human nature and how to manipulate it.

The Mystic Knights were a nationwide organization, with lodges in all principal cities, and all were under the ultimate control of the Grand Supreme Kingfish. In the summer of 1929, this worthy offered George Stevens the position of Kingfish in New York, and he accepted the offer, convincing Amos and Andy to make the move as well.

Correll and Gosden were both 32nd Degree Masons (Correll was a member of Trio Lodge No. 57 in Chicago, and Gosden's home lodge was Petersburg Lodge No. 15 in Petersburg, VA) and also members of the Medinah Temple of the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine in Chicago -- and the Mystic Knights of the Sea were specifically inspired by their Masonic experiences. The aquatic theme of the lodge derived from their membership in "The Dolphins," an informal Shrine swimming club in which participants all assumed various fish names as titles.

In the mid-1960s, a real-life Mystic Knights of the Sea was established in Philadelphia by Benjamin Cohen, a black Amos 'n' Andy fan who used the nomenclature of the lodge as the foundation of a club for troubled inner-city youth. Styling himself "Kingfish," he set up a lodge room at his home in North Philadelphia, and offered teens an alternative to street-gang membership, enforcing a strict no-drugs, no-violence policy. By the fall of 1967, "Kingfish" Cohen claimed to have signed up more than 3500 members, and his organization continued into the early 1970s.

Today, there's yet another real-life Mystic Knights of the Sea -- a strange, Devo-like independent-cross-genre-parody-rock band based in San Francisco (yes, I confess it -- I do listen to things other than OTR). This group appears on stage in a variety of cast-off lodge regalia, including robes and fezzes -- and uses as their rallying slogan a variation on the words of George Stevens himself: "we are all brothers and sisters in that great fraternity, the Mystic Knights of the Sea!" I suspect that Correll and Gosden would have been amazed to see that their creation remains deeply entrenched in pop culture after more than 75 years -- even in such bizarre variations as this.


Date: Wed, 7 Feb 2001 14:16:03 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: Time Zone broadcasts

They had completed the show for the East coast and had a three-hour wait for the West Coast Broadcast to come on at the same time. In order to "pass the time" the cast went to a little bar down the street from he studios for a couple of "quick ones". When they got back to the studio for the West Coast broadcast, Alfred said that the West Coast version (for obvious reasons) did not exactly sound like the East coast one.

This practice began with "Amos 'n' Andy" in November 1929, and soon spread thruout the industry. During all but the first month of their pre-network era, A&A had broadcast at 10pm Central time -- and had hoped to continue this slot during their network run. However, Pepsodent was unhappy with the fact that the program was coming to the East Coast at 11 PM -- this was deemed too late a slot for a program with a family appeal -- and after considerable negotiation, NBC cleared the 7 to 7:15 PM slot on the Blue network. The time change was to take effect 11/18/29, and this was announced a couple of weeks in advance -- and thousands of letters and telegrams immediately came in from Midwestern, Mountain, and West Coast listeners who wanted the later broadcast time to continue. Pepsodent advertising manager Harlow Roberts estimated that over a hundred thousand complaints were received, and before the first week of the new time had ended, the company and the network were trying to work out a solution.

Correll and Gosden themselves came up with the plan that was adopted -- they volunteered to do a second, earlier broadcast at no additional fee. This meant broadcasting once for the East Coast at 6pm Central time, and then returning to the studio at 1030 PM for the Central-Mountain-Pacific broadcast. (NBC had already sold the 10pm central slot to someone else, and Pepsodent wasn't able to reclaim that spot until that contract ran out.) This new policy began with the program of 11/25/29, and would continue thru the end of the A&A serial in February 1943.

The performers would frequently take in a movie or a vaudeville show during the interval between broadcasts -- and only once in the nearly fifteen years they broadcast under this schedule did they miss a performance. On 11/22/35, Correll and Gosden got delayed in traffic while coming back from a hunting trip in Maryland, and failed to get to the NBC studios in Washington in time for the Eastern broadcast. Announcer Bill Hay ended up filling the fifteen minutes by reading from the Bible, to the accompaniment of organist Dean Fossler. The performers arrived, fulsomely apologetic, in time for the late broadcast -- but Eastern listeners never heard that night's episode unless they were able to tune in one of the stations carrying the second show.

I have often wondered why they did not record the original broadcast and just pay it back three hours later).

Until the mid-1930s, the technology for making a broadcast-quality instantaneous recording did not exist, and by the time the lacquer-coated instantaneous disc had been perfected, the networks had become firmly entrenched with their "no recordings" policy. Cracks began to appear in this policy by the late thirties, however -- beginning in 1939, NBC allowed the West Coast broadcast of "Information Please" to be aired from recordings, since an ad-lib show could not be restaged, and gradually recordings began to become acceptable for time delay use. By the late forties, "second shows" were all but extinct.

Not all programs aired "second shows" -- it all depended on whether or not the sponsor was willing to pay for the additional time. Many performers actively despised the requirement of having to do a "second show": Fred Allen complained constantly about having to do so, especially considering the sort of people who filled the studio audience for his late broadcast (at midnight, New York time.) Many of the people who attended these late broadcasts, at least in New York, seem to have been pub-crawlers, streetwalkers, and the homeless -- and seemed more interested in getting off the sidewalk for an hour than in paying attention to a broadcast. Allen finally got into a rather heated discussion with his producer about the late broadcasts, suggesting that he could reach down into his toilet and pull out a better class of people than those who showed up for his second shows.


Subject: Re: Amos and Andy
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Date: 10/16/2001 8:07 AM Eastern Standard Time

Many consider A&A transcriptions of this period to be the "Holy Grail" of OTR collecting. They were not pressed in great quantities, and all of them were supposed to be returned after airing to be destroyed. These were the first radio transcriptions, the "chainless" chain, the first time recordings had been used to disseminate a radio show without the muscle of a network. As I understand it, G & C were thinking way outside the box when they thought this one up.

There were probably never more than 60 to 150 copies of each disc pressed over the eighteen-month, 438-episode run of the "chainless chain" -- the syndication started with about thirty stations and ended with about seventy-five, and each station received two copies of each disc so that the two sides could be played continuously on a double-turntable arrangement. Correll and Gosden were extremely protective of the discs, out of concern that the recordings would be pirated or broadcast without their written authorization, and insisted that all the discs be sent back to Chicago and destroyed after use. They were so concerned about possible misuse of the discs that they didn't even keep a set for themselves.

There had been at least one example of syndication of written scripts before A&A, but Correll and Gosden were indeed the first radio performers to hit upon the idea of distributing a prerecorded program -- specifically it was Gosden's idea, inspired probably by the success that the performers had had with their commercially-released "Sam and Henry" records for Victor in 1926-27. By the end of the first year of the "chainless chain" they were being heard on more stations than any live network program and were well on the way to becoming a national craze. Their success inspired hundreds of imitators -- by the end of 1929, recorded syndication had become the fastest-growing part of the broadcasting business, and is of course very much a part of the industry today.

The project was not without its shortcomings, though -- Correll remembered that quality control was extremely difficult to maintain, because many stations had second-rate turntables that didn't always run at the right speed, and many operators were extremely lax. Discs would frequently be broadcast at speeds widely removed from 78 rpm, worn needles would be used, skips and gouges were common, and the performers found this quite frustrating -- especially after April 1929, when the live broadcast over WMAQ was replaced by recordings, allowing the performers to make a personal-appearance tour. Tuning in on various chainless-chain affiliates along their route, Correll and Gosden were often appalled at what they heard, and thus they were willing to listen when they were approached in June by NBC and Pepsodent.

Nevertheless, it's interesting to speculate on what might have happened had Pepsodent decided to sponsor A&A on a syndicated basis rather than bring it to NBC as a live feature. The idea of live networks was far from being a permanently-established concept in 1929-30, and had the syndication of A&A continued past 1929, the future development of broadcasting might have followed a very different course.

Subject: Re: Amos and Andy
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Date: 10/16/2001 9:16 PM Eastern Standard Time

So I'll ask the question here in addition to my post to the OTR list, if you don't mind. Someone here may find it interesting. What would have been the first ep of A&A to be broadcast from record, what might be the earliest to survive?

The syndication began with Episode 1, aired on 3/19/28 -- heard live over WMAQ and by recording over thirty-eight subscribing stations. The storyline began from the beginning -- the hard-working, principled Amos and the boastful loudmouth Andy are first heard as hired hands working on a farm outside Atlanta, employed by a man named Mr. Hopkins, and as the scene opens, they are excited about the idea of moving to Chicago, where they know that high-paying jobs are available. As they discuss their plans, Andy tries to maneuver Amos into doing more than his share of the day's work, and ends up spilling a bucket of milk. He then tries to convince Amos to help him cover up the mishap by topping off the bucket with water, but Amos warns him that they can't afford to lose their jobs before they have enough money saved for the railroad fare to Chicago.

This was the first episode of the series -- but it isn't the first recording. In February of 1928, Correll and Gosden made a brief recording introducing the characters of Amos and Andy -- and this recording was aired over WMAQ Monday thru Saturday at ten PM beginning on 2/25/28 (the same night the new series was announced in the Chicago Daily News) and continuing thru March 17th. No copy of this recording is known to exist, nor does any script. Presumably the introductory disc was made available to the chainless-chain stations as well, so it's possible that a copy might turn up, and if it did it would be an incredible find -- this was as far as can be determined the very first recorded promotional announcement in the history of American broadcasting.

Date: Wed, 17 Oct 2001 23:03:22 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: A&A Recordings

The first A&A broadcasts, were they done live or via record? It is my understanding that they were live.

The original contract between Correll and Gosden and WMAQ required that the Chicago broadcasts be done live -- but they were synchronized with the syndicated recordings aired over the chainless-chain affiliates. What this meant in practice was that Correll and Gosden would record the episodes well in advance in marathon recording sessions, allowing time for the discs to be processed, pressed, approved, and shipped to the subscribers well in advance of the scheduled broadcast date. Then, as Correll and Gosden were seated at WMAQ broadcasting a given script, the recordings of that same episode would be airing on the chainless-chain stations. As new stations bought the series -- the chain grew from thirty-eight stations in the beginning to about seventy-five by the end of the syndication run -- they would join the storyline in progress rather than starting the series from the beginning.

In April 1929, WMAQ agreed to allow Correll and Gosden to accept an extremely lucrative contract to tour the Pantages vaudeville circuit, appearing in several cities where the syndicated broadcasts had become popular, including St. Paul, Kansas City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Part of the contract required that they broadcast their nightly episode live from the local chainless-chain affiliate on each city along the tour, and this meant, naturally, that Chicago would hear recordings for the duration of the trip. As it worked out, however, during their stop in Kansas City in mid-June, Correll and Gosden received word that NBC and the Pepsodent Company were interested in them -- and negotiations with the sponsor and the network kept them on the road for much of the summer. As a result, WMAQ ended up using the recordings for the rest of the syndicated run, not resuming live broadcasts until the network premiere on August 19th.

If this is so, what was the first EP to be recorded on disk for distribution?

Episode 1, for broadcast on 3/19/28, in which Amos and Andy discuss their plans to leave their jobs on a small farm outside Atlanta and seek their fortunes in Chicago.

Recorded syndication was the entire reason "Amos 'n' Andy" came into existence -- Correll and Gosden had proposed the idea while doing "Sam and Henry" at WGN, probably some time in 1927, and had been rejected by those ever-foresighted executives at the Tribune Company. This made Gosden really mad -- normally he was a soft-spoken, rather shy person, unless it came down to a conflict over the show. Then it became "my way or the highway." The Tribune refused to do it his way -- so he and Correll resolved to hit the highway as soon as their contract ran out in December 1927.

The Tribune figured they were replaceable -- the show was, after all, "Sam and Henry," not "Sam and Henry starring Correll and Gosden." They figured that any generic blackface performers could come in and take over the show, and that it would go on as before -- utterly missing the point that what made the show a success was the unique genius of its creators. Indeed, the fake "Sam and Henry" -- who were probably Henry Moeller and Hal Gilles, former associates of Correll and Gosden at the Joe Bren Producing Company -- lasted barely four months.

Meanwhile, Correll and Gosden basically dictated their own terms at WMAQ, owned by the Chicago Daily News. They told program director Judith Waller that they wanted (1) the right to distribute the show by recordings outside Chicago, (2) exclusive ownership of the trademark registration on the title and the copyrights on the scripts, and (3) a financial package totalling $25,000 for the first year -- covering themselves and their announcer Bill Hay, who WMAQ would be required to bring over from WGN with the two performers. (To his dying day, Hay apparently never knew about this aspect of the deal -- because he always insisted that his leaving WGN and joining WMAQ at precisely the same time as Correll and Gosden was purely coincidental. It wasn't.) They also insisted that their personal business manager, Alex Robb, be hired by the Daily News to supervise the syndication project.

It was unprecedented for radio performers to make such hard-line demands, especially performers who had been rank unknowns just three years before, but Waller was the rare example of a broadcasting executive who really understood why some programs worked and some didn't -- and she knew that Correll and Gosden were the reasons "Sam and Henry" had become the hottest property in Chicago radio over the course of its two-year run. She went to Daily News publisher Walter Strong and told him to give Correll and Gosden anything and everything they wanted -- even though the $25,000 contract would double the station's annual operating cost. Under the proposed contract, the Daily News would receive a cut of the profits from the syndication, which was administered by its own syndicate division, and would also make money on the "Amos 'n' Andy" comic strip which would be published in connection with the radio series. With these inducements (and after polling members of the Chicago Urban League about their feelings concerning Correll and Gosden's work, a survey which found wide approval) Strong approved the deal, and radio's first recorded syndication got underway.

In other words, what is the earliest EP that could possibly survive?

While the first actual episode to be recorded was Episode 1--3/19/28, there was also a special promotional disc recorded by Correll and Gosden for airing during the three weeks preceding the premiere of the new series. This recording introduced the characters of Amos and Andy, and was aired by WMAQ six nights a week from 2/25/28 (the night the title of the new series was first announced in the Chicago Daily News) thru 3/17/28. No copy of this promotional record is known to exist, nor was the script preserved -- but if it were ever to surface, it would be a supreme find, as the earliest-known instance of a prerecorded promotional announcement in the history of American broadcasting.

As to network episodes, currently the earliest-known A&A is a very rough home recording of the 3/24/32 episode, the day after Andy's ill-fated wrestling match with Bullneck Mooseface. Nothing earlier has ever surfaced, but at least two prior recordings are known to have been made. When Correll and Gosden arrived in Hollywood in June 1930 to begin filming "Check and Double Check," the RKO sound department presented them with a reel of 35mm film on which one of their broadcasts had been optically recorded. This reel hasn't been heard of since, although I suspect it may have been the source for the slightly-overmodulated recording of Joseph Gallicchio and his orchestra performing "The Perfect Song" which is heard over the opening titles of the completed film.

A second known recording was made on a device called the "Telegraphone," an early version of a wire recorder demonstrated before a Senate committee on 5/10/32. During this demonstration -- staged as part of an effort to secure special legislation extending an important patent on the device -- the lawyer for the Telegraphone interests played back a recording of an A&A episode made during the Breach of Promise storyline in February-March 1931. It's unclear how complete this recording was, but the attorney indicated in his testimony that the reel he used to make the recording could hold up to twenty minutes of sound. Where this reel of wire ended up is anyone's guess -- but it would be quite a nice thing to find in some forgotten National Archives file box containing the paperwork connected to Senate Bill S1301. (If Les Waffen is still on the list, this might be something worth looking up!)


Date: Wed, 6 Mar 2002 14:53:13 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: Surviving A&A Recordings

Mike Biel wonders,

Around 1970 when I walked into NBC Central Files in New York and introduced myself as the one cataloging the NBC Chicago holdings at Northwestern, practically before I could finish the sentence Ruth Terry Preston pounced on me with "Do you have any early Amos 'n' Andy???" I had to tell her that we had none except an insert in the 4/13/47 WMAQ 25th anniversary program and we figured that N.Y. had some.

Well, at least they realized their error in not saving the programs in the first place. Then they wouldn't have had to try and get away with using "The Presidential Election" in all their anniversary programs over the years....

I suspect at least part of the problem was that Correll and Gosden seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time as far as making recordings was concerned -- they moved to Hollywood in 1937, at just around the time that NBC was starting to do a lot of recording in Chicago, but weren't yet doing a lot of recording in Hollywood. And then they moved to CBS in 1939 -- which at that time didn't have an internal recording operation at all. So there was never a chance for the programs to be recorded just as a matter of course.

There were other possibilities that I've wondered about -- Lord and Thomas, the agency which handled Pepsodent's account, was known to have been experimenting with a Victor Home Recording setup for making airchecks of certain of the agency's programs, but other than a couple of Lucky Strike Hours from 1933 none of these have surfaced, and no evidence has been found to suggest that L&T used the system to make recordings of A&A. Another lost opportunity.

However, I strongly suspect that they were having reference recordings made somewhere for their own use. I have several photos that were taken in their Beverly Hills office in 1939 or 1940, and a transcription turntable is clearly visible between their desks. The existence of the fragments from the August 1937 episode -- which survive only because they were incorporated into the gag recording made for their NBC farewell party in March 1939 -- also supports the idea that recordings were made. When the Electro-Vox studio in Hollywood closed down a couple of years ago, a newspaper story on the closing featured a photo of a disc label reading "Amos 'n' Andy -- December 24, 1937," suggesting that the recordings may have been made by that studio. But, none have ever surfaced -- and they may very well have been discarded. They are not now in the possession of either family, nor are they at USC, where Gosden's papers ended up.

But Elizabeth has now cataloged how few other recordings have turned up since then. It is so astonishing that Gosden and Correll preserved the scripts so well in bound volumes but had no apparent interest in preserving recordings--even when that whole 1928-29 syndicated series was already there ready to be saved.

The best theory I can come up with is that they were scared to death that someone would get hold of the recordings and air them illegally -- given the furor of the A&A craze in 1930-31, I wouldn't have put it past some smalltime station to try and get away with this. Ensuring the destruction of the discs was probably seen by Gosden as necessary to safeguard their intellectual property rights -- and this was something that he was always very strict about, never having forgotten the lesson they learned with "Sam and Henry" and the Tribune Company. They were equally protective of their scripts -- other than Correll and Gosden themselves, no one was allowed to actually see them but Bill Hay, their supporting actresses, their secretary Louise Summa, and the person filing their copyright deposits in Washington. No one from Lord and Thomas was ever allowed to even touch the scripts, nor was NBC -- in fact, up until they left for CBS in 1939, Correll and Gosden had the distinction of being the only NBC performers who were not required to submit their scripts to Continuity Acceptance for approval.

For the sake of completeness, I might mention that the survival rate for the 1938-43 Campbell Soup era is a bit better than that of the Pepsodent period, but not by much. There are three complete Campbell's episodes in the LOC collection -- one is the special 25 minute New York World's Fair broadcast of 2/27/39 and the other two are, for some reason, CBS episodes: the "Andy's Wedding" episode of 4/1/39, and the 6/30/39 episode in which Andy has been kidnapped, and his friends are desperate for information on his whereabouts. There is also the final four minutes of the 9/8/38 episode on a disc which is taken up for the most part by an Edwin C. Hill news commentary. There appear to be two copies of this disc in the collection -- no one knows why.

The National Archives has the original disc of the 9/21/39 episode, as part of the WJSV complete-broadcast-day, and a couple years ago Les Waffen mentioned in a note that he was going thru a bunch of FCC monitoring recordings that may have included a couple of 1935 Pepsodent-era fragments. Haven't heard anything more on these, though.

Three fragments exist from November 1938 and February 1939, recorded off the air by engineers for WLW, Cincinnati as part of field-strength tests. These are mostly openings, closings, and commercials, but each has a brief bit of actual episode content. None is more than five minutes total.

Two recordings exist of the serial-era version of the Christmas episode -- 12/24/41 and 12/24/42. The 1941 version was released by Radiola on an LP in 1981, and the 1942 is available from the First Generation Radio Archives. Commercials are deleted from both, and the 1942 version is notable in that Del Sharbutt has replaced Bill Hay as announcer following Bill's retirement. This is the only example I've heard of Sharbutt's A&A work, and I have to say that without Hay, the program just doesn't sound "right."

Two recordings exist which probably come from the Canadian extension-spotting discs: the 11/12/40 episode, of which I have a blurry tape dub, and the 7/29/41 episode in Dave Goldin's collection. Both of these are missing opening, closing, and commercials, which is consistent with what I would expect from the Canadian discs, and if two have survived, there have to be more. Goldin also has a couple of fragments from 1942 and 1943, including a five minute excerpt from the final serial episode -- in which Andy finally settles all his debts and joins Amos in going to work in a war plant.

And that's all there is. And, yes, it's maddening that this is all we have of the radio program that laid the foundation for the entire OTR era. While you can still read the scripts if you're willing to take the time and make the effort to do it, so much of the quiet, friendly mood of the program grew out of the on-air chemistry between Correll and Gosden. That chemistry and that atmosphere -- the sense of visiting every night for a few minutes with close friends -- were vital elements in the program's success, and it is genuinely tragic that these elements may be beyond recovery. Elizabeth

Date: Wed, 26 May 99 07:29:43 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod (
Subject: Re:A&A Xmas Show

My mother remembers an episode of Amos 'n' Andy in which somebody (Amos/Andy/Kingfish/etc.) tells somebody else (ditto) about the Lord's Prayer. This is all she remembers about the episode, except that there were probably other parts to this episode.

This is probably the most famous A&A broadcast: Amos explained the meaning of the Lord's Prayer to his daughter Arbadella, to the accompaniment of a choral arrangement of the prayer -- usually performed by the Paul Taylor Chorus.

This scene was first performed on Christmas Eve 1940, during the show's fifteen minute serial era. It opened with Andy visiting Amos to exchange greetings of the season and included some rather poignant lines where one gets a real sense of the vulnerability and loneliness underneath Andy's blustery facade. After Andy leaves, Amos goes in to tuck in his daughter Arbadella, who was then four years old. She asks him to turn on the radio, and when the choral arrangement of the Prayer comes on, she asks him what it means. In a gentle non-sectarian speech, Amos offers a line-by-line explanation which emphasizes the importance of simple everyday human kindness.

The episode was repeated in this quarter-hour format in 1941 and 1942, and when the series converted to a half-hour situation comedy, the Christmas episode was expanded to include a the story of Andy getting a job as a department store Santa in order to buy Arbadella a special gift. Again, Andy is revealed as just a big softie at heart -- and Charles Correll turns in an excellent acting job in allowing the audience to see the essential decency beneath Andy's swagger. The last half of the episode reprises the Lord's Prayer scene, which is carried over verbatim from the serial era script.

Of more than the more than four thousand episodes on which he was the primary writer, this episode was Freeman Gosden's personal favorite -- and he put a great deal of effort into each year's performance: he would sit in his den listening over and over again to recordings of each year's broadcast, checking every nuance of Amos's speech to ensure that the message was coming across as he intended -- honestly and with dignity.

Does anybody out there have an episode title and/or date for this episode? Also, is there any place I could find it commercially?

The 15 minute 1941 presentation is included on a Radiola LP, "The Rarest Amos 'n' Andy," a compilation of four serial-era episodes released in 1982. Several different performances of the half-hour version are in circulation, and most any dealer could supply it. The 1950 version was for years the most widely-circulated, and it still holds up well. The half-hour script was also adapted for the A&A television series in 1951, and is available on video. And, a condensed version of the Lord's Prayer scene was commercially released on a Columbia 78rpm single around 1949 or 1950.

The only criticism I could offer of this still-touching scene is that Arbadella stopped aging when the show moved to the sitcom format. During the serial era, the characters aged in more-or-less real time, but that ended after 1943. Arbadella should have been eighteen years old the last time she asked Daddy to explain the prayer!


Date: Mon, 26 Jun 2000 17:33:04 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: A&A 1943 X-mas show

A few years ago Metacom (Adventures in Cassettes) released the almost complete first 1/2 hour sitcom season (1942-1943) of Amos 'n' Andy. The Christmas episode was conspicuously absent from the collection. The previous episode's closing announcement mentioned that the annual Christmas program was next week. Is there a recording of this program in circulation somewhere?

These Metacom recordings were sourced from reel-to-reel tape transfers originally made for Charles Correll in the early 1970s (and you can blame Charlie for the absence of the commercials in these shows -- he didn't want to hear them, so they were cut from the original transfers, although they were included on the discs.) I've seen a listing of the transfers that were done for Correll, and there's no evidence that the 1943 Christmas show was among the discs originally transferred.

I do have a theory as to what might have happened to it -- Freeman Gosden had the habit of sitting alone in his den and listening to each year's recording of the Christmas show over and over and over again, relentlessly critiquing his own performance. These 1943 shows were recorded on glass-based blanks -- and it may be that the discs ended up getting broken or damaged in the process of being played. We may never know for sure -- that's just my theory.

I'd like very much for that theory to be incorrect -- the 1943 Xmas show was the first outing for the 1/2 hour "Andy Plays Santa" story: the "Lord's Prayer" segment had been airing in 15 minute form since 1940. The same 1/2 hour script was reused for the 1944 broadcast, which is in circulation.


Announcer: The Christmas Choir continues with the Lord's Prayer.
Arbadella: Daddy, could you get some Christmas music on the radio?
Amos: Why, darling, this is the very best Christmas music you could get. They're going to sing the Lord's Prayer.
Arbadella: Oh, I can say the Lord's Prayer with Mommy. She's been teaching it to me.
Amos: Yes, I know.
Arbadella: What does the Lord's Prayer mean, Daddy?
Amos: Well, it means an awful lot and with the world like it is today, it seems to have a bigger meaning than ever before.
Arbadella: But, what does the Lord's Prayer really mean, Daddy?
Amos: The Lord's Prayer. Well, darling, I'll explain it to you.
Arbadella: Oh, will you, Daddy?
Amos: Yeah. Now, you lay down and you listen. Now, the first line of the Lord's Prayer is this: Our Father which art in Heaven. Now, that means father of all that is good where no wrong can ever dwell. And then it says: Hallowed be thy name. Now, that means, darling, that we should love and respect all that is good. And then it says after that: Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done in earth as it is in Heaven. And that means, darling, as we clean our hearts of all hate and selfishness and fill our hearts with the love, the good, the true and the beautiful, then earth where we are now will be just like Heaven.
Arbadella: That would be wonderful, Daddy.
Amos: Then it says: Give us this day our daily bread. Now, that means to feed our hearts and minds with kindness, with love and with courage, which will make us strong for our daily tasks. And then, after that, the next line of the Lord's Prayer is: And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. Do you remember the Golden Rule?
Arbadella: Yes, Daddy.
Amos: Well, that means that we must keep the Golden Rule and do unto others as we would want them to do unto us. And then it says: And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Now, that means, my darling, to ask God to help us do and to see and to think right so that we will neither be led or tempted by anything that is bad. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever. Amen. That means, darling, that all the world and everything in it belongs to God's kingdom -- everything -- your mommy, your daddy, your little brother, your sister, your grandma, you and everybody. And, as we know that and act as if we know it, that, my darling daughter, is the real spirit of Christmas.
Arbadella: That's good, Daddy.

Date: Sat, 9 Dec 2000 17:18:08 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: A&A Music Hall Xmas Show

Did CBS air a recording around December 25th of the annual Amos 'n' Andy Christmas program during the 1955-1960 years of the Amos 'n' Andy Music Hall?

So far as I've been able to determine, what was aired during the Christmas seasons of the Music Hall period was a commercially-released phonograph record of the "Lord's Prayer" sequence, with Gosden as Amos and Barbara Jean Wong, who had been handling the role since the first airing of the sequence in 1940, as Arbadella. (And yes, that's the same Barbara Jean Wong who is best known today for her role in "The Cinnamon Bear.")

The record was released as Columbia 40050 and again as 48002 and was probably recorded some time in the spring of 1953. Although the label credits "Amos 'n' Andy, with Barbara Jean Wong," and although both Amos and Andy appear on the picture sleeve, in a CBS publicity photo dating to 1939, Andy is actually nowhere to be heard on the record itself. (There were other commercial releases of this sequence -- it was part of the Top Ten A&A album recorded in 1947, and also as a special 12" RCA Victor pressing made as a giveaway premium for Rexall druggists around 1951. Presumably, though, the Columbia release was the one used during the Music Hall broadcasts.)

"The Lord's Prayer" is the best-remembered A&A Christmas sequence, but it wasn't the first attempt at a religiously-themed holiday feature on the program. In 1936, the Christmas episode featured Amos and Ruby celebrating their first wedding anniversary by listening to a short sermon by the real-life pastor of the People's Church in Chicago over their new radio. The following three years, the religious theme for the Christmas episode continued, with Amos' family and friends gathering around the Christmas tree to hear Amos read aloud from the second chapter of Luke, to the accompaniment of a soft version of "Silent Night" performed by the Paul Taylor Chorus.


Date: Tue, 23 Sep 2003 22:33:40 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: A&A's Xmas

I have a preacher friend that is always looking for new ideas for a Christmas sermon. I know that Amos and Andy did a very touching Christmas show and basically repeated it for a number of years. I have listened to some of them but certainly not all. Obviously some of the performances were better than others. I am looking for the best example so that I may give my friend a copy. Elizabeth (or others), would you please give me your opinion on which of the Amos and Andy Christmas show is considered the best.

Well, my own favorite -- and the one we listen to every Christmas Eve at my house -- is the 1941 performance, in the 15-minute format. It's very quiet, very low-key, and really captures the essence of what that particular bit of radio was all about. The 1942 15-minute performance also exists, but I prefer the 1941 version because of the gentle little ad-libbed postscript that Bill Hay adds at the end.

As for the half-hour versions, I like the 1944 performance simply for the freshness of it -- it was only the second time the Andy As Santa script had been performed.

There's also a very nice performance of Amos's Lord's Prayer speech which was commercially released by Columbia Records in 1953, and copies of this disc, in both 78rpm and 45rpm, are still quite common (the 45 could still be found in stores in the late 1960s). I picked up a nice black-label copy of the 45 just this morning at Goodwill for 95 cents.


Date: Sun, 31 Oct 2004 18:26:01 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: A&A Music Hall

In the late 1950's I listened to The Amos & Andy Music Hall. I understand that precious few of the shows are available to the OTR enthusiast. If this is true, will someone please comment on why so few shows are now available.

Most, if not all, of the A&A Music Hall programs do survive on original master tapes, but they're unlikely to ever be made available due to rights issues. CBS owns the copyright to the series (and will continue to own that copyright until 2067), but the master reels are not in CBS's possession. So even if the rights were licensed, there'd be no way to actually issue the programs without another set of negotiations and another licensing agreement with the owner of the reels.

Further complicating the situation are the rights issues involved with the music content of the program. Approximately half of each program is made up of commercially-released phonograph records of the day, and reissue rights for each of these recordings would have the be negotiated separately with each individual rightsholder if these programs were to be reissued intact.


Date: Sat, 20 Mar 2004 16:40:14 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: A&A's 1932 Decline

I found this very surprising, with the legendary stories of EVERYONE listening to Amos n Andy, stores closing down for it, theatres stopping the movie, etc. However, it seems like their heyday was over by 1932, although their ratings are still respectable while not tops. So with all the talk about communal watching of Milton Berle, it makes me wonder if something similar was happening with Amos n Andy.

The faddishness which had surrounded A&A during 1930-31 cooled off considerably during 1932 -- in part because every fad runs its course, and in part because the storylines themselves were not as compelling during 1932 as they had been over the previous two years.

1931 had been an extraordinary year for A&A in terms of storyline: the year started off with the Madam Queen breach-of-promise suit, which ran for thirteen weeks. Then, in April and May, Ruby Taylor came down with pneumonia and nearly died. And, after a quiet summer, the fall saw another intensely-dramatic sequence -- the Jack Dixon Affair, which ran for thirteen weeks, and included Amos being beaten senseless -- on mike -- by the villain of the piece, and then charged with first-degree murder when said villain was found shot to death on the banks of the Harlem River. (Of course, things worked out all right when the murder charge was revealed, two days before Christmas, to have been nothing but a very bad dream.) In terms of whipping their audience to a high pitch of excitement, Correll and Gosden set a pace for themselves during 1931 that no other writer/performers would ever equal -- and, indeed, they couldn't keep up that pace themselves.

1932, by contrast, tended to wander story-wise. The big storyline for the first quarter of the year was Andy's career as a professional wrestler, which had its amusing moments, but never approached the intensity of the events of 1931. Then there was a brief sequence in the spring in which Amos, Andy, the Kingfish, and Madam Queen opened a weight-loss spa -- and that storyline simply fizzled out when Correll and Gosden couldn't figure out where to go with it. This gave way to the story of Lula-May, a baby found abandoned in the back of the Fresh Air Taxicab, and Amos's search for her real mother -- a sequence which had potential, but never seemed to fully achieve it. And then in June, Amos, Andy and Brother Crawford made a big mistake business-wise by closing down their successful lunch room and going in partnership with the Kingfish and Pop Johnson to open the Okey Hotel.

This was the most radical change in the series since the characters moved from Chicago to New York -- and suggests that Correll and Gosden were hoping a new setting would inspire new ideas. The hotel idea started off interesting, but the taxicab company and lunch room had become so well-established in the continuity that it didn't quite seem like "Amos 'n' Andy" without them. And once they had established the hotel, Correll and Gosden seemed unsure about where to go from there - the program began to feel a bit too much like "The Nebbs," a popular comic strip of the era that had a similar hotel setting.

What all of these 1932 sequences were missing was a strong hook: a powerful adversarial character or a sense of real danger for the lead characters. Simply put, there wasn't enough dramatic conflict thru most of 1932 to create the sort of attention-grabbing suspense that had been the hallmark of the program during 1931. Correll and Gosden themselves eventually realized what was wrong -- and by the end of 1932 they realized what was wrong and began to get the program back on track: much of November and December of 1932 was taken up by the "Clifton Mills Affair," in which Mr. Taylor began to think that Amos would never be able to provide for his daughter -- and asked him to step aside in favor of his new business partner, an up-and-coming young achiever. Amos learned that Mills was actually cheating Taylor -- but was afraid that if he revealed what he knew, Taylor would think he was acting out of spite and wouldn't believe him. No sooner had this sequence finally been resolved than the obnoxious Frederick Montgomery Gwindell was put in charge of the Okey Hotel -- sparking a seven-month-long storyline that would eventually drive the hotel out of business and land Andy in court again. This storyline caused a dramatic rebound in the program's rating which continued thru the end of 1933.

Granted, chances were probably greater that people were able to make their own radios during the 1920s with wire around the Quaker Oats box and the aerial hooked to the radiator, while few people were making their own television sets. Also, I have some beautiful commercial radios made in the 1924-1927 range, so the proliferation of sets may have been greater than the proliferation of TVs at Berle's time. But a) how much did Amos n Andy contribute to the sale of radio sets, and b) how much communal listening of A&A took place, with the stories of stopping the movie for it, etc.?

There's always been a lot of talk that people bought radios during 1930 in order to listen to A&A, but I think that a lot of other factors were equally responsible -- not the least of which was the introduction of cheap table-model radios available on Easy Credit Terms. This factor made factory-made radios available to working-class people for the first time, and made it much easier for those who were inclined to own sets to purchase them. There is, however, no way to positively document the various anecdotal claims that A&A increased radio sales.

Communal listening to A&A peaked in the late winter and early spring of 1930, during the "Great Home Bank" storyline. During February 1930, a theatre owner in Washington DC introduced the idea of broadcasting each night's episode of A&A over the sound system prior to the start of the 7pm show, and this idea caught on among theatre owners along the East Coast. However, NBC's legal department put a stop to this practice during April, contending that it was a violation of Correll and Gosden's copyrights to charge admission to hear the broadcasts. So even though this practice has become part of OTR folklore, it actually only existed during a very narrow window of time.

More casual sorts of communal listening were common in working-class urban neighborhoods, where radio ownership was rare, with radios in restaurants, drug stores, poolrooms, barber shops, and other gathering places attracting groups of people for the nightly episodes. In one of the most interesting examples of this, a series of outdoor loudspeakers were installed along Atlantic City's Steel Pier during the summer of 1930 for the specific purpose of making "Amos 'n' Andy" available to early-evening patrons. During the Jack Dixon storyline in late 1931, it became common for department stores in the East to patch the broadcast into their public address systems for the convenience of Christmas shoppers.

There is also evidence that "Amos 'n' Andy"-themed dinner parties became a fad during the Breach of Promise storyline in early 1931, with guests gathering for a meal and conversation, built around listening to the nightly episode. In some case, party guests might be invited to assume the roles of the various A&A characters for the evening, or the dinner menu might be planned to simulate the fare served at A&A's lunchroom.

This type of activity, however, was confined for the most part to the "fad" period of 1930-31. By the mid-1930s, A&A had assumed a place in the national mind which one commentator likened to "the old clock on the stairway -- we might not pay attention to it all the time, but we always know it's there."


Date: Fri, 25 Jul 2003 12:48:04 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: A&A Answers

Exactly how many episodes of the radio series were recorded as opposed to how many episodes were aired?

There were 4091 episodes aired of the original nightly series -- the first 438 of those were recorded for syndication in 1928-29. However, only a small fraction of these -- about sixty -- are currently known to survive.

Of the nightly network run (1929-43) only thirteen complete episodes are currently known to exist. Recordings of each episode were made from January 1940 to at least July 1942 for distribution in Canada, but only two episodes from this source are known to exist.

There are also a number of fragmentary airchecks known to survive, the earliest dating to November 1930, and the latest being a five-minute fragment of the final serial episode. Most of these fragments are very short -- a few as short as ten seconds.

Of the 1943-55 half-hour sitcom, 426 episodes were aired. All were recorded for preservation, and most survive in the Correll Family Collection, aside from a few lost to breakage or decomposition. About 250 episodes have found their way into OTR circulation.

Of the 1954-60 "Amos 'n' Andy Music Hall" series, there were 2129 broadcasts, although many programs were repeated. Most survive as original CBS master tapes in the Correll Collection.

As for the TV programs, CBS has never sanctioned any official release: ALL circulating copies of A&A-TV are bootlegs. All circulating prints of the series were recalled by CBS Films in early 1966, but many slipped thru the cracks -- and many of these found their way into the hands of basement film dupers in the 1970s. The only legitimate prints of A&A-TV are original CBS Films prints -- and there were multiple prints made for syndication, so there could be any number of extant "originals." Most of the circulating bootleg sets vary from mediocre quality to terrible, although occasionally there'll be an episode which was sourced from a clean original print.

Some of the prints that have been duped were not syndication prints at all -- but copies made for airing on network affiliates out of reach of a direct network connection. These are the copies which contain the original "library" opening sequence and, usually, the Blatz Beer commercials.


"Amos 'n' Andy In Person"

Date: Fri, 21 Mar 2003 19:42:45 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: Sam and Henry -- After The Fact

It should also be noted that the SnH had been taken off of WGN in December 1927.

Specifically, the program went off the air after Episode 586, 12/18/27, and Correll and Gosden immediately left Chicago for a personal appearance tour thru the South that took them as far as Shreveport, LA. Their time slot on WGN was filled for the next two weeks by Bill Hay reading the Bible.

Two weeks later, though, "Sam and Henry" returned on WGN -- but without Correll and Gosden. They were replaced by two other dialect performers who had never been identified until I uncovered evidence indicating that they were most likely two performers by the names of Henry Moeller and Hal Gilles. "Sam and Henry" continued in this ersatz form until 2/16/28, when it disappeared for good.

There were a number of things going on behind the scenes at this time. Correll and Gosden had been feuding with WGN management for months over their proposal for syndicating their program by recordings, and they finally decided that if the Tribune Company wouldn't relent on that point, they'd walk at the expiration of their contract. The Tribune essentially told them -- go ahead. We own the program, we own the scripts, we own the characters. And we don't need you.

The replacement "Sam and Henry" was evidently the Tribune Company trying to call Correll and Gosden's bluff -- but while they were in Shreveport, E. C. Rayner of Radio Digest -- a friend of the performers who may very well have given them the idea for syndication in the first place -- arranged a meeting for their agent, Alec Robb, with Judith Waller of WMAQ. Correll and Gosden themselves met with Waller as soon as they got back to Chicago in mid-January of 1928, and it took nearly a month to work out the deal -- a $25,000 contract for the services of Gosden, Correll, and Bill Hay that required the Chicago Daily News to double WMAQ's operating budget.

All during this time the fake "Sam and Henry" continued on WGN, until it became evident that Correll and Gosden wouldn't be coming back. Given that the first "Amos 'n' Andy" promo aired on 2/25/28, the termination of "Sam and Henry" on 2/16 suggests that this was when word reached the Tribune Company that Correll and Gosden had signed with WMAQ, and this allows a couple of weeks lead time for the preparation of the promotional campaign. Considering that Correll and Gosden had written four scripts before even settling on the names of "Amos" and "Andy," one can imagine this was a very intense period of work for the performers.

Henry Moeller and Hal Gilles had direct connection to Correll and Gosden. All four of the performers had been colleagues at the Joe Bren Producing Company during the early 1920s, and Gosden had taught Moeller and Gilles a basic form of African-American dialect, just as he had taught it to Correll -- and Moeller and Gilles then toured as a team producing Bren minstrel shows for service clubs and lodges around the midwest, just as Correll and Gosden had done. When Gosden was promoted to the position of Manager of the Bren Circus Division in 1924, he hired Hal Gilles as his advance man -- and worked closely with him until leaving the Bren Company in September 1925. So on the surface, Moeller and Gilles might well have seemed a very logical choice to continue "Sam and Henry," and it probably burned Gosden to no end to see the Tribune Company using his one-time protege as a pawn in a corporate power-play.

Although the Moeller-Gilles version of "Sam and Henry" only ran a month and a half, the team remained at WGN -- creating a dialect serial of their own, known alternately as "Herr Louie and the Weasel," or "Louie's Hungry Five." This was a series done in German dialect, dealing with the leader of a German oompah band and his sidekick, and it ran on WGN for more than three years. And in 1930, WGN finally gave in to the idea of syndication and began distributing recordings of this series -- acknowledging the inevitable about three years too late.

Moeller and Gilles remained active in Chicago radio in various capacities thru the 1930s, and Hal Gilles has an interesting footnote to his career -- some time in the late 1940s he teamed up with a partner by the name of Herbie Hardt, and recorded a risqué, sold-under-the-counter "party record" called "Sixteen Old Ladies Stuck In a Lavatory." He went on to become a partner in Hargill Records, a company which apparently specialized in novelty material of the sort that Grandpa used to snicker over while Grandma wasn't around.


Date: Sun, 16 Mar 2003 12:20:17 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: A&A Answers

This is a valuable site. I listened to an A&A show from 1928. I had never heard any of the radio shows; I only remember the TV series, and little of that.

You still haven't heard a 1928 A&A episode, unfortunately -- the recording listed as such in this site is an unattributed dub of a commercially-released Victor phonograph record. These records were made to be self-contained dialogue routines, and had nothing to do with the actual broadcasts, which depended for their appeal on a continuing serial storyline. The characterizations of Amos and Andy as heard on the Victor records are often inconsistent with the characterizations presented in the actual broadcasts. Many academics and OTR writers have drawn erroneous conclusions about the program as a result of these records, since they're often circulated in the OTR world with no documentation of their origin.

You will find a number of authentic 1929 episodes on this site, however -- the downloads listed as numbers 1 thru 28 in the 1929 section are genuine episode recordings made for "chainless chain" syndication. The episodes from May thru July are especially notable in that the storyline they're taken from was the most complex attempted by the performers up to that time. (A complete day-to-day summary of the entire sequence can be found at

The recordings from 29 thru 33 in the 1929 section and the one listed from 1930 are also from Victor records, and are not genuine broadcasts.

A question: I've heard and read that, in their heyday, A&A's program was so popular on radio that movie theaters would "pipe in" the broadcasts on their sound systems so that their audiences would have no excuse to stay home and listen to the radio. Is this true?

Yes. The practice began in Washington DC in January 1930, in the midst of the "Great Home Bank" storyline, and began a trend that swept thru the East during February and March of that year. (The phenomenon was concentrated in the East because A&A was heard in the 7pm time slot only in the Eastern time zone.) The practice was widely advertised on theatre marquees and in print ads -- you'll find a typical example of such an ad at

Was the program as popular with black audiences as it was with whites (or was there even a polling method at the time that took into account the "race" of the audience?

There is ample anecdotal evidence from the early 1930s that the program had a large and loyal African-American audience, even though as of 1930 less than 8 per cent of black families had access to radios. There are accounts in the African-American press of listeners in Harlem gathering in radio stores, poolrooms, restaurants, and hotel lobbies during the early months of 1930 to listen to the program, and the program received favorable mention in several of the leading black newspapers of the day, including the Chicago Defender, the Philadelphia Tribune, the Amsterdam News, the Baltimore Afro-American, and the Northwest Enterprise.

The Pittsburgh Courier, on the other hand, mounted a petition drive against the program in early 1931 -- only to abandon the effort after six months failed to generate sufficient support to sustain the campaign. Contrary to Dunning and other authors, the NAACP did not endorse this or any other anti-A&A campaign during the OTR era. Indeed, then-assistant secretary Roy Wilkins wrote a glowing endorsement of the program during 1930, and was on good terms with Correll and Gosden during their radio run. Many black papers publicly repudiated the Courier's drive.

In 1939, Correll and Gosden commissioned a special Crossley survey of radio listeners in African-American sections of several major cities, and found that on a percentage basis, black radio homes were more likely to tune in "Amos 'n' Andy" than white. (Gosden shared this document with Roy Wilkins during a meeting in Hollywood that same year.)

All this, of course, applies solely to the original nightly serial version of the program. When the program became a weekly sitcom, and its characterizations became more broad, the series drew occasional criticism from black leaders, especially in the postwar era. But there was never any sort organized campaign against the radio program -- which explains, in part, why Correll and Gosden and CBS were taken by surprise when the NAACP denounced the TV series in 1951.


Date: Thu, 13 Mar 2003 09:51:06 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: Why A&A?

When I listen to the shows now I'm amazed at what the show has to give. I know that Ms. Elizabeth McLeod loves A&A; more than anyone, and If you would Elizabeth, would you share with us why this show means so much to you. If you do not wish to do so that's cool.

Well, I got into studying the program out of curiosity: as I've mentioned before, I spent a lot of time growing up around my grandparents, who were scarred for life by their experiences during the Depression. And one of the things that kept that generation distracted was the original "Amos 'n' Andy."

I listened to some of the half hour shows, in reruns broadcast in the late 1970s, and I didn't really understand what the whole phenomenon had been about. And all of the OTR books available then tended to repeat the same shallow stories about the movie theatres and the water use and George Bernard Shaw without ever really explaining what it was, exactly, that captured the nation's attention about the program.

One of the Depression lessons my grandmother taught me was "You can't depend on anyone in this life to do anything for you. If you want anything done, you better do it yourself." So, I took that advice to heart, and began doing my own research.

The turning point came when I read the original scripts for the entire first decade of the original series -- over 2500 episodes worth. And then I understood: "Amos 'n' Andy" as originally configured was not a comedy program. It was a day to day, real-time chronicle of a small group of working-class people desperately trying to maintain their confidence and trying to push forward in spite of a crippling economic crisis. Often, what happened to them had humorous overtones -- the sort of humor anyone can find in the vagaries of daily life -- but the stories could also be painfully tragic. (Few things I've ever read ever affected me as much as Amos's grief when he thought Ruby Taylor had died of pneumonia.)

But the characters survived. They never gave up. And they kept the really important things in mind -- above all, the original "Amos 'n' Andy" was a story of evolving personal relationships -- emphasizing that honest friendship is the most important possession anyone can have.

Correll and Gosden captured the essence of ordinary, everyday life among the working class better, I think, than any other authors who ever worked in radio -- one intellectual critic of the early 1930s praised their work as "a bit of life as simple as a folk song." Their characters grew, changed, progressed, lived. There were births -- and there were deaths. And even today, squinting at the pages on a microfilm screen, there's an uncanny sense of realism as the events unfold -- the characters in the serial had a sense of genuine emotional substance that was all too rare in radio.

For me, the only program that even comes close to the depth of the 1930s "Amos 'n' Andy" is "One Man's Family" -- but because of the economic conditions which surrounded my own childhood, I find it much easier to identify with the struggles of A&A's little group of Harlemites than with the upper-middle-class doings of the Barbours.

There's a lot more I could say -- but I've already said it at my website. And that's where I'd refer anyone wanting to learn more about who Correll and Gosden really were, and what they really accomplished:


Date: Mon, 24 Feb 2003 21:57:56 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: In The Bedroom with A&A

In reading his chapter on Gosden and Correll about how they met and formed an instant and strong friendship and how they lived together for several years, I remember blurting out loud while reading in bed "My God, Amos and Andy were gay"!: )

Now I'm not for a minute suggesting that this is true, but I am wondering if anybody else got the same impression from reading this book.

Well, I think I've mentioned before that before Amos got married in 1935, he and Andy not only roomed together, they shared the same bed. Every now and then, an episode would find them getting undressed, putting on their nightgowns, climbing into bed together, and lying awake in the dark, discussing their problems. In one serial episode, Andy laments to the Kingfish that living with Amos is just like living with a woman -- and in several episodes spread over the serial run, Amos and Andy put their arms around each other and declare that they love each other.

The armchair revisionists might have a field day interpreting this one, if they weren't already busy exploring the hidden overtones in the relationship between Jack Benny and Rochester.

In reality, of course, Correll and Gosden intended no sexual overtones of any kind in their portrayal of Amos and Andy's relationship. It was, however, a fairly close parallel of their own relationship -- they did live together for several years, and after they both got married in 1927, the two couples lived in the same apartment building for as long as they were in Chicago. But at the same time, they knew that too much time together could be dangerous -- and they made a point of going their separate ways after each day's work was done.

They had a friendship built on the fact that they were totally complementary to each other -- Gosden was a driven, energetic perfectionist -- who, on a personal level, was extremely shy, a characteristic many misinterpreted as distant aloofness, especially since he really hated the show-business social scene. Correll, on the other hand, was an easy-going, fun-loving man, who wore snappy clothes and loved to go to parties. Each knew the other's limits -- and each brought qualities to the partnership that the other lacked. Gosden looked at Correll as an older brother, someone he could talk to and confide in -- and Correll was genuinely in awe of Gosden, acknowledging that "if it wasn't for him, I'd still be in Peoria laying bricks." The result was perhaps the most harmonious collaboration in 20th-century show business history. There was never any suggestion that the two ever fought, ever argued, or ever even thought for a second of breaking up.

Gosden himself summed up the relationship best, following Correll's death in 1972. "We were partners for 37 years," he said, "and friends for fifty. In all that time we never once exchanged an unkind word."


Date: Sat, 8 Feb 2003 09:30:43 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: A&A's 10,000th Broadcast

The actual episode they used for that scene was, in fact, the 10,000th "Amos 'n' Andy" broadcast from November 1952 (22 years after the scene takes place), in which they restaged the duo's origins.

Except that nothing in that episode is an accurate representation of what actually happened in the original broadcasts. A few major discrepancies:

  • Amos and Andy left Georgia in March 1928 not May 1927 (as suggested by the Lindbergh newspaper headline read by Andy in the "10,000th Broadcast."
  • Amos and Andy did not go directly to New York from Georgia. They first went to Chicago -- which was, in fact, a far more important destination point for actual African-Americans in the Great Migration than New York. They lived in Chicago for eighteen months, and it was in Chicago that most of the program's important early story milestones occurred: it was there that they met the Taylor family, it was there that they met the Kingfish, it was there that they formed the Fresh Air Taxicab Company. The partners did not move to New York until the start of the network series in August 1929 (a move insisted upon by the network because NBC felt that New York listeners would not be interested in a series set in Chicago.)
  • Andy did not meet the Kingfish on the street, and the Kingfish was not a pickpocket. The partners were introduced to the Kingfish by their landlord, Fred Washington, in order to encourage them to join the lodge.
  • The partners did not buy the Fresh Air Taxicab from the Kingfish. They bought it for $75 from a Chicago used-car dealer named Jarvis.
  • Amos did not meet Ruby Taylor at church. They were introduced by Sylvester, the 19-year-old youth who lived across the street from the partners, and who was a friend of the Taylor family. Amos and Ruby did not fall in love immediately, although Ruby was clearly interested in Amos. Amos was engaged at the time to Mamie Henderson, his childhood sweetheart back in Georgia, and his friendship with Ruby was purely platonic until Mamie betrayed him by marrying a traveling man from New York about three months after Amos left Georgia. Ruby consoled him during his period of grief, and it was then that the couple fell in love.
  • The account of the Breach of Promise case involving Andy and Madam Queen is entirely fabricated in the 10,000th episode. Andy was represented in the case by a professional, highly effective lawyer named Collins, not by Calhoun, who didn't even exist in the series until 1949. None of the testimony presented in the episode is taken from the actual 1931 scripts, and the outcome of the trial is completely altered: In reality, Amos's detective work revealed that the Madam was in fact still married to her second husband, who had abandoned her several years before, and had married and divorced a third time before becoming engaged to Andy. With no legal dissolution to her second marriage, the Madam had no legal grounds for an engagement to Andy -- and thus no legal grounds for a breach-of-promise case. The Madam's second husband was alive -- and was brought to the courtroom by Amos in person as proof of what he'd learned. This second husband, Raymond Queen, was ultimately lost at sea, but this didn't happen until November 1932, while the Madam was in Reno pursuing divorce proceedings. It was briefly suggested that the Madam would be charged with bigamy as a result of the revelations in the 1931 trial, but Correll and Gosden quickly abandoned this storyline when it generated protests about being inappropriate subject matter for a program with a large family audience.

The complete scripts for the "Breach of Promise" storyline -- 64 consecutive episodes from 1930-31 -- are available on my website, at

Correll and Gosden were clearly embarrassed and upset about the adverse reaction to the bigamy storyline -- and it was never again mentioned in the series. As a result, the "10,000th Broadcast" version of the story has become a persistent OTR myth -- even to the point of being picked up and repeated by otherwise reputable historians. Arthur Wertheim, in "Radio Comedy," erroneously cites the events in the 1952 broadcast as having actually been aired in the original 1931 storyline -- even though he had access to the original scripts and could have done the research to get it right. Joseph Boskin in "Sambo: The Rise and Demise of an American Jester," makes an even graver error: he describes the scene in which Andy meets the Kingfish trying to steal his watch, as aired in 1952, and falsifies its source in his footnotes, claiming the scene actually comes from a 1928 script which, in reality, has nothing to do with the scene cited. This is the sort of bogus scholarship that makes my own work that much more difficult, and it's unfortunately all too common in academic writings on A&A.

One more interesting note about the "10,000th Broadcast." Seven years after it aired, the script was recycled for "The Amos 'n' Andy Music Hall," serialized out over a week of episodes in August 1959, to celebrate Correll and Gosden's 30th year of network broadcasting.


Date: Mon, 20 Jan 2003 08:46:53 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: Typing

Perhaps the writers did type the original, perhaps they didn't. But I think it is safe to say that nearly always the networks bank of typists re-did them in the right format for broadcast.

One example of writers-who-typed-their-own-scripts was Correll and Gosden -- every single page of the 4,091 episodes of the Amos 'n' Andy serial was typed by Charles Correll, who had worked as a stenographer just after graduating from Peoria High School in 1907, and never lost the knack. Correll typed along as Freeman Gosden dictated the dialogue, and there are many instances in the scripts where you can see thoughts changing in mid-sentence and lines being revised in mid-phrase as Gosden free-associated. The typing is filled with slips and strikeovers and sometimes entire sections are scratched out by hand and new dialogue typed in. Examining the scripts is a fascinating window into the actual creative process, even though they can be a bit messy to look at.

The A&A scripts were typed out phonetically -- specifying the precise shading of dialect (or lack of dialect) to be spoken by each character -- and this had a long-term effect on Correll's typing ability. For many years he found it nearly impossible to type a simple letter without instinctively lapsing into dialect.

For most of the run, there were only three copies of each A&A script: an original for Gosden, a carbon for Correll, and a second carbon for Bill Hay. C&G each kept their copies, and Hay's scripts were bundled up and sent to the Library of Congress in batches as part of the copyright registration process. But around 1940, the performers decided to have another set of scripts made up for insurance purposes -- and this job kept the CBS typing pool busy for several months manually copying out twelve years' worth of daily scripts.

Gosden liked to tell a story about Louise Summa -- their secretary for 30 years -- very early in the series' run ordering a supply of onionskin paper for typing the scripts. She got some sort of a discount deal on a huge quantity of paper, and the performers were a bit puzzled when this supply of paper was delivered to their office -- their comment was "Do you really think we'll be on the air that long?" Gosden claimed that they were still using that paper nearly thirty years later.


Date: Mon, 30 Dec 2002 09:46:52 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: A&A: Preserving the Record

It just seems that they must have had a sense of history, given the popularity of the characters, that the creators themselves would have considered some kind of archive even one as primitive as a disc recording at the time.

We'll probably never know what Correll and Gosden were thinking along the lines of preservation during their earliest years, but we can theorize. Keep in mind that in just about everything they did between 1926 and 1929, they were breaking entirely new ground: no one had ever done a continuing-character dramatic program before they did, no one had ever done a nightly serial before they did, no one had ever distributed a program by recorded syndication before they did, no one had ever done a 15-minute network strip before they did. Every step of the way, there was the potential for failure -- and the performers had no idea whether or not these innovations would work. Their idea of the future, at this point, was simply to get thru each week -- in their wildest dreams they couldn't have imagined in 1928 what "Amos 'n' Andy" would become by 1930. They didn't know if they had a future, let alone that people would still be interested in their work seventy-five years later.

I can tell you that Gosden's oldest son (born in 1929) did not remember any collection of recordings existing during his childhood. His memories of the scripts, on the other hand, were quite vivid -- they were bound in large leather volumes and kept in an imposing antique bookcase in his father's office. The side of this bookcase was covered with little penknife notches -- each notch marking an incident where a script was torn up in frustration and rewritten entirely from scratch. (These are the same volumes now held by USC.)

The only positive memory of recordings which came up in my discussions with Freeman Jr. was an account of how his father used to bring home a recording of each year's Christmas broadcast, and he would take the disc into his office and listen to it alone, over and over again, until it was time for bed.

I've never established just how much day-to-day personal involvement Correll and Gosden had with the operation of the chainless chain. It was administered by the Chicago Daily News Syndicate office, under the supervision of C&G's business manager Alex Robb, and it seems to have been Robb who actually kept an eye on that end of the operation while C&G occupied themselves with the creative end of things. But C&G -- and especially Gosden -- would almost certainly have reviewed the pressings of each episode when they were delivered from the factory, at least until they left for their personal-appearance tour in April 1929.

They certainly could have retained a copy of each disc for future reference -- the best theory I can come up with for why they didn't was that they wanted to ensure that there would be no chance their own recordings could ever be used illegally. After their bitter break from WGN cost them "Sam and Henry," Correll and Gosden realized the importance of keeping a very tight control over their intellectual property -- the first thing they did when they moved to WMAQ was insist on a contract provision giving them sole ownership of the series, its title, and its characters, and they saw to it that everything relating to "Amos 'n' Andy" was fully protected by trademarks and copyrights. But given the ease with which a recording could be illegally used, it would make sense for them to insist that the chainless-chain recordings be destroyed after a single broadcast. Likely the only way they felt safe from potential infringement was to ensure that no recordings survived -- and we can be thankful at least that a few recordings managed to leak out anyway!

Correll and Gosden were equally protective of their scripts -- no one at the agency or the network was ever allowed to see them, and during the 1930s A&A had the distinction of being the only program on NBC which was not required to submit to censorship by Continuity Acceptance. The scripts themselves were carefully preserved primarily as a reference tool -- the serial A&A generally maintained a tight continuity, for its first several years especially, and there were frequent references to past events. The scripts were frequently consulted to determine who said what to whom under what circumstances, ensuring that all the continuity fit together. The performers became a bit less attentive to this sort of detail in the later years of the serial, but by then the precedent of saving the scripts had been thoroughly established, and continued for the rest of the program's run. We can be thankful that this practice was followed -- as a result, A&A is one of the few programs of radio's pioneer era for which all scripts survive.


Date: Thu, 26 DEC 2002 09:11:23 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: A&A from Blue to Red

(Anyone know when NBC officially switched it to the Red Network? Perhaps when NBC bought WMAQ in '34?)

The final A&A on Blue was 7/12/35, and the first on the Red was 7/15/35, and the switch was announced by prominent display ads in the radio press. The primary reason for the move was Pepsodent's desire to expand the program into markets where it hadn't been easily heard -- there were a number of smaller markets in the East and Midwest which were served by Basic Red affiliates but not by Basic Blue, and followers of A&A in these locations had to tune in distant stations in order to keep up with the program. (Personally, I wish Pepsodent had opted for the alternative of extension-spotting recordings -- but they never chose to do this during their eight years of A&A sponsorship, even though they did use recordings for supplemental broadcasts of some of their other programs.)

NBC bought a controlling interest in WMAQ in the fall of 1931, and took over operation of the station in November of that year. However, A&A continued to originate from the WMAQ studios in the Chicago Daily News Building for several months after this transaction -- their first program from Merchandise Mart Studio F was that of 5/7/32.


Date: Fri, 27 DEC 2002 10:14:56 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: A&A Recordings

I know from reading Elizabeth's postings how immensely popular the show was and it strikes me as odd that a show that popular was never recorded. Does anyone know the reason for this?

The first 438 episodes, of course, were recorded -- from 3/19/28 thru 8/18/29, A&A was the very first radio program to be distributed by recorded syndication. These discs were required to be destroyed after broadcast, however, and only about seventy episodes from this run are currently known to exist. The discs were originally recorded at Orlando Marsh's "Marsh Laboratories," the first studio in Chicago to deal with electrical recording, and were pressed for distribution as 12" shellac 78rpm discs (although existing examples seem to play back more accurately at +/- 80 rpm). In April 1929, the recording contract went to Brunswick-Balke-Collender, and the audio quality of the discs improved substantially. Brunswick handled the recordings thru the end of the syndicated run.

The syndicated A&A episodes were positively not airchecks of the live WMAQ broadcasts -- the original scripts bear various handwritten notations confirming that the recordings were made well in advance of the live broadcasts -- the "chainless chain" was set up so that stations carrying the recordings aired the same episode that Correll and Gosden broadcast live from WMAQ (until April 1929 when WMAQ itself began using the recordings.)

This all ended, of course, once A&A went to NBC in August 1929. Much emphasis was given to the fact that recordings were no longer being used -- for several years, Bill Hay opened each episode by announcing "Amos 'n' Andy in Person," and this phrase endured in the episode closings for fifteen years. While recordings were used by many sponsors and many series for "extension spotting" during the 1930s, A&A is one of the few serials which did not use this method -- and I suspect there may have been a clause in the Pepsodent contract requiring that all broadcasts be live.

However, Campbell's Soup, which sponsored the program from 1938 to 1943 did not insist on such a clause. Recordings of each nightly episode from January 1940 into at least the middle of 1942 were made, for extension spotting in Canada. A couple of these episodes are known to exist, but no substantial run of episodes has yet been found. (Notice I say yet.)

The idea of making aircheck recordings was in its infancy when A&A moved to the network in 1929 -- but the technology did exist. A number of private studios doing airchecks on uncoated aluminum discs were operating in Chicago by the end of 1930, so if Correll and Gosden had wanted recordings for purposes of post-broadcast evaluation, it would certainly have been feasible to have them made. And, given Gosden's well-known attitude of strict perfectionism, I find it peculiar that they were not. This is one of the questions I wish someone had asked Correll or Gosden when they were alive -- one of the great difficulties in researching the early years of A&A is that none of the people who did interview them asked the right questions!

I do have reason, however, to believe that at least some recordings were made. Photos taken in Correll and Gosden's Beverly Hills office circa 1940 reveal the presence of a transcription turntable and a disc recording lathe. I've found that the primary use of this equipment was for the performers to practice and refine new voice characterizations -- having played over 160 characters over the course of the serial, developing new characters obviously required serious effort. But it is possible that this equipment was also used to review recordings of previous episodes.

There are stories claiming that Correll and Gosden in fact held a large backlog of episode recordings from the 1930s -- dating back as early as 1930-31 -- but none have ever been verified, and certainly no examples have turned up. A few years ago, Freeman Gosden's oldest son told me point blank that episodes from the 1930s were "rare as hen's teeth," and he was overjoyed to hear the few examples I was able to share with him. Rich Correll subsequently confirmed this statement for me -- although his father amassed a voluminous collection of recordings from the sitcom period, there were only a few serial-era recordings in the collection. If any backlog of recordings ever did exist, I fear it might have been lost or disposed of when the performers left Chicago in 1937.

Why NBC itself didn't make recordings is a question a lot of people have asked. NBC's Electrical Transcription Division (later the Radio-Recording Division) did not exist until 1935, and most of what was recorded during the early years of this operation was programming originating in New York. NBC-Chicago had recording equipment by 1936 -- but aside from a couple of special episodes, no attempt was made to preserve audio of A&A. Most of what NBC recorded during the 1930s was public affairs/actuality and cultural programming -- serials were considered about the most disposable form of programming, and it obviously never occurred to anyone that historians sixty years later would rather hear "Amos 'n' Andy" than a speech by Alf Landon. (Those in charge of such matters at NBC seem to have displayed the same sort of arrogant cultural snobbishness that has long characterized the archivists at the BBC.)

I've spent years tracking down any surviving audio fragments from 1930s A&A episodes -- some of them less than ten seconds long. But in terms of complete episodes from the network era, less than 10 are known to exist. So, all we really have left of A&A in their prime are the scripts -- and Ed Bolton's re-stagings. And, as I've often said, the existing sitcom episodes really tell you nothing about why the program was as popular as it was in its prime -- the sitcom was an entirely different series.

A&A fans will be interested to know that I'm in the process of transcribing a major storyline from the fall and winter of 1935-36 into HTML form for posting on my website -- about a hundred consecutive episodes which haven't been available in any form since their original broadcast. Watch this space for further announcements.


Date: Mon, 29 Jul 2002 13:27:34 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: Formulaized Comedy

I used to watch the A&A TV show in the 1950s, and, even as a child, I grew tired of the constant repetition of the basic plot of Kingfish hoodwinking Andy.

There's actually a lesson in how this formulaization happened -- it all ties in with the increasing influence corporate bean-counters had over the shape of radio programming during the 1940s.

One of the key factors used by advertising agencies during the 1940s in calculating the effectiveness of radio programming was to measure "cost per ratings point" -- a statistic which would be calculated by simply dividing a given program's weekly budget by its Hooperrating. This allowed the agency to compare the program's results against other competitive programs to see who was getting the best return on their dollar. This statistic had a lot to do with the changes A&A went thru in the years immediately after the conversion from the serial to the sitcom format.

During the first half-hour season, 1943-44, "The Amos 'n' Andy Show" tended to alternate between guest-star driven episodes and self-contained stories focusing on the regular characters. These stories were much closer in tone to the late years of the serial than they were to the later years of the sitcom, and tended to have a wider variety of plots. But Ruthrauff and Ryan, the agency, took a look at the Cost Per Ratings Point this format was producing and didn't like what it saw -- during the early months of 1944, A&A had the highest Cost Per Ratings Point of any situation-comedy program on the air. The edict went down for the following season: Make it funnier -- get more laughs --- get us a better ratings return on what we're spending.

This led to an increasing mechanization of the process of putting the show together -- it became less about consistent characterization and creative plotting than in ensuring a "funnier show" containing a sufficient number of laughs per minute -- by doing that, it was hoped to bring the rating up and bring the Cost Per Ratings point down. The audiences seemed to react loudest to the Kingfish's Scheme of the Week episodes -- and, in general, to the spotlighting of the Kingfish as the program's central character -- so that's what was done. The highest rating the half-hour series ever received, a 23 in 1947-48, represented over 36 million listeners for what was the most formulaic season of its run up to that point.

This was a far cry from the days when Correll and Gosden locked themselves into their office alone and created their program with no "advice" or "guidance" from anyone -- and the, for want of a better term, soullessness of the program in its later years is the unavoidable result of this number-crunching approach.

I think forties radio comedy in general -- and especially postwar radio comedy -- fell victim to very much the same forces. It's very difficult to distinguish one postwar "Fibber McGee and Molly" from another, for example -- and by the early fifties, even the Jack Benny program had fallen into a deep, deep rut of mechanical running gags repeated way too often. As soon as comedy becomes something that can become quantified on a business chart -- it dies.

I also thought the show should be called "Kingfish & Andy," since Amos almost never appeared.

I've always felt Amos fell victim to the same trap that claimed Mickey Mouse -- he became more of an icon than an individual. Amos was a genuinely beloved figure for radio listeners in the early thirties -- he was in a lot of ways the symbol of everything they themselves wanted to be: decent, honest, motivated to succeed, and even sometimes heroic. But because he was so beloved, it became more and more difficult to put him into any genuinely risky situation -- and without risk there can be no dramatic conflict.

This was especially true after Amos and Ruby Taylor were married in 1935, and Arbadella was born in 1936 -- listeners made it clear that they simply wouldn't tolerate seeing Amos put into any situation where the stability of his family might be in jeopardy. This naturally forced Andy and the Kingfish to the center -- and disturbed the delicate balance between the three characters which had been a essential part of the program's original framework. Formerly, you had Amos on one side, the Kingfish on the other, and Andy caught precisely in the middle, consistently torn between two powerful influences, and listeners never knew quite what to expect -- but when Amos's role diminished, this whole fragile structure fell apart.

Once this happened, it became very difficult to find ways to work Amos into the stories -- he could no longer directly participate in business ventures with Andy, since that was considered too much of a risk, and listeners reacted negatively to stories where Amos's family itself faced crises -- so after a while the only role for him seemed to be that of a "Greek Chorus," standing off to one side and commenting on the proceedings without getting directly involved.


Date: Thu, 25 Jul 2002 12:12:02 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: A&A-TV and the NAACP

I don't know about the Amos 'N' Andy radio being forced off the air for clashing with the "Political Correctness" of the time, but I sure as fire know the television version bit the dust because of it. The NAACP got into the forefray and raised cain until CBS pulled it off the air.

The Association's protest began immediately following the airing of the premiere episode of A&A-TV on 6/28/51 -- CBS and Schenley Distillers (parent company of sponsor Blatz Beer) had coincidentally scheduled the first telecast for the opening week of the annual NAACP Convention in Atlanta, and many delegates viewed the program while attending the convention. The issue arose at a time when the Association was taking a hard look at black images on television -- and a decision had apparently already been made to condemn both A&A-TV and the TV version of "Beulah" even before the conventioneers met as a sort of preemptive strike against the idea of comedic images of black characters becoming the dominant image in the new medium.

There was, however, a lot of internal dissension over the protest within the NAACP itself. While Roy Wilkins, who had praised the radio series in the 1930s, now supported the protest against the TV version, he privately questioned the Association's motives -- pointing out the inconsistency of the Association's sudden shift in position after essentially ignoring the radio program for twenty years, and suggesting that a lot of rank-and-file members of the Association were bound to start asking the same questions. Some NAACP branch leaders questioned whether TV image issues should even be all that much of a priority, given the other more pressing civil-rights matters then on the political table. A number of black newspapers also took this position -- and in one of the greatest ironies of the A&A story, the new series received one of its most emphatic endorsements from the Pittsburgh Courier, the same paper which had attacked the radio series twenty years earlier.

Amidst all this, CBS and Schenley began talking with NAACP officials about what could be done to make the program more acceptable -- by this time Freeman Gosden had withdrawn from any creative participation in the series after a series of escalating disputes with director Charles Barton and producer James Fonda over Barton's taste for crude Abbott-and-Costello slapstick and the poor quality of some of the scripts. A few changes were made, notably the decision to emphasize the fact that the character of Calhoun wasn't actually a lawyer (he became a "Personal Consultant"), and the character of Lightning would be dropped at the end of the first season. But the talks bogged down when it became evident that the protest wasn't having the national impact the Association had hoped for: a survey in New York found seventy per cent of black TV viewers disagreed with the protest. By the end of 1951 CBS wasn't even returning the Association's calls -- and by early 1952, the protest essentially fizzled out.

Schenley renewed A&A-TV for a second season -- but decided to alternate it with a dramatic anthology series, the "Four Star Playhouse," in a bid to attract a more upscale audience. At the end of the season, Schenley decided to put all its money into the dramatic series, and dropped A&A-TV. The trade press characterized this as simply a change in advertising strategy -- with no mention of any connection to the 1951 protest. CBS then proceeded to film an additional thirteen episodes for first-run syndication in 1953-54, to be bundled with the 65 episodes that had already run on the network, and offer the package for local stripping. This was the package that would be distributed by CBS Films for the next thirteen years.

While there were rumblings of criticism over the continued distribution of the TV series thru the late fifties -- as early as 1956, "Variety" condemned the TV reruns as "outdated and embarrassing" -- they remained an extremely popular rerun feature in practically every TV market well into the early sixties. In 1964, WBBM-TV in Chicago decided to give the shows another airing -- and this sparked a series of local protests which became quite vigorous, given the general racial unrest of that year. WBBM-TV eventually gave up -- and ironically the A&A-TV package was immediately purchased by WCIU-TV, a Chicago UHF station which targeted much of its programming to black viewers, and which enthusiastically promoted the show as "An American Classic."

The Chicago incident was the first protest since 1951 to really catch CBS's attention, however, and two years later it withdrew the series from syndication. Whether this decision was entirely due to protests is very much open to debate, however -- in 1966, A&A-TV was the oldest series on the CBS Films list, and with only 78 episodes in the package it can be argued that it would have probably been withdrawn within the next couple of years even without protests, simply because it had worn itself out.

What is undeniable is that CBS's reluctance to license any use of the A&A-TV episodes since 1966 is related to fear of controversy -- even though most of the episodes are widely available from pirate distributors. However, there are definite hints that CBS is rethinking this policy -- last year, the network quietly licensed ten episodes to be shown at an African-American film festival in New York, and earlier this year, A&A-TV clips were shown in documentaries on TV-Land (owned by Viacom, CBS's parent company) and on CBS itself. There have also been feelers put out about a licensed video release thru Columbia House -- and with all of this rumbling of activity, I think there's a very good chance we'll see a licensed reissue of the TV series in some form, whether cable reruns or DVDs, within the next five years.

All that said, I'm frankly not a big fan of A&A-TV -- it and the later half-hour radio shows seem to me to be an unfortunate cheapening of the deep characterizations Correll and Gosden had established in the 1930s serial, and it pains me to see Andy, for example, being played as little more than an amiable boob when he was once a fully-rounded, many-layered person you could really care about. But I do think the TV series should be legally available in some form to those who want to view it and decide for themselves what they think about it.


Date: Mon, 1 May 2006 16:00:12 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: A&A and the NAACP

This whole thing is complicated. Roy Wilkins, for example, thought it was a great radio program. Later, as head of the NAACP, he pushed to have the TV version canceled. A&A made some blacks think of the old, hated minstrel shows, and of white men playing in blackface. After WW-II, black Americans were less willing to accept second-class citizenship, and more willing to protest.

Actually, the Association head at the time of the 1951 protest of the A&A TV series was Walter White, who had earlier led the movement against stereotypical portrayals in movies. White's interest in putting pressure on show business to eliminate or minimize portrayals of working-class/lower-class African-Americans drew quite a bit of heat from within the Association itself, from members who believed that the group had more important priorities. Black performers themselves were also highly critical of White's campaign, arguing that the Association had no officials with any background in show business, and therefore, in the words of actor Spencer Williams -- who had a long background in film prior to his involvement with the A&A TV series -- they had "no grounds to kick."

So yes, it was an extremely complicated issue.

However, I should point out that the NAACP itself never involved itself in any protest of the A&A radio series -- the only comment the national office ever made on the subject prior to the TV protest was a letter to the Pepsodent Company in 1933, criticizing an episode in which Amos and Andy, while on a road trip, stopped for the evening in a "colored tourist camp." This, the Association felt, gave the impression that tourist facilities were formally segregated in the North -- and even though most facilities were unofficially segregated, Correll and Gosden acknowledged the point and omitted such references from future scripts.

Roy Wilkins himself was on good terms with Correll and Gosden during the 1930s and 1940s, and had a private meeting with them in 1939 to discuss the program and its popularity among African-American audiences.


Date: Sun, 2 Jun 2002 22:03:54 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: L&A and A&A -- Compare and Contrast

I think it might be more accurate to say that both programs drew their comedy from a close observation of human nature -- neither program used comedy that was wholly dependent on the ethnicity of the characters as the source of the humor. Both programs emphasized extremely strong individual characterization rather than generic "character types" -- this is what separated "Amos 'n' Andy" from "Pick and Pat", and what separated "Lum and Abner" from "Eb and Zeb." And it was the foibles of each individual character, reflecting universal traits of human behavior as they reacted to the situations they were in, that were the source of the humor. It worked because no matter what Andy or Lum did -- every listener knew someone who would react very much the same way in that given situation, or could recognize elements of their own traits in those of the characters.

Fourth, during the 15 minute segments it seems to me A&A is much more drama oriented while L&L is more comedy oriented, although A&A inserts comedy too.

There were occasional dramatic moments in L&A -- the death of Robert Blevins, the only Pine Ridge citizen to be killed in action in WW2, stands out as a really moving, dramatic performance -- but in general L&A always tended to be a much broader program.

I think this is where Lauck and Goff really stood out from the dozens of other serials in the early thirties inspired by the A&A craze -- while they closely followed the basic format of A&A in the way they structured their program, they created a mood that was entirely different. A&A, because of its urban setting, tended during the 1930s to be a much more realistic program -- its characters dealt with the realities of the Depression, and even though these realities were certainly not depicted in meticulous documentary detail, the program could often be a stark reminder that not everyone in America lived in middle-class comfort.

One of the most interesting depictions of this was in the A&A episode of 8/11/31, in which Amos and Andy discuss the fact that there are people in Harlem walking the streets who haven't eaten in days, and they agree to start setting aside the leftovers from the lunch room in order to support a program for feeding the poor and jobless. This mirrored what was actually happening in many poor urban neighborhoods in the days before Federalized welfare programs -- restaurants routinely were asked to package their uneaten scraps in sanitary 5-gallon buckets for distribution to soup kitchens, and Amos and Andy were doing precisely what many of their real-life counterparts were being asked to do.

By contrast, "Lum and Abner" rarely seems to have acknowledged the Depression. There is, for example, mention in the 1935 "Hog Chain Letter" storyline that the project is being undertaken in the interests of "Farm Relief," but this theme is not developed to any substantial degree, and you aren't given any feel for just how desperate farmers were getting in 1935. L&A, with its far more comic mood, was much more a deliberate escape from the Depression than a mirror of it -- and it simply wouldn't have worked for Lum and Abner to try to address the Depression in the same way that Amos and Andy did.

L&A did move closer to reality during the war years -- Lauck and Goff never missed a chance to promote War Bonds, explain rationing, or insert other OWI-type material in their episodes -- but even during this era they still remained essentially a comedy, doing material that A&A could never have done: the "Mars Expedition," Robert the Robot, and similar out-and-out comedy sequences that would have simply not worked in A&A's world.

Another way to compare the two series is to look at how they handled similar plots. Both series did extended sequences in which the title characters cared for a foundling baby - this was pretty much a standard-issue plot done by dozens of radio serials and newspaper comic strips over the years. A&A did it in 1932, with the story of "Baby Lula-May," who was abandoned in the back of the Fresh Air Taxicab by her desperate mother; and L&A did it in 1942 with the story of "Little Lum" (or Little Charlie, if you prefer) left behind in the Jot-em-Down Store by a mystery woman. The A&A sequence was played as straight drama -- leavened with bits of humor as Andy tried to come to grips with the challenge of changing diapers -- and came to its climax when Amos tracked down the mother and discovered the desperate poverty in which she lived. The L&A sequence, by contrast, was a sort of comedy-mystery, the resolution of which I won't spoil for those who haven't heard it. But while Lum and Abner dealt with some of the same challenges that Amos and Andy had faced in acclimatizing themselves to the presence of the baby, the basic mood of their story was entirely different from the rather bleak scenario depicted by A&A. That's not to say there weren't dramatic moments in the L&A storyline -- but the tone of the drama was still very different from that of A&A.

That it worked for both programs points out something important -- it's not the plot that counts, it's what you do with it to make it your own. And while the essential structure of L&A -- two guys sitting at a table doing multiple characters in a continuing storyline -- was clearly inspired by A&A, what made L&A successful is that they took that framework and adapted it to suit their own characters and their own distinctive vision.

I think it all boils down to the different points of view of the people behind the shows. Chet Lauck was a very intelligent, college-educated man -- and was very familiar with 19th/early 20th century literary humor. He was quite fond of George Ade, Bill Nye, and Mark Twain, and I think the comic sensibilities of L&A strongly reflect these influences. On the other hand, Freeman Gosden brought an entirely different set of sensibilities to the table: he was raised in a strict religious family, quit school at sixteen, and while he was also very intelligent, he was not especially well-read. His literary tastes ran to the works of O. Henry, an author who mixed subtle character-driven humor with sentimental Victorian melodrama, and to early 20th century "inspirational" authors like Elbert Hubbard. A&A's serial-era tendency toward sentimentality and inspirational/philosophical musings clearly came out of these influences.


Date: Fri, 24 May 2002 13:59:38 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: A&A as Actors

One of the elements that I find most fascinating about Correll and Gosden's 1928-43 work is that they seem to have instinctively understood certain theoretical principles that have become essential to modern acting techniques. Neither one of them had any formal training as an actor, neither one of them was particularly well-read, and they were both a long, long way from being coffee-house-frequenting Group Theatre intellectuals. But nonetheless, they understood -- and practiced -- the most basic techniques of "method" acting years before the Stanislavsky/Strasberg theories were widely taught in the US, and they apparently worked out these techniques entirely on their own.

In looking over interviews they gave during the 1929-31 period, you'll find repeated references to how "they become the characters they play," and when this is mentioned, it's always mentioned as being something unusual. This may sound like hype, but it actually is a simplified description of their basic working method, as both actors and writers. Consider this 1934 comment from their secretary, Louise Summa:

"They are four distinct people, not two. You see, Charlie and Freeman usually come into the office about noon. From the minute that door closes behind them, they stop being Gosden and Correll and become Amos and Andy. Sometimes they write a script in an hour, sometimes it takes four, but during that time they never for a moment step out of character. They usually take off their shirts, collars, and ties, and often when they get through they're wringing wet. They live everything that goes into those scripts."

Anyone who's ever seen a "method actor" preparing for a role thru improvisational exercises will instantly recognize what was going on behind that closed door. "A good actor becomes the character through-and-through," Gosden once declared. "A good character portrayal is when the character consumes the actor entirely." This is a common theory today -- and may even seem a little trite -- but it was breakthru thinking in 1929, when old-fashioned "representational acting" still dominated the American theatre. The fact that Correll and Gosden practiced an internalized "presentational" style of acting that few people in that era had ever seen or heard helps to explain just why A&A made the impact that it did.

C&G practiced this technique for the duration of their 1928-43 run: when the studio door closed, Gosden and Correll effectively ceased to exist for ten minutes, and there were only Amos and Andy and their friends. Each character had a detailed backstory, and a specific set of psychological and emotional motivations influencing their behavior at any given moment -- and these personal histories and motivations in turn drove the action in the continuing storylines. Because the actors knew and fully understood these motivations -- even when those motivations weren't being specifically discussed in the lines they were reading -- the characters came to life. They weren't just two guys sitting at a table reading lines and doing voices.

One of my favorite surviving examples of this is found in the 6/10/29 episode of A&A, a recording from the late chainless-chain period held by the Library of Congress. Amos is heard preparing for a date with Ruby Taylor, who is finally back from school for the summer - while Andy sits on the bed and picks at him in one of the best representations of passive aggression I've ever heard depicted in a radio program. Regular listeners knew that ever since Andy's failed romance with Lulu Parker, he'd been jealous that Amos could sustain a meaningful relationship with a woman and he couldn't, and Correll does an excellent job of projecting this subtext thruout the episode -- he plays the scene in a low, grumbling voice, pestering Amos for getting the towels all wet or for wasting gasoline in the taxicab, or for wearing too much grease on his hair, even as it's very apparent that he isn't really talking about gasoline or towels or hair grease at all. There is no comedy in this episode at all -- it's a pure character sketch, beautifully written and extremely well-acted.

Another good example, which survives only in script form, is the September 1934 death of Amos's mentor/father-figure Roland Weber in a car accident -- an incident with strong parallels to the deaths of Gosden's own mother and sister. Given what is known of Gosden's philosophy of acting and writing, it's reasonable to conclude that this whole scene is drawn from, and was played as, a sense memory of what he had felt at the time of the actual accident. This is the most basic principle of "method acting" -- to find the character's emotions in your own.

Given that A&A lost this sense of realism when it switched to a half-hour live-audience sitcom format and the performers started working to the crowd instead of to each other, maybe the solution for modern radio drama is to go back to Correll and Gosden's original technique -- and try working in a locked studio with no audience and the windows draped over.


Date: Sat, 25 May 2002 18:20:37 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: Why A&A Changed

What factors causes Amos and Andy to change their program in 1943?

It was a combination of factors.

The first was the fact that listening patterns had changed substantially since the program was at its peak in the early thirties. Overall radio listening at the 7pm hour had been declining steadily since the mid-thirties, and reached an all-time low during 1942-43. This was considered a consequence of wartime changes to many family schedules -- people just weren't home in the early evening to follow a continuing serial program.

The second major factor was economic. In January 1943, the shortage of tin due to the war forced the Campbell Soup Company -- then A&A's sponsor -- to cut its domestic production by fifty per cent. This meant a corresponding cut in the company's advertising budget, and as a result Correll and Gosden were informed that month that Campbell's simply couldn't afford to continue the nightly broadcasts, which were then concluding the third year of a $1,000,000 contract. As a result, "Amos 'n' Andy" as it was originally conceived -- a nightly strip -- came to an end on 2/19/43. In that episode, Andy announced that he was finally out of debt -- and that he would follow Amos's example and take a full-time job in a defense plant, bringing the series to a natural conclusion. The central theme of the whole series had always been the conflict between Amos's work-to-get-ahead outlook on life and Andy's "something for nothing" attitude -- and having Andy finally acknowledge that Amos was right all along was a satisfying way to end the series.

The third major factor was personal. Correll and Gosden had both gone thru some significant changes in their personal lives since 1940. Correll's wife Alyce had given birth to two children by 1943, fulfilling Charlie's lifelong dream of having a real family of his own, and he wanted to spend more time with them. Meanwhile, Freeman and Leta Gosden's 13-year marriage had ended in divorce in 1940, with Leta's major complaint being that her husband's single-minded devotion to the radio program made any sort of normal social life for the couple impossible. Then in 1942, Leta Gosden died -- leaving Freeman with two teenage children to raise on his own. (He would remarry in 1944.) With all these changes, the performers were forced to reevaluate their personal priorities -- and decide whether the grueling workload of writing and performing a five-a-week program on their own was really worth it anymore. After fifteen years of this routine (or seventeen, if you count "Sam and Henry,")-- with only one vacation, an eight-week break in 1934 -- they finally just felt like they'd had enough.

The fourth major factor had to do with changing styles in radio programming. "Amos 'n' Andy" in its original form was never a laugh-out-loud funny program, nor did it intend to be. Gosden described its formula as "a laugh here, a little pathos there, and some good advice everywhere" -- a formula which combined elements that were amusing, touching, and instructive. But this combination was very much out of style by 1943 -- the trend was to loud and brash. To survive, A&A had to become an entirely different program. So it was that when A&A returned to the air in October 1943, it had become a half-hour weekly sitcom instead of a nightly serial.

And the fifth major factor was dilution of vision. For fifteen years, Correll and Gosden alone had decided what would go into A&A -- but with the sitcom, outside writers, producers, and agency people suddenly had more of a say. This progressively changed the content of the program -- the agency wanted Laughs, Laughs, Laughs, and as a result new supporting characters had to be introduced to supply them -- and old established characters dropped because they weren't exaggerated enough for a sitcom setting. The result was an uncomfortable blending of elements from the old show, distorted to fit the new format: Andy, Kingfish, Sapphire -- with new joke-driven sitcom elements: Gabby, Shorty, etc. And the whole Amos-and-Ruby storyline, which had been the heart of the original series, was first marginalized and then dropped -- because Amos wasn't, and had never been, a comedy character. Finally, the addition of the live audience meant a degree of separation from the listener that had not been there in the serial: listening to the serial, you were right there in the taxicab office with the characters, like old friends -- but with the sitcom, you were sitting in an audience watching performers on a stage. The intimacy that had made the original series so special had been shattered forever.

As a result of these factors, the disciplines that had given the original series its unique flavor were abandoned -- and it's unfortunate that without a substantial run of recordings of that original series, it's difficult for modern OTR enthusiasts to really grasp what it was that made the original program so memorable. Because in its day, and in its prime, it was the best-crafted program on the air.


Date: Sat, 27 Apr 2002 13:55:31 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: A&A's 1932 Decline

"What about Amos 'n Andy, who for years have been the acknowledged twin kings of the air? Radio Guide made a survey in Chicago during the evening hours. It showed that only twenty-four percent of those listeners who were called now regularly listen to Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll. Twenty-nine percent used to listen regularly but now tune them in only on occasion. And the remaining forty-seven percent won't listen to Amos 'n Andy any more. This last group is divided into two classes, about equally divided. Half never listened to them, and half say their broadcasts have been so uninteresting during the past year that they just won't tune in.

The last sentence of that is the key. 1931 had been an extraordinary year for A&A in terms of storyline: the year started off with the Madam Queen breach-of-promise suit, which ran for thirteen weeks. Then, in April and May, Ruby Taylor came down with pneumonia and nearly died. And, after a deliberately-easygoing summer, the fall saw another intensely-dramatic sequence -- the Jack Dixon Affair, which ran for thirteen weeks, and included Amos being beaten senseless by the villain of the piece, and then charged with first-degree murder when said villain was found shot to death on the banks of the Harlem River. (Of course, things worked out all right when the murder trial was revealed, two days before Christmas, to have been nothing but a very bad dream.) In terms of whipping their audience to a high pitch of excitement, Correll and Gosden set a pace for themselves during 1931 that no other writer/performers would ever equal -- and, indeed, they couldn't keep up that pace themselves.

1932, by contrast, tended to wander story-wise. The big storyline for the first quarter of the year was Andy's career as a professional wrestler, which had its amusing moments, but never approached the intensity of the events of 1931. Then there was a brief sequence in the spring in which Amos, Andy, the Kingfish, and Madam Queen opened a weight-loss spa -- and that storyline simply fizzled out when Correll and Gosden couldn't figure out where to go with it. This gave way to the story of Lula-May, a baby found abandoned in the back of the Fresh Air Taxicab, and Amos's search for her real mother -- a sequence which had potential, but never seemed to fully achieve it. And then in June, Amos, Andy and Brother Crawford made a big mistake business-wise by closing down their successful lunch room and going in partnership with the Kingfish and Pop Johnson to open the Okey Hotel.

This was the most radical change in the series since the characters moved from Chicago to New York -- and suggests that Correll and Gosden were hoping a new setting would inspire new ideas. The hotel idea started off interesting, but the taxicab company and lunch room had become so well-established in the series that it didn't quite seem like "Amos 'n' Andy" without them. And once they had established the hotel, Correll and Gosden seemed unsure about where to go from there - the program began to feel a bit too much like "The Nebbs," a popular comic strip of the era that had a similar hotel setting.

What all of these 1932 sequences were missing was a strong hook: a powerful adversarial character or a sense of real danger for the lead characters. Simply put, there wasn't enough dramatic conflict thru most of 1932 to create the sort of attention-grabbing suspense that had been the hallmark of the program during 1931. Correll and Gosden themselves eventually realized what was wrong -- and around the time that this Radio Guide article appeared, they began to get the program back on track: much of November and December of 1932 was taken up by the "Clifton Mills Affair," in which Mr. Taylor began to think that Amos would never be able to provide for his daughter -- and asked him to step aside in favor of his new business partner, an up-and-coming young achiever. Amos learned that Mills was actually cheating Taylor -- but was afraid that if he revealed what he knew, Taylor would think he was acting out of spite and wouldn't believe him. No sooner had this sequence finally been resolved than the obnoxious Frederick Montgomery Gwindell was put in charge of the Okey Hotel -- sparking a seven-month-long storyline that would eventually drive the hotel out of business and land Andy in court again.

These two sequences sparked a healthy recovery in A&A's audience -- the program picked up more than two million listeners over the previous year, rising to an average of just over 26,000,000 a night -- and in fact, because of the increase in the number of radio homes during the previous two years, there were actually more people listening to A&A in 1933 than during the craze year of 1931, when the average nightly audience ran to about 25,600,000. The paradox is that the 1933 rating was actually 16 points lower than the rating for 1931 -- even though more people were actually listening. This phenomenon is explained in my article "Amos 'n' Andy By The Numbers," at -- which points out why one should be very careful about drawing conclusions from ratings statistics without understanding how they relate to actual audience figures.


Date: Sun, 14 APR 2002 02:58:06 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: A&A Chainless-Chain Sponsors

I think this was last discussed when neither of us had the answer, but are there any other local sponsors of the syndicated Amos 'n' Andy identified? The logs of WMAQ show the program to have been unsponsored there, until the Red Letter Day (literally) when the program started on NBC under Pepsodent sponsorship. Sponsor identifications were typed in red on the WMAQ logs!

I've documented two others besides Crown Drug in Kansas City. The Shell Company of California sponsored the program on KFRC in San Francisco, for Shell 400 "Dry" Gasoline, and the Surebest Baking Company sponsored the series on KRLD, Dallas for Surebest Bread.

Both of these sponsors gave away premiums to promote the series. During the spring of 1929, Shell gave away shell-shaped "Fresh Air Taxi" logo stickers promoting both the gasoline and KFRC, and Surebest gave away a postcard of Correll and Gosden in street clothes (the head-and-shoulders picture of C&G appearing at the top of each page on my A&A website is taken from this postcard.) Interestingly, the Surebest postcard shows the performers as themselves -- but their real names appear nowhere on it, with the caption reading simply "This is Amos -- This is Andy."

I'm sure that there were other sponsors, and that's one of the things I'm looking to document as I continue to research the chainless-chain. One thing I've never run across, however, is a complete list of all stations that carried A&A between 3/19/28 and 8/18/29 -- and identifying these stations is proving to be something of a challenge. Most accounts agree that the chainless chain started with 38 subscribers, and in interviews late in life Charlie Correll recalled that by the end of the syndication period they had about 75 subscribers, and that the chain was "growing steadily" when they were approached by NBC. By contrast, when they joined NBC Blue, their first lineup only included fifteen stations -- but one of those was WJZ, which gave the team their first regular exposure in New York.

So far, however, I've been able to positively document only fifteen chainless-chain stations, with another six "probable" affiliates:

  • WMAQ, Chicago
  • KSTP, St. Paul
  • WNAC, Boston
  • WJR, Detroit
  • WDAF, Kansas City (Clark Drug Company)
  • KFRC, San Francisco (Shell Gasoline)
  • KFWB, Hollywood
  • WRVA, Richmond
  • KOA, Denver
  • KSL, Salt Lake City
  • KRLD, Dallas (Surebest Bread)
  • KOMO, Seattle
  • WTMJ, Milwaukee (possibly sponsored by The Milwaukee Journal)
  • WBT, Charlotte
  • WMC, Memphis (?)
  • KDKA, Pittsburgh (?)
  • KMOX, St. Louis
  • WSB, Atlanta (?)
  • WHAS, Louisville (?)
  • KSCJ, Sioux City (?)
  • KGW, Portland (?)

A number of these stations were either owned by newspapers or had affiliations with newspapers. The syndication program was administered by the Chicago Daily News Syndicate, and I suspect they approached newspaper-oriented stations first simply because they knew the newspapers were already familiar with the concept of syndication in print form. Newspaper stations were also likely subscribers because the syndication program also included Charley Mueller's "Amos 'n' Andy" comic strip as a direct tie-in with the continuity of the radio series.

Those of you who do microfilm research in your local newspapers could be most helpful by checking to see if A&A was on the air in your town during the chainless-chain period of 1928-29. Any information on additional stations not listed above would be most welcome, along with any mentions of local sponsorship.


Date: Thu, 21 Mar 2002 10:59:24 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: East vs. West Changes

Anyway, from what I have read, I understand that often, if a show was done for the entire nation, they would go on the air and do the East Coast version then later do the West Coast version. Just out of morbid curiosity, I was wondering, when after rehearsal, if it was common to do the east coast version on the air and then have to revise the script or dialog quickly before the west coast version because something in the show just didn't work.

In my study of the early "Amos 'n' Andy" scripts, I can find very few instances of changes between the early and late programs -- sometimes there's incidents of individual lines being cut for timing purposes, and there are occasionally entire sections of dialogue that have been replaced -- but it's impossible to know for sure if this happened prior to the first broadcast or between the first and the second. Correll and Gosden never rehearsed their 15 minute programs, so I'm inclined to think that the occasional interpolated changes reflect adjustments made between the Eastern and Western shows, and they're usually quite minor -- a word or two changed to make a line clearer.

There are a couple of exceptions, though -- the first "Friday Night Minstrel Show" special, broadcast on 12/4/36, is drastically changed between the first and second shows, with an entirely different guest star featured. This may have had to do with a scheduling conflict or sponsor cheapness -- but it wasn't a typical event by any means.

The second exception occurred because of a genuine personal tragedy. On the afternoon of January 5, 1939, Correll and Gosden completed their Eastern broadcast at 4:15pm Pacific time, and then went immediately to Cedars of Lebanon hospital, where Charlie's wife Alyce was preparing to give birth to their first child. They expected to be able to return to NBC in time for the Western show at 8. However, the baby -- a girl -- died shortly after birth, and Correll was so shattered by the loss he had to be sedated. Gosden took him home to Holmby Hills, poured him a stiff drink, sat with him until he fell asleep, and then went back to the studio for the second show. The Western broadcast was by this time just minutes away, and there was no time to rewrite the script. So Gosden went on the air alone -- cold -- and rewrote the entire script as he went, turning the episode into a dialogue between Amos and the Kingfish, with Andy's lines turned into quotations and third-person exposition. Director Joe Parker later called this the most incredible "show-must-go-on" performance he had ever seen -- adding that when Gosden finished, he stood up from the table, shoved the script in his back pocket, and, in tears, left the studio without a word to anyone.


Date: Thu, 28 Mar 2002 21:34:01 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: "Sam and Henry" On The Record

can you identify the sketches from those records in some way? How many such records were there? Were these records recorded on both sides, one sketch per side?

The "Sam and Henry" records were standard 10-inch 78rpm double-faced shellac discs, issued as part of Victor's regular black-label popular series. Four such records were released:

20032: Sam Phonin' His Sweetheart 'Liza (matrix no. BVE-35328) /Sam & Henry At The Dentist's (BVE-35329) Both recorded 4/20/26.

20093: Sam's Speech At The Colored Lodge (BVE-35066)/Sam & Henry At The Fortune Teller's (BVE-35073) Recorded 5/27/26 and 5/28/26.

20375: Sam & Henry Rollin' The Bones (BVE-35067)/Sam & Henry Buying Insurance (BVE-35068) Both recorded 5/27/26.

20788: Sam's Big Night (BVE-39092)/The Morning After (BVE-39093) Both recorded 7/7/27.

In addition to these "Sam and Henry" sides, brief interpolations by Sam and Henry are heard on Victor 19886, the Correll and Gosden song recordings "All I Want To Do" (BVE-34578) and "Let's Talk About My Sweetie" (BVE-34579), both recorded 3/2/26. The release of this record in late March of 1926 marked the first public revelation of the true identities of "Sam and Henry," although many astute listeners had already recognized and identified the voices of Correll and Gosden.

And were they representative of the show?

Yes and no. The voices and acting styles are probably representative of what was being heard on the air -- and, indeed, these voices are noticeably different from the familiar voices of Amos and Andy: "Sam" delivers his lines in a sort of hoarse yell, while "Henry" speaks with almost an under-the-breath mumble. The content of the records are short vignettes which are similar, but not identical, to material actually used on the air. However, like "Amos 'n' Andy," "Sam and Henry" was built around continuing melodramatic storylines, not a disconnected series of comic skits, and the records don't capture that element of the radio program at all.

However, it's possible to get a very general sense of the characters from these records, especially if you compare them with the text of the scripts published in the "Sam and Henry" book. It's interesting to note that despite the common belief that "Amos 'n' Andy" were simply "Sam and Henry" renamed, there are significant differences between the characterizations in the two series. Some of them are obvious -- Sam and Henry were enthusiastic drinkers, but Amos and Andy never touched any form of liquor. Sam and Henry enjoyed gambling, but while Amos and Andy occasionally played cards for matchsticks, and Andy fancied himself a bridge expert, the two were never portrayed as serious gamblers.

But other differences are more subtle -- Sam may sound like Amos, but he is clearly not the same person. Sam was an utter, absolute innocent -- he believed anything Henry told him, and was by far the more gullible of the two, constantly being swindled by con men and hustlers. Amos, by contrast, always had a healthy sense of skepticism whenever Andy started with the big talk, and while he always tried to give people the benefit of the doubt, he had long since come to realize that there were people in the world you couldn't and shouldn't trust. From the very beginning of A&A, Amos was portrayed as an intelligent, thoughtful man who never had the advantage of an education -- whereas Sam was not only uneducated, but not all that bright.

Henry and Andy are also quite different. Both are blowhards -- but Henry actually seems to be genuinely mean to Sam. He's both a jerk and a bully -- and most important, he seems to actually believe his own exaggerations. But Andy, by contrast, is trying to fool himself along with everyone else: Correll and Gosden carefully portrayed him as the victim of a whopping inferiority complex, who used big talk and "putting-on-the-dog" as a way of hiding from his own feelings of insignificance -- if there was a chance he could convince everyone he was "Andrew H. Brown, President," he might possibly be able to convince himself of his own worth. That his bluster clearly convinced no one gave Andy a tragic vulnerability that helped to make him a far more complex, sympathetic character than Henry ever was.

The explanation of this evolution is simple: when they started "Sam and Henry" in 1926, Correll and Gosden had no idea what they were getting into, nor were there any other radio serials they could study to learn the technique: they were literally inventing the form as they went along. All they had ever written were short revue-type comedy sketches, and had never attempted to create a realistic character. So "Sam and Henry" started out rather crudely.

But by 1928, they had learned a lot -- and the break from WGN gave them the chance to start with a clean slate. The first weeks of "Amos 'n' Andy" are much more refined in terms of characterization than the start of "Sam and Henry," and give evidence that Correll and Gosden were applying the lessons they'd learned about how to create believable characters. You can see the seeds of this instinctive skill as far back as the start of "Sam and Henry," but they didn't really master the technique until they left WGN and started over from the beginning.


Date: Sun, 8 Dec 2002 16:20:15 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: A&A -- Correct Titles

Amos 'n' Andy -- Which is the correct title: "Amos 'n' Andy" or "The Amos And Andy Show"?

"Amos 'n' Andy" properly refers only to the 3/19/28 thru 2/19/43 nightly serial. The title appearing at the top of page one on each serial script is "AMOS AND ANDY," but the title registered as a trademark with the U. S. Patent Office in 1928 is officially "Amos 'n' Andy," with two apostrophes, and all of the scripts were copyrighted under this title.

"The Amos 'n' Andy Show" is properly used only in referring to the 10/8/43 thru 5/22/55 weekly half-hour sitcom, or to the 1951-53 TV series. Although newspaper schedules sometimes abbreviated the series title to "Amos 'n' Andy," and it was popularly referred to as such, the actual half-hour scripts are all titled "THE AMOS 'n' ANDY SHOW," and were copyrighted under that title.

These were two very different series in terms of both format and content, and Correll and Gosden themselves did not consider the two series as one continuous run: in their own record-keeping system, the serial and the sitcom scripts had entirely separate numbering sequences. OTR writers discussing A&A would do well to bear these facts in mind -- the two titles do not properly refer to the same program.


Date: Wed, 2 Jun 2004 18:24:03 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: Paley's Programming Non-Coup

Bill Paley and his talent raid are profiled in this week's issue of Business Week.

Oh my. Nice to see that even posthumously, the Paley Publicity Mill keeps-a-grinding.

The most flagrant error in the piece, of course, is the "Paley's next programming coup was 'Amos 'n' Andy' in 1929." There's an interesting story here, but it's too bad the author missed it -- what actually happened is that Paley and his people had a chance to get A&A at the beginning of the craze and they were so completely short-sighted that they BLEW it.

A&A were based at WMAQ, which was at that time a CBS affiliate, and had first refusal for network purposes of programs developed there. During 1928, CBS was futzing about with Moran and Mack, the Two Black Crows -- a Columbia Records act which flopped resoundingly on radio because the recording company refused to allow them to do any of their most familiar material on the air. Meanwhile, Correll and Gosden were taking the midwest and west by storm with their chainless chain, and CBS could have had them at any time -- but had no interest. "If Moran and Mack can't succeed in radio," they reasoned, "who are these two hicks?"

Finally, in January of 1929, WMAQ program director Judith Waller traveled to New York to meet with Paley and his staff for the express purpose of pitching "Amos 'n' Andy" as a network feature. They listened to her presentation, and just stared at her. "Do you propose that we air this program six nights a week," Paley finally asked, "for fifteen minutes a night?"

Waller indicated that this was, precisely, what she was suggesting.

She was shown the door. CBS didn't sell fifteen minute periods and didn't believe in strips. The whole idea was preposterous.

That same month, Niles Trammel of NBC was having the same conversation with Albert Lasker and William Benton of Lord and Thomas -- and unlike Paley and his people, he understood. The New York CBS executives had never heard Amos 'n' Andy, and had no real cognizance of the impact of their serial format. Trammel, however, based in Chicago, was right in the middle of it -- and managed to convince NBC's New York executives to approve the idea.

Within a year, "Amos 'n' Andy" had revolutionized network radio, with NBC raking in the profits. CBS, on the other hand, had a thick layer of egg on its face that would take years to fully expunge. And one might theorize that Paley's lifelong quest to surpass NBC had its origin right there, no matter what the publicists try to tell us.


Date: Tue, 19 Oct 2004 21:07:50 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Racial Designations

Can any radio historian on the Digest remember where race was mentioned on a sitcom?

Interestingly, race was mentioned fairly often in the earliest years of "Amos 'n' Andy" -- there were frequent mentions of persons or institutions being "colored." For example, in their first episode on NBC, on 8/19/29, Amos and Andy arrived in New York and asked a passing policeman for directions to where the "colored people" lived. Several days later, Amos and Andy stood on the corner of Broadway and 42nd Street and marveled at the racial diversity of the New York population. Such offhand references to race were fairly common during the first six years of the program.

These references disappeared after 1934, when the national office of the NAACP criticized an episode mentioning that Amos and Andy stayed in a "colored tourist camp" during a cross-country road trip. The Association felt that this implied that tourist accommodations in the North were segregated (which, in reality, they often were), and as a result of this complaint, Correll and Gosden became extremely careful about avoiding any sort of racial designations.

"Colored" was the only racial term ever used by Correll and Gosden in an A&A script -- this in an era when far less sensitive terms were commonly used on the air. (The "N-word" wasn't banned by NBC until 1935.)


"The Original Amos 'n' Andy" -- Coming in Spring 2005 from McFarland & Co.

Date: Sat, 14 Jan 2006 21:20:35 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: Correll and Gosden in New Orleans

Looking through the March 19, 1938 issue of WLS Radio' "Stand By" there's this note: "Gosden & Correll are real pioneers of radio. They spoke into a microphone for the first time in 1920, on an experimental station in New Orleans."

This is a story that was told by Correll and Gosden themselves as far back as 1928, and as far as I've been able to document they did pass thru New Orleans during their 1920-21 season tour as traveling home-talent-show directors for the Joe Bren Producing Company. There were, however, no licensed broadcasting stations in New Orleans at that time, nor would there be until 1922. However, there were amateurs operating unofficial stations.

Correll himself wrote about this incident in an incomplete, unpublished memoir, describing the station as "the kind that would go on the air if someone telephoned to ask," evidently referring to a small, home-based amateur transmitter that would be used by neighborhood hams to test and calibrate their receivers. This wasn't any sort of a proper radio station, but given Freeman Gosden's interest in amateur radio -- he had served as a radio operator in the Navy during the First World War -- it would make sense for him to strike up an acquaintance with any ham operator he might have encountered during his travels for the Bren Company. Most likely Correll and Gosden encountered such an operator while putting together talent for a show in the New Orleans area, and were given a chance to speak over his transmitter to promote the upcoming stage show.

Correll and Gosden didn't appear over an actual broadcast radio station, however, until they were taken off the road in 1924, and given administrative duties at the Bren Company's home office in Chicago. They appeared anonymously on a program put on over WLS that year by Bren staffers, and then made their first billed appearance over the Calumet Baking Powder Company's station WQJ in Joliet, to promote a Bren show being held in that suburban town. That engagement led directly to their appearances on WEBH, beginning in April of 1925, and it's from that point that their actual radio career commenced.


Date: Fri, 28 Apr 2006 08:58:13 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: A&A on TV

Yeah, just got my satellite tv schedule for May, and there they are: May 9 at 9:30 pm Eastern time, on the Turner channel. Enjoy Check and Double Check!

Of course, Correll and Gosden themselves would be absolutely horrified at the notion that people were still looking at this film 76 years later -- both of them found it embarrassingly bad, so much so that for as long as he lived, Freeman Gosden refused to let his children see it, condemning it at "the worst movie ever made."

The big problem, of course, is that it was impossible to translate the original "Amos 'n' Andy" radio series to any visual medium given the richness of its original serial format. The program's humor was quiet and subtle and characterization was built slowly over storylines that lasted for weeks or months at a time -- with the emphasis on plot and character, not jokes and gags. "Check and Double Check" utterly abandoned any pretense of capturing the actual mood of the radio program by not only grafting on a silly plot about boring rich white people, but by having Amos and Andy saying and doing things they never would have done had Correll and Gosden themselves had any input at all into the script. The fact that no visual adaptation of the series ever captured the genius of the original serial is testimony to the fact that radio is radio, and should not be forced to be something it isn't. As Charles Correll put it, "All we could do was disillusion everyone -- everyone had their own idea what Amos and Andy looked like." Which is as it should be.

This subject is considered in greater detail in my book from McFarland & Co., The Original Amos 'n' Andy -- Freeman Gosden, Charles Correll, and the 1928-43 Radio Serial, available via


Date: Tue, 6 Feb 2007 11:48:37 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: Items to Ponder

Amos & Andy - Amos had a Taxi cab. Andy seldom had a job But dated women King Fish was boss of the lodge that was broke, married and his wife didn't work. They never ate meals.

Amos and Andy were partners in the taxicab business until 1937, when Amos bought out Andy's half. Andy then went on to establish a number of businesses on his own and in partnership with the Kingfish, the most successful of which was a wholesale-retail furniture store, operating under the name of "Andrew H. Brown Enterprises." Aside from the taxicab company, Amos and Andy were partners in various other ventures, most notably the Big 3 Lunch Room (with Brother Crawford as the third of the "Big 3,") the Okey Hotel, the Fresh Air Garage, and the upstate housing development of Weber City.

The Kingfish supported himself thru a percentage of dues paid to the lodge by the members, and also worked as an "outside man" for various local businesses -- he'd steer people to his clients in exchange for a commission. During the mid-thirties, he also had a job as a gossip columnist for a Harlem newspaper, writing under the pen name of Leroy LeRoy.

After A&A became a half-hour weekly sitcom in 1943, no longer written by Correll and Gosden, no effort was made to keep a consistent or realistic continuity, so listeners were left to fill in the blanks from their own memory of what the program had originally been.


Date: Thu, 23 Aug 2007 10:53:01 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: early A&A TV

Where there any plans to put Amos and Andy on the television, had it actually materialized in the early 1930s? Or did the artist just select them for the image because they were one of the top radio shows of the time? Does Elizabeth know anything about the provenance of this image?

It's cover art from an issue of Radio News magazine, and A&A were chosen as the screen image simply because they were easily recognizable figures as the epitome of broadcasting at the time. There's no further significance to the image.

Correll and Gosden would not make their first appearance on television until February 27th, 1939, in an experimental remote telecast from the grounds of the New York Worlds Fair. Contrary to what every other historian has written about this telecast, I have photographic proof that the performers did not do this telecast in blackface. They had long since stopped using blackface in their stage appearances by 1939, and did this telecast, as all their other personal appearances of the time, in ordinary street clothes. A photo taken during the telecast appears on page 146 of my book, The Original Amos 'n' Andy.


Date: Wed, 3 Oct 2007 19:42:52 -0400
Subject: Re: What's a Sitcom?

As others have pointed out, "sitcom" as such is a term that wasn't coined till well into the TV era, but references to "Comedy of Situation" can be found a good ways back into the thirties. Such phrases were used in the press to describe humorous plotlines in "Amos 'n' Andy" as early as 1930. Freeman Gosden himself preferred and used the term "character comedy" in describing the style of humor used on the program, but the meaning is similar -- the comedy proceeded from recognizable characters placed in amusing situations rather than vaudeville-style gag lines or random slapstick. "If your characters are likable and familiar," Gosden said, "audiences will respond to that. You don't need a gag in every line to be funny."

Although Correll and Gosden were the first performers to present character comedy on radio, "Amos 'n' Andy" wasn't a sitcom in the sense that we understand it today—as emphasized in my own book on the subject, it was a primarily dramatic serial with humorous undertones. The earliest example of a half-hour character comedy presenting its situations in a complete-in-one-episode format that I've found is "Mr. And Mrs.," a CBS program of 1929-31 based on the comic strip by Clare Briggs, and featuring Jack Smart and Jane Houston as Joe and Vi Green, a middle-class husband and wife who spent all their time fighting and picking at each other, and who seemed to remain married out of sheer inertia. It was an obvious prototype of the bickering-spouse format that would be driven into the ground in the decades to come, but as far as broadcasting is concerned, "Mr. and Mrs." did it before anyone else.


Date: Mon, 21 Apr 2008 13:40:00 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: A&A and racial references

Did the program, in its several incarnations, ever have the characters refer directly or obliquely to their race. Was there ever an instance(s) where they spoke about their economic condition that could be associated with their inferior status, then, as Americans? Was any of this even ever inferred?

There are detailed discussions of these points in my book, "The Original Amos 'n' Andy," published by McFarland in 2005. Although the common myth is that race was never referred to in the program, the fact is that Amos and Andy occasionally referred to themselves as "colored people," as in when they arrived in New York the first thing they did was ask a policeman where the colored people lived. There were occasional veiled mentions of segregation as far back as "Sam and Henry," in which the title characters ride north from Birmingham in "that front car" -- Jim Crow coaches were always located closest to the locomotive. And there's a rather notable instance in a 1930 episode where Amos talks about how he was given extremely poor service by a clerk in a hat store - a clerk who felt he "had no business being there." This was a situation all too familiar to any African-American of the time.

There was also an instance in 1934 in which Northern segregation was explicitly acknowledged -- Amos and Andy, on a cross country road trip, spent a night in a "Colored Tourist Camp." The NAACP immediately wrote in to criticise this, claiming rather unconvincingly that segregation didn't exist in the North, and that the episode gave a poor impression. Correll and Gosden immediately struck any mention of "colored accommodations" from any future scripts.

The Depression era episodes often referred to poverty in Harlem. There is a sequence from the bitter winter of 1931 in which Amos and Andy, while running a lunchroom, talk about boxing up their leftovers to give to the many homeless, hungry people they see on the streets each day. This was a real-life occurrence in many poor urban neighborhoods in 1931, regardless of race.

Amos and Andy regularly voted once they arrived in the north, and Amos could always be counted on to deliver a strongly-worded speech at least once of year stressing the importance of participation in the election process. How these words from a black character were received by Southern listeners has never been documented.

White characters very rarely appeared in the serial A&A -- the non-dialect characters heard from time to time were presented as educated, middle-class African-Americans, not whites, and this is another point often misinterpreted by modern listeners. When white characters did appear, they were invariably presented with either a Jewish or an Irish accent, denoting the white ethnic groups most likely to be encountered by Harlem residents in the 1930s. This use of dialect also had the unique effect of presenting these whites as "Others" and outsiders in Amos and Andy's" world, ensuring that listener identification remained on Amos and Andy and their friends. Correll and Gosden were unique in radio for their careful and deliberate manipulation of dialect characterization for such purposes.


Date: Wed, 23 Apr 2008 21:59:48 -0400
From: Elizabeth McLeod
Subject: Re: Whites on A&A

One of the few surviving episodes from the 1930's network run features a guest appearance by Walter Huston playing himself. I think this is from 1936. I don't think he's identified as "white actor Walter Huston", but the audience would have known he was white.

There were a handful of celebrity appearances on the program during 1936, but these were very much the exception rather than the rule. The conceit was that the Kingfish, who had a job on the side as a gossip columnist for a Harlem newspaper, was invited to go to Hollywood to tour the film studios and interview stars. Amos, Andy, and Lightning went along for the ride, and the sequence dominated the storyline during the late summer of 1936. All of the celebs who appeared during the sequence were personal friends of Correll and Gosden, among them Walt Disney, Cary Grant, and Randolph Scott.

There were a couple of other appearances by white celebrities of note in the later years of the serial. In 1939, New York World's Fair president Grover Whalen appeared to give Amos and Andy a tour of the fairgrounds, and in 1941, Fred Allen -- a devoted A&A fan -- appeared in reciprocation of an A&A guest appearance on his own program.

White characters on the program, on the other hand, were extremely rare. The only one to ever have a significant continuing role was Honest Joe the Pawnbroker, who began appearing occasionally from 1939 onward. He was played by Correll in a voice quite similar to that of Jake Goldberg.


Return to front page