Date: Sun, 26 Dec 2004 21:56:50 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod email@example.com
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.
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 --
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, http://www.midcoast.com/~lizmcl/aa.html, 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.
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.
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 http://www.midcoast.com/~lizmcl/aapics23.html
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.
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.
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.
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.
...by 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.
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.
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,That's the chorus - there's also a verse, which no one ever seems to play.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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 http://www.midcoast.com/~lizmcl/aa.html).
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.
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.
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.
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!
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."
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
"The Original Amos 'n' Andy" -- Coming in Spring 2005 from McFarland & Co.