Date: Sat, 20 Mar 2004 16:40:14 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod email@example.com
Subject: Re: A&A's 1932 Decline
I found this very surprising, with the legendary stories of EVERYONE listening to Amos n Andy, stores closing down for it, theatres stopping the movie, etc. However, it seems like their heyday was over by 1932, although their ratings are still respectable while not tops. So with all the talk about communal watching of Milton Berle, it makes me wonder if something similar was happening with Amos n Andy.
The faddishness which had surrounded A&A during 1930-31 cooled off considerably during 1932 -- in part because every fad runs its course, and in part because the storylines themselves were not as compelling during 1932 as they had been over the previous two years.
1931 had been an extraordinary year for A&A in terms of storyline: the year started off with the Madam Queen breach-of-promise suit, which ran for thirteen weeks. Then, in April and May, Ruby Taylor came down with pneumonia and nearly died. And, after a quiet summer, the fall saw another intensely-dramatic sequence -- the Jack Dixon Affair, which ran for thirteen weeks, and included Amos being beaten senseless -- on mike -- by the villain of the piece, and then charged with first-degree murder when said villain was found shot to death on the banks of the Harlem River. (Of course, things worked out all right when the murder charge was revealed, two days before Christmas, to have been nothing but a very bad dream.) In terms of whipping their audience to a high pitch of excitement, Correll and Gosden set a pace for themselves during 1931 that no other writer/performers would ever equal -- and, indeed, they couldn't keep up that pace themselves.
1932, by contrast, tended to wander story-wise. The big storyline for the first quarter of the year was Andy's career as a professional wrestler, which had its amusing moments, but never approached the intensity of the events of 1931. Then there was a brief sequence in the spring in which Amos, Andy, the Kingfish, and Madam Queen opened a weight-loss spa -- and that storyline simply fizzled out when Correll and Gosden couldn't figure out where to go with it. This gave way to the story of Lula-May, a baby found abandoned in the back of the Fresh Air Taxicab, and Amos's search for her real mother -- a sequence which had potential, but never seemed to fully achieve it. And then in June, Amos, Andy and Brother Crawford made a big mistake business-wise by closing down their successful lunch room and going in partnership with the Kingfish and Pop Johnson to open the Okey Hotel.
This was the most radical change in the series since the characters moved from Chicago to New York -- and suggests that Correll and Gosden were hoping a new setting would inspire new ideas. The hotel idea started off interesting, but the taxicab company and lunch room had become so well-established in the continuity that it didn't quite seem like "Amos 'n' Andy" without them. And once they had established the hotel, Correll and Gosden seemed unsure about where to go from there - the program began to feel a bit too much like "The Nebbs," a popular comic strip of the era that had a similar hotel setting.
What all of these 1932 sequences were missing was a strong hook: a powerful adversarial character or a sense of real danger for the lead characters. Simply put, there wasn't enough dramatic conflict thru most of 1932 to create the sort of attention-grabbing suspense that had been the hallmark of the program during 1931. Correll and Gosden themselves eventually realized what was wrong -- and by the end of 1932 they realized what was wrong and began to get the program back on track: much of November and December of 1932 was taken up by the "Clifton Mills Affair," in which Mr. Taylor began to think that Amos would never be able to provide for his daughter -- and asked him to step aside in favor of his new business partner, an up-and-coming young achiever. Amos learned that Mills was actually cheating Taylor -- but was afraid that if he revealed what he knew, Taylor would think he was acting out of spite and wouldn't believe him. No sooner had this sequence finally been resolved than the obnoxious Frederick Montgomery Gwindell was put in charge of the Okey Hotel -- sparking a seven-month-long storyline that would eventually drive the hotel out of business and land Andy in court again. This storyline caused a dramatic rebound in the program's rating which continued thru the end of 1933.
Granted, chances were probably greater that people were able to make their own radios during the 1920s with wire around the Quaker Oats box and the aerial hooked to the radiator, while few people were making their own television sets. Also, I have some beautiful commercial radios made in the 1924-1927 range, so the proliferation of sets may have been greater than the proliferation of TVs at Berle's time. But a) how much did Amos n Andy contribute to the sale of radio sets, and b) how much communal listening of A&A took place, with the stories of stopping the movie for it, etc.?
There's always been a lot of talk that people bought radios during 1930 in order to listen to A&A, but I think that a lot of other factors were equally responsible -- not the least of which was the introduction of cheap table-model radios available on Easy Credit Terms. This factor made factory-made radios available to working-class people for the first time, and made it much easier for those who were inclined to own sets to purchase them. There is, however, no way to positively document the various anecdotal claims that A&A increased radio sales.
Communal listening to A&A peaked in the late winter and early spring of 1930, during the "Great Home Bank" storyline. During February 1930, a theatre owner in Washington DC introduced the idea of broadcasting each night's episode of A&A over the sound system prior to the start of the 7pm show, and this idea caught on among theatre owners along the East Coast. However, NBC's legal department put a stop to this practice during April, contending that it was a violation of Correll and Gosden's copyrights to charge admission to hear the broadcasts. So even though this practice has become part of OTR folklore, it actually only existed during a very narrow window of time.
More casual sorts of communal listening were common in working-class urban neighborhoods, where radio ownership was rare, with radios in restaurants, drug stores, poolrooms, barber shops, and other gathering places attracting groups of people for the nightly episodes. In one of the most interesting examples of this, a series of outdoor loudspeakers were installed along Atlantic City's Steel Pier during the summer of 1930 for the specific purpose of making "Amos 'n' Andy" available to early-evening patrons. During the Jack Dixon storyline in late 1931, it became common for department stores in the East to patch the broadcast into their public address systems for the convenience of Christmas shoppers.
There is also evidence that "Amos 'n' Andy"-themed dinner parties became a fad during the Breach of Promise storyline in early 1931, with guests gathering for a meal and conversation, built around listening to the nightly episode. In some case, party guests might be invited to assume the roles of the various A&A characters for the evening, or the dinner menu might be planned to simulate the fare served at A&A's lunchroom.
This type of activity, however, was confined for the most part to the "fad" period of 1930-31. By the mid-1930s, A&A had assumed a place in the national mind which one commentator likened to "the old clock on the stairway -- we might not pay attention to it all the time, but we always know it's there."
Exactly how many episodes of the radio series were recorded as opposed to how many episodes were aired?
There were 4091 episodes aired of the original nightly series -- the first 438 of those were recorded for syndication in 1928-29. However, only a small fraction of these -- about sixty -- are currently known to survive.
Of the nightly network run (1929-43) only thirteen complete episodes are currently known to exist. Recordings of each episode were made from January 1940 to at least July 1942 for distribution in Canada, but only two episodes from this source are known to exist.
There are also a number of fragmentary airchecks known to survive, the earliest dating to November 1930, and the latest being a five-minute fragment of the final serial episode. Most of these fragments are very short -- a few as short as ten seconds.
Of the 1943-55 half-hour sitcom, 426 episodes were aired. All were recorded for preservation, and most survive in the Correll Family Collection, aside from a few lost to breakage or decomposition. About 250 episodes have found their way into OTR circulation.
Of the 1954-60 "Amos 'n' Andy Music Hall" series, there were 2129 broadcasts, although many programs were repeated. Most survive as original CBS master tapes in the Correll Collection.
As for the TV programs, CBS has never sanctioned any official release: ALL circulating copies of A&A-TV are bootlegs. All circulating prints of the series were recalled by CBS Films in early 1966, but many slipped thru the cracks -- and many of these found their way into the hands of basement film dupers in the 1970s. The only legitimate prints of A&A-TV are original CBS Films prints -- and there were multiple prints made for syndication, so there could be any number of extant "originals." Most of the circulating bootleg sets vary from mediocre quality to terrible, although occasionally there'll be an episode which was sourced from a clean original print.
Some of the prints that have been duped were not syndication prints at all -- but copies made for airing on network affiliates out of reach of a direct network connection. These are the copies which contain the original "library" opening sequence and, usually, the Blatz Beer commercials.
"Amos 'n' Andy In Person"
It should also be noted that the SnH had been taken off of WGN in December 1927.
Specifically, the program went off the air after Episode 586, 12/18/27, and Correll and Gosden immediately left Chicago for a personal appearance tour thru the South that took them as far as Shreveport, LA. Their time slot on WGN was filled for the next two weeks by Bill Hay reading the Bible.
Two weeks later, though, "Sam and Henry" returned on WGN -- but without Correll and Gosden. They were replaced by two other dialect performers who had never been identified until I uncovered evidence indicating that they were most likely two performers by the names of Henry Moeller and Hal Gilles. "Sam and Henry" continued in this ersatz form until 2/16/28, when it disappeared for good.
There were a number of things going on behind the scenes at this time. Correll and Gosden had been feuding with WGN management for months over their proposal for syndicating their program by recordings, and they finally decided that if the Tribune Company wouldn't relent on that point, they'd walk at the expiration of their contract. The Tribune essentially told them -- go ahead. We own the program, we own the scripts, we own the characters. And we don't need you.
The replacement "Sam and Henry" was evidently the Tribune Company trying to call Correll and Gosden's bluff -- but while they were in Shreveport, E. C. Rayner of Radio Digest -- a friend of the performers who may very well have given them the idea for syndication in the first place -- arranged a meeting for their agent, Alec Robb, with Judith Waller of WMAQ. Correll and Gosden themselves met with Waller as soon as they got back to Chicago in mid-January of 1928, and it took nearly a month to work out the deal -- a $25,000 contract for the services of Gosden, Correll, and Bill Hay that required the Chicago Daily News to double WMAQ's operating budget.
All during this time the fake "Sam and Henry" continued on WGN, until it became evident that Correll and Gosden wouldn't be coming back. Given that the first "Amos 'n' Andy" promo aired on 2/25/28, the termination of "Sam and Henry" on 2/16 suggests that this was when word reached the Tribune Company that Correll and Gosden had signed with WMAQ, and this allows a couple of weeks lead time for the preparation of the promotional campaign. Considering that Correll and Gosden had written four scripts before even settling on the names of "Amos" and "Andy," one can imagine this was a very intense period of work for the performers.
Henry Moeller and Hal Gilles had direct connection to Correll and Gosden. All four of the performers had been colleagues at the Joe Bren Producing Company during the early 1920s, and Gosden had taught Moeller and Gilles a basic form of African-American dialect, just as he had taught it to Correll -- and Moeller and Gilles then toured as a team producing Bren minstrel shows for service clubs and lodges around the midwest, just as Correll and Gosden had done. When Gosden was promoted to the position of Manager of the Bren Circus Division in 1924, he hired Hal Gilles as his advance man -- and worked closely with him until leaving the Bren Company in September 1925. So on the surface, Moeller and Gilles might well have seemed a very logical choice to continue "Sam and Henry," and it probably burned Gosden to no end to see the Tribune Company using his one-time protege as a pawn in a corporate power-play.
Although the Moeller-Gilles version of "Sam and Henry" only ran a month and a half, the team remained at WGN -- creating a dialect serial of their own, known alternately as "Herr Louie and the Weasel," or "Louie's Hungry Five." This was a series done in German dialect, dealing with the leader of a German oompah band and his sidekick, and it ran on WGN for more than three years. And in 1930, WGN finally gave in to the idea of syndication and began distributing recordings of this series -- acknowledging the inevitable about three years too late.
Moeller and Gilles remained active in Chicago radio in various capacities thru the 1930s, and Hal Gilles has an interesting footnote to his career -- some time in the late 1940s he teamed up with a partner by the name of Herbie Hardt, and recorded a risqué, sold-under-the-counter "party record" called "Sixteen Old Ladies Stuck In a Lavatory." He went on to become a partner in Hargill Records, a company which apparently specialized in novelty material of the sort that Grandpa used to snicker over while Grandma wasn't around.
This is a valuable site. I listened to an A&A show from 1928. I had never heard any of the radio shows; I only remember the TV series, and little of that.
You still haven't heard a 1928 A&A episode, unfortunately -- the recording listed as such in this site is an unattributed dub of a commercially-released Victor phonograph record. These records were made to be self-contained dialogue routines, and had nothing to do with the actual broadcasts, which depended for their appeal on a continuing serial storyline. The characterizations of Amos and Andy as heard on the Victor records are often inconsistent with the characterizations presented in the actual broadcasts. Many academics and OTR writers have drawn erroneous conclusions about the program as a result of these records, since they're often circulated in the OTR world with no documentation of their origin.
You will find a number of authentic 1929 episodes on this site, however -- the downloads listed as numbers 1 thru 28 in the 1929 section are genuine episode recordings made for "chainless chain" syndication. The episodes from May thru July are especially notable in that the storyline they're taken from was the most complex attempted by the performers up to that time. (A complete day-to-day summary of the entire sequence can be found at http://www.midcoast.com/~lizmcl/aa1929a.html)
The recordings from 29 thru 33 in the 1929 section and the one listed from 1930 are also from Victor records, and are not genuine broadcasts.
A question: I've heard and read that, in their heyday, A&A's program was so popular on radio that movie theaters would "pipe in" the broadcasts on their sound systems so that their audiences would have no excuse to stay home and listen to the radio. Is this true?
Yes. The practice began in Washington DC in January 1930, in the midst of the "Great Home Bank" storyline, and began a trend that swept thru the East during February and March of that year. (The phenomenon was concentrated in the East because A&A was heard in the 7pm time slot only in the Eastern time zone.) The practice was widely advertised on theatre marquees and in print ads -- you'll find a typical example of such an ad at http://www.midcoast.com/~lizmcl/aapics15.html)
Was the program as popular with black audiences as it was with whites (or was there even a polling method at the time that took into account the "race" of the audience?
There is ample anecdotal evidence from the early 1930s that the program had a large and loyal African-American audience, even though as of 1930 less than 8 per cent of black families had access to radios. There are accounts in the African-American press of listeners in Harlem gathering in radio stores, poolrooms, restaurants, and hotel lobbies during the early months of 1930 to listen to the program, and the program received favorable mention in several of the leading black newspapers of the day, including the Chicago Defender, the Philadelphia Tribune, the Amsterdam News, the Baltimore Afro-American, and the Northwest Enterprise.
The Pittsburgh Courier, on the other hand, mounted a petition drive against the program in early 1931 -- only to abandon the effort after six months failed to generate sufficient support to sustain the campaign. Contrary to Dunning and other authors, the NAACP did not endorse this or any other anti-A&A campaign during the OTR era. Indeed, then-assistant secretary Roy Wilkins wrote a glowing endorsement of the program during 1930, and was on good terms with Correll and Gosden during their radio run. Many black papers publicly repudiated the Courier's drive.
In 1939, Correll and Gosden commissioned a special Crossley survey of radio listeners in African-American sections of several major cities, and found that on a percentage basis, black radio homes were more likely to tune in "Amos 'n' Andy" than white. (Gosden shared this document with Roy Wilkins during a meeting in Hollywood that same year.)
All this, of course, applies solely to the original nightly serial version of the program. When the program became a weekly sitcom, and its characterizations became more broad, the series drew occasional criticism from black leaders, especially in the postwar era. But there was never any sort organized campaign against the radio program -- which explains, in part, why Correll and Gosden and CBS were taken by surprise when the NAACP denounced the TV series in 1951.
When I listen to the shows now I'm amazed at what the show has to give. I know that Ms. Elizabeth McLeod loves A&A; more than anyone, and If you would Elizabeth, would you share with us why this show means so much to you. If you do not wish to do so that's cool.
Well, I got into studying the program out of curiosity: as I've mentioned before, I spent a lot of time growing up around my grandparents, who were scarred for life by their experiences during the Depression. And one of the things that kept that generation distracted was the original "Amos 'n' Andy."
I listened to some of the half hour shows, in reruns broadcast in the late 1970s, and I didn't really understand what the whole phenomenon had been about. And all of the OTR books available then tended to repeat the same shallow stories about the movie theatres and the water use and George Bernard Shaw without ever really explaining what it was, exactly, that captured the nation's attention about the program.
One of the Depression lessons my grandmother taught me was "You can't depend on anyone in this life to do anything for you. If you want anything done, you better do it yourself." So, I took that advice to heart, and began doing my own research.
The turning point came when I read the original scripts for the entire first decade of the original series -- over 2500 episodes worth. And then I understood: "Amos 'n' Andy" as originally configured was not a comedy program. It was a day to day, real-time chronicle of a small group of working-class people desperately trying to maintain their confidence and trying to push forward in spite of a crippling economic crisis. Often, what happened to them had humorous overtones -- the sort of humor anyone can find in the vagaries of daily life -- but the stories could also be painfully tragic. (Few things I've ever read ever affected me as much as Amos's grief when he thought Ruby Taylor had died of pneumonia.)
But the characters survived. They never gave up. And they kept the really important things in mind -- above all, the original "Amos 'n' Andy" was a story of evolving personal relationships -- emphasizing that honest friendship is the most important possession anyone can have.
Correll and Gosden captured the essence of ordinary, everyday life among the working class better, I think, than any other authors who ever worked in radio -- one intellectual critic of the early 1930s praised their work as "a bit of life as simple as a folk song." Their characters grew, changed, progressed, lived. There were births -- and there were deaths. And even today, squinting at the pages on a microfilm screen, there's an uncanny sense of realism as the events unfold -- the characters in the serial had a sense of genuine emotional substance that was all too rare in radio.
For me, the only program that even comes close to the depth of the 1930s "Amos 'n' Andy" is "One Man's Family" -- but because of the economic conditions which surrounded my own childhood, I find it much easier to identify with the struggles of A&A's little group of Harlemites than with the upper-middle-class doings of the Barbours.
There's a lot more I could say -- but I've already said it at my website. And that's where I'd refer anyone wanting to learn more about who Correll and Gosden really were, and what they really accomplished: http://www.midcoast.com/~lizmcl/aa.html
In reading his chapter on Gosden and Correll about how they met and formed an instant and strong friendship and how they lived together for several years, I remember blurting out loud while reading in bed "My God, Amos and Andy were gay"!: )
Now I'm not for a minute suggesting that this is true, but I am wondering if anybody else got the same impression from reading this book.
Well, I think I've mentioned before that before Amos got married in 1935, he and Andy not only roomed together, they shared the same bed. Every now and then, an episode would find them getting undressed, putting on their nightgowns, climbing into bed together, and lying awake in the dark, discussing their problems. In one serial episode, Andy laments to the Kingfish that living with Amos is just like living with a woman -- and in several episodes spread over the serial run, Amos and Andy put their arms around each other and declare that they love each other.
The armchair revisionists might have a field day interpreting this one, if they weren't already busy exploring the hidden overtones in the relationship between Jack Benny and Rochester.
In reality, of course, Correll and Gosden intended no sexual overtones of any kind in their portrayal of Amos and Andy's relationship. It was, however, a fairly close parallel of their own relationship -- they did live together for several years, and after they both got married in 1927, the two couples lived in the same apartment building for as long as they were in Chicago. But at the same time, they knew that too much time together could be dangerous -- and they made a point of going their separate ways after each day's work was done.
They had a friendship built on the fact that they were totally complementary to each other -- Gosden was a driven, energetic perfectionist -- who, on a personal level, was extremely shy, a characteristic many misinterpreted as distant aloofness, especially since he really hated the show-business social scene. Correll, on the other hand, was an easy-going, fun-loving man, who wore snappy clothes and loved to go to parties. Each knew the other's limits -- and each brought qualities to the partnership that the other lacked. Gosden looked at Correll as an older brother, someone he could talk to and confide in -- and Correll was genuinely in awe of Gosden, acknowledging that "if it wasn't for him, I'd still be in Peoria laying bricks." The result was perhaps the most harmonious collaboration in 20th-century show business history. There was never any suggestion that the two ever fought, ever argued, or ever even thought for a second of breaking up.
Gosden himself summed up the relationship best, following Correll's death in 1972. "We were partners for 37 years," he said, "and friends for fifty. In all that time we never once exchanged an unkind word."
The actual episode they used for that scene was, in fact, the 10,000th "Amos 'n' Andy" broadcast from November 1952 (22 years after the scene takes place), in which they restaged the duo's origins.
Except that nothing in that episode is an accurate representation of what actually happened in the original broadcasts. A few major discrepancies:
The complete scripts for the "Breach of Promise" storyline -- 64 consecutive episodes from 1930-31 -- are available on my website, at http://www.midcoast.com/~lizmcl/aabp.html.
Correll and Gosden were clearly embarrassed and upset about the adverse reaction to the bigamy storyline -- and it was never again mentioned in the series. As a result, the "10,000th Broadcast" version of the story has become a persistent OTR myth -- even to the point of being picked up and repeated by otherwise reputable historians. Arthur Wertheim, in "Radio Comedy," erroneously cites the events in the 1952 broadcast as having actually been aired in the original 1931 storyline -- even though he had access to the original scripts and could have done the research to get it right. Joseph Boskin in "Sambo: The Rise and Demise of an American Jester," makes an even graver error: he describes the scene in which Andy meets the Kingfish trying to steal his watch, as aired in 1952, and falsifies its source in his footnotes, claiming the scene actually comes from a 1928 script which, in reality, has nothing to do with the scene cited. This is the sort of bogus scholarship that makes my own work that much more difficult, and it's unfortunately all too common in academic writings on A&A.
One more interesting note about the "10,000th Broadcast." Seven years after it aired, the script was recycled for "The Amos 'n' Andy Music Hall," serialized out over a week of episodes in August 1959, to celebrate Correll and Gosden's 30th year of network broadcasting.
Perhaps the writers did type the original, perhaps they didn't. But I think it is safe to say that nearly always the networks bank of typists re-did them in the right format for broadcast.
One example of writers-who-typed-their-own-scripts was Correll and Gosden -- every single page of the 4,091 episodes of the Amos 'n' Andy serial was typed by Charles Correll, who had worked as a stenographer just after graduating from Peoria High School in 1907, and never lost the knack. Correll typed along as Freeman Gosden dictated the dialogue, and there are many instances in the scripts where you can see thoughts changing in mid-sentence and lines being revised in mid-phrase as Gosden free-associated. The typing is filled with slips and strikeovers and sometimes entire sections are scratched out by hand and new dialogue typed in. Examining the scripts is a fascinating window into the actual creative process, even though they can be a bit messy to look at.
The A&A scripts were typed out phonetically -- specifying the precise shading of dialect (or lack of dialect) to be spoken by each character -- and this had a long-term effect on Correll's typing ability. For many years he found it nearly impossible to type a simple letter without instinctively lapsing into dialect.
For most of the run, there were only three copies of each A&A script: an original for Gosden, a carbon for Correll, and a second carbon for Bill Hay. C&G each kept their copies, and Hay's scripts were bundled up and sent to the Library of Congress in batches as part of the copyright registration process. But around 1940, the performers decided to have another set of scripts made up for insurance purposes -- and this job kept the CBS typing pool busy for several months manually copying out twelve years' worth of daily scripts.
Gosden liked to tell a story about Louise Summa -- their secretary for 30 years -- very early in the series' run ordering a supply of onionskin paper for typing the scripts. She got some sort of a discount deal on a huge quantity of paper, and the performers were a bit puzzled when this supply of paper was delivered to their office -- their comment was "Do you really think we'll be on the air that long?" Gosden claimed that they were still using that paper nearly thirty years later.
It just seems that they must have had a sense of history, given the popularity of the characters, that the creators themselves would have considered some kind of archive even one as primitive as a disc recording at the time.
We'll probably never know what Correll and Gosden were thinking along the lines of preservation during their earliest years, but we can theorize. Keep in mind that in just about everything they did between 1926 and 1929, they were breaking entirely new ground: no one had ever done a continuing-character dramatic program before they did, no one had ever done a nightly serial before they did, no one had ever distributed a program by recorded syndication before they did, no one had ever done a 15-minute network strip before they did. Every step of the way, there was the potential for failure -- and the performers had no idea whether or not these innovations would work. Their idea of the future, at this point, was simply to get thru each week -- in their wildest dreams they couldn't have imagined in 1928 what "Amos 'n' Andy" would become by 1930. They didn't know if they had a future, let alone that people would still be interested in their work seventy-five years later.
I can tell you that Gosden's oldest son (born in 1929) did not remember any collection of recordings existing during his childhood. His memories of the scripts, on the other hand, were quite vivid -- they were bound in large leather volumes and kept in an imposing antique bookcase in his father's office. The side of this bookcase was covered with little penknife notches -- each notch marking an incident where a script was torn up in frustration and rewritten entirely from scratch. (These are the same volumes now held by USC.)
The only positive memory of recordings which came up in my discussions with Freeman Jr. was an account of how his father used to bring home a recording of each year's Christmas broadcast, and he would take the disc into his office and listen to it alone, over and over again, until it was time for bed.
I've never established just how much day-to-day personal involvement Correll and Gosden had with the operation of the chainless chain. It was administered by the Chicago Daily News Syndicate office, under the supervision of C&G's business manager Alex Robb, and it seems to have been Robb who actually kept an eye on that end of the operation while C&G occupied themselves with the creative end of things. But C&G -- and especially Gosden -- would almost certainly have reviewed the pressings of each episode when they were delivered from the factory, at least until they left for their personal-appearance tour in April 1929.
They certainly could have retained a copy of each disc for future reference -- the best theory I can come up with for why they didn't was that they wanted to ensure that there would be no chance their own recordings could ever be used illegally. After their bitter break from WGN cost them "Sam and Henry," Correll and Gosden realized the importance of keeping a very tight control over their intellectual property -- the first thing they did when they moved to WMAQ was insist on a contract provision giving them sole ownership of the series, its title, and its characters, and they saw to it that everything relating to "Amos 'n' Andy" was fully protected by trademarks and copyrights. But given the ease with which a recording could be illegally used, it would make sense for them to insist that the chainless-chain recordings be destroyed after a single broadcast. Likely the only way they felt safe from potential infringement was to ensure that no recordings survived -- and we can be thankful at least that a few recordings managed to leak out anyway!
Correll and Gosden were equally protective of their scripts -- no one at the agency or the network was ever allowed to see them, and during the 1930s A&A had the distinction of being the only program on NBC which was not required to submit to censorship by Continuity Acceptance. The scripts themselves were carefully preserved primarily as a reference tool -- the serial A&A generally maintained a tight continuity, for its first several years especially, and there were frequent references to past events. The scripts were frequently consulted to determine who said what to whom under what circumstances, ensuring that all the continuity fit together. The performers became a bit less attentive to this sort of detail in the later years of the serial, but by then the precedent of saving the scripts had been thoroughly established, and continued for the rest of the program's run. We can be thankful that this practice was followed -- as a result, A&A is one of the few programs of radio's pioneer era for which all scripts survive.
(Anyone know when NBC officially switched it to the Red Network? Perhaps when NBC bought WMAQ in '34?)
The final A&A on Blue was 7/12/35, and the first on the Red was 7/15/35, and the switch was announced by prominent display ads in the radio press. The primary reason for the move was Pepsodent's desire to expand the program into markets where it hadn't been easily heard -- there were a number of smaller markets in the East and Midwest which were served by Basic Red affiliates but not by Basic Blue, and followers of A&A in these locations had to tune in distant stations in order to keep up with the program. (Personally, I wish Pepsodent had opted for the alternative of extension-spotting recordings -- but they never chose to do this during their eight years of A&A sponsorship, even though they did use recordings for supplemental broadcasts of some of their other programs.)
NBC bought a controlling interest in WMAQ in the fall of 1931, and took over operation of the station in November of that year. However, A&A continued to originate from the WMAQ studios in the Chicago Daily News Building for several months after this transaction -- their first program from Merchandise Mart Studio F was that of 5/7/32.
I know from reading Elizabeth's postings how immensely popular the show was and it strikes me as odd that a show that popular was never recorded. Does anyone know the reason for this?
The first 438 episodes, of course, were recorded -- from 3/19/28 thru 8/18/29, A&A was the very first radio program to be distributed by recorded syndication. These discs were required to be destroyed after broadcast, however, and only about seventy episodes from this run are currently known to exist. The discs were originally recorded at Orlando Marsh's "Marsh Laboratories," the first studio in Chicago to deal with electrical recording, and were pressed for distribution as 12" shellac 78rpm discs (although existing examples seem to play back more accurately at +/- 80 rpm). In April 1929, the recording contract went to Brunswick-Balke-Collender, and the audio quality of the discs improved substantially. Brunswick handled the recordings thru the end of the syndicated run.
The syndicated A&A episodes were positively not airchecks of the live WMAQ broadcasts -- the original scripts bear various handwritten notations confirming that the recordings were made well in advance of the live broadcasts -- the "chainless chain" was set up so that stations carrying the recordings aired the same episode that Correll and Gosden broadcast live from WMAQ (until April 1929 when WMAQ itself began using the recordings.)
This all ended, of course, once A&A went to NBC in August 1929. Much emphasis was given to the fact that recordings were no longer being used -- for several years, Bill Hay opened each episode by announcing "Amos 'n' Andy in Person," and this phrase endured in the episode closings for fifteen years. While recordings were used by many sponsors and many series for "extension spotting" during the 1930s, A&A is one of the few serials which did not use this method -- and I suspect there may have been a clause in the Pepsodent contract requiring that all broadcasts be live.
However, Campbell's Soup, which sponsored the program from 1938 to 1943 did not insist on such a clause. Recordings of each nightly episode from January 1940 into at least the middle of 1942 were made, for extension spotting in Canada. A couple of these episodes are known to exist, but no substantial run of episodes has yet been found. (Notice I say yet.)
The idea of making aircheck recordings was in its infancy when A&A moved to the network in 1929 -- but the technology did exist. A number of private studios doing airchecks on uncoated aluminum discs were operating in Chicago by the end of 1930, so if Correll and Gosden had wanted recordings for purposes of post-broadcast evaluation, it would certainly have been feasible to have them made. And, given Gosden's well-known attitude of strict perfectionism, I find it peculiar that they were not. This is one of the questions I wish someone had asked Correll or Gosden when they were alive -- one of the great difficulties in researching the early years of A&A is that none of the people who did interview them asked the right questions!
I do have reason, however, to believe that at least some recordings were made. Photos taken in Correll and Gosden's Beverly Hills office circa 1940 reveal the presence of a transcription turntable and a disc recording lathe. I've found that the primary use of this equipment was for the performers to practice and refine new voice characterizations -- having played over 160 characters over the course of the serial, developing new characters obviously required serious effort. But it is possible that this equipment was also used to review recordings of previous episodes.
There are stories claiming that Correll and Gosden in fact held a large backlog of episode recordings from the 1930s -- dating back as early as 1930-31 -- but none have ever been verified, and certainly no examples have turned up. A few years ago, Freeman Gosden's oldest son told me point blank that episodes from the 1930s were "rare as hen's teeth," and he was overjoyed to hear the few examples I was able to share with him. Rich Correll subsequently confirmed this statement for me -- although his father amassed a voluminous collection of recordings from the sitcom period, there were only a few serial-era recordings in the collection. If any backlog of recordings ever did exist, I fear it might have been lost or disposed of when the performers left Chicago in 1937.
Why NBC itself didn't make recordings is a question a lot of people have asked. NBC's Electrical Transcription Division (later the Radio-Recording Division) did not exist until 1935, and most of what was recorded during the early years of this operation was programming originating in New York. NBC-Chicago had recording equipment by 1936 -- but aside from a couple of special episodes, no attempt was made to preserve audio of A&A. Most of what NBC recorded during the 1930s was public affairs/actuality and cultural programming -- serials were considered about the most disposable form of programming, and it obviously never occurred to anyone that historians sixty years later would rather hear "Amos 'n' Andy" than a speech by Alf Landon. (Those in charge of such matters at NBC seem to have displayed the same sort of arrogant cultural snobbishness that has long characterized the archivists at the BBC.)
I've spent years tracking down any surviving audio fragments from 1930s A&A episodes -- some of them less than ten seconds long. But in terms of complete episodes from the network era, less than 10 are known to exist. So, all we really have left of A&A in their prime are the scripts -- and Ed Bolton's re-stagings. And, as I've often said, the existing sitcom episodes really tell you nothing about why the program was as popular as it was in its prime -- the sitcom was an entirely different series.
A&A fans will be interested to know that I'm in the process of transcribing a major storyline from the fall and winter of 1935-36 into HTML form for posting on my website -- about a hundred consecutive episodes which haven't been available in any form since their original broadcast. Watch this space for further announcements.
I used to watch the A&A TV show in the 1950s, and, even as a child, I grew tired of the constant repetition of the basic plot of Kingfish hoodwinking Andy.
There's actually a lesson in how this formulaization happened -- it all ties in with the increasing influence corporate bean-counters had over the shape of radio programming during the 1940s.
One of the key factors used by advertising agencies during the 1940s in calculating the effectiveness of radio programming was to measure "cost per ratings point" -- a statistic which would be calculated by simply dividing a given program's weekly budget by its Hooperrating. This allowed the agency to compare the program's results against other competitive programs to see who was getting the best return on their dollar. This statistic had a lot to do with the changes A&A went thru in the years immediately after the conversion from the serial to the sitcom format.
During the first half-hour season, 1943-44, "The Amos 'n' Andy Show" tended to alternate between guest-star driven episodes and self-contained stories focusing on the regular characters. These stories were much closer in tone to the late years of the serial than they were to the later years of the sitcom, and tended to have a wider variety of plots. But Ruthrauff and Ryan, the agency, took a look at the Cost Per Ratings Point this format was producing and didn't like what it saw -- during the early months of 1944, A&A had the highest Cost Per Ratings Point of any situation-comedy program on the air. The edict went down for the following season: Make it funnier -- get more laughs --- get us a better ratings return on what we're spending.
This led to an increasing mechanization of the process of putting the show together -- it became less about consistent characterization and creative plotting than in ensuring a "funnier show" containing a sufficient number of laughs per minute -- by doing that, it was hoped to bring the rating up and bring the Cost Per Ratings point down. The audiences seemed to react loudest to the Kingfish's Scheme of the Week episodes -- and, in general, to the spotlighting of the Kingfish as the program's central character -- so that's what was done. The highest rating the half-hour series ever received, a 23 in 1947-48, represented over 36 million listeners for what was the most formulaic season of its run up to that point.
This was a far cry from the days when Correll and Gosden locked themselves into their office alone and created their program with no "advice" or "guidance" from anyone -- and the, for want of a better term, soullessness of the program in its later years is the unavoidable result of this number-crunching approach.
I think forties radio comedy in general -- and especially postwar radio comedy -- fell victim to very much the same forces. It's very difficult to distinguish one postwar "Fibber McGee and Molly" from another, for example -- and by the early fifties, even the Jack Benny program had fallen into a deep, deep rut of mechanical running gags repeated way too often. As soon as comedy becomes something that can become quantified on a business chart -- it dies.
I also thought the show should be called "Kingfish & Andy," since Amos almost never appeared.
I've always felt Amos fell victim to the same trap that claimed Mickey Mouse -- he became more of an icon than an individual. Amos was a genuinely beloved figure for radio listeners in the early thirties -- he was in a lot of ways the symbol of everything they themselves wanted to be: decent, honest, motivated to succeed, and even sometimes heroic. But because he was so beloved, it became more and more difficult to put him into any genuinely risky situation -- and without risk there can be no dramatic conflict.
This was especially true after Amos and Ruby Taylor were married in 1935, and Arbadella was born in 1936 -- listeners made it clear that they simply wouldn't tolerate seeing Amos put into any situation where the stability of his family might be in jeopardy. This naturally forced Andy and the Kingfish to the center -- and disturbed the delicate balance between the three characters which had been a essential part of the program's original framework. Formerly, you had Amos on one side, the Kingfish on the other, and Andy caught precisely in the middle, consistently torn between two powerful influences, and listeners never knew quite what to expect -- but when Amos's role diminished, this whole fragile structure fell apart.
Once this happened, it became very difficult to find ways to work Amos into the stories -- he could no longer directly participate in business ventures with Andy, since that was considered too much of a risk, and listeners reacted negatively to stories where Amos's family itself faced crises -- so after a while the only role for him seemed to be that of a "Greek Chorus," standing off to one side and commenting on the proceedings without getting directly involved.
I don't know about the Amos 'N' Andy radio being forced off the air for clashing with the "Political Correctness" of the time, but I sure as fire know the television version bit the dust because of it. The NAACP got into the forefray and raised cain until CBS pulled it off the air.
The Association's protest began immediately following the airing of the premiere episode of A&A-TV on 6/28/51 -- CBS and Schenley Distillers (parent company of sponsor Blatz Beer) had coincidentally scheduled the first telecast for the opening week of the annual NAACP Convention in Atlanta, and many delegates viewed the program while attending the convention. The issue arose at a time when the Association was taking a hard look at black images on television -- and a decision had apparently already been made to condemn both A&A-TV and the TV version of "Beulah" even before the conventioneers met as a sort of preemptive strike against the idea of comedic images of black characters becoming the dominant image in the new medium.
There was, however, a lot of internal dissension over the protest within the NAACP itself. While Roy Wilkins, who had praised the radio series in the 1930s, now supported the protest against the TV version, he privately questioned the Association's motives -- pointing out the inconsistency of the Association's sudden shift in position after essentially ignoring the radio program for twenty years, and suggesting that a lot of rank-and-file members of the Association were bound to start asking the same questions. Some NAACP branch leaders questioned whether TV image issues should even be all that much of a priority, given the other more pressing civil-rights matters then on the political table. A number of black newspapers also took this position -- and in one of the greatest ironies of the A&A story, the new series received one of its most emphatic endorsements from the Pittsburgh Courier, the same paper which had attacked the radio series twenty years earlier.
Amidst all this, CBS and Schenley began talking with NAACP officials about what could be done to make the program more acceptable -- by this time Freeman Gosden had withdrawn from any creative participation in the series after a series of escalating disputes with director Charles Barton and producer James Fonda over Barton's taste for crude Abbott-and-Costello slapstick and the poor quality of some of the scripts. A few changes were made, notably the decision to emphasize the fact that the character of Calhoun wasn't actually a lawyer (he became a "Personal Consultant"), and the character of Lightning would be dropped at the end of the first season. But the talks bogged down when it became evident that the protest wasn't having the national impact the Association had hoped for: a survey in New York found seventy per cent of black TV viewers disagreed with the protest. By the end of 1951 CBS wasn't even returning the Association's calls -- and by early 1952, the protest essentially fizzled out.
Schenley renewed A&A-TV for a second season -- but decided to alternate it with a dramatic anthology series, the "Four Star Playhouse," in a bid to attract a more upscale audience. At the end of the season, Schenley decided to put all its money into the dramatic series, and dropped A&A-TV. The trade press characterized this as simply a change in advertising strategy -- with no mention of any connection to the 1951 protest. CBS then proceeded to film an additional thirteen episodes for first-run syndication in 1953-54, to be bundled with the 65 episodes that had already run on the network, and offer the package for local stripping. This was the package that would be distributed by CBS Films for the next thirteen years.
While there were rumblings of criticism over the continued distribution of the TV series thru the late fifties -- as early as 1956, "Variety" condemned the TV reruns as "outdated and embarrassing" -- they remained an extremely popular rerun feature in practically every TV market well into the early sixties. In 1964, WBBM-TV in Chicago decided to give the shows another airing -- and this sparked a series of local protests which became quite vigorous, given the general racial unrest of that year. WBBM-TV eventually gave up -- and ironically the A&A-TV package was immediately purchased by WCIU-TV, a Chicago UHF station which targeted much of its programming to black viewers, and which enthusiastically promoted the show as "An American Classic."
The Chicago incident was the first protest since 1951 to really catch CBS's attention, however, and two years later it withdrew the series from syndication. Whether this decision was entirely due to protests is very much open to debate, however -- in 1966, A&A-TV was the oldest series on the CBS Films list, and with only 78 episodes in the package it can be argued that it would have probably been withdrawn within the next couple of years even without protests, simply because it had worn itself out.
What is undeniable is that CBS's reluctance to license any use of the A&A-TV episodes since 1966 is related to fear of controversy -- even though most of the episodes are widely available from pirate distributors. However, there are definite hints that CBS is rethinking this policy -- last year, the network quietly licensed ten episodes to be shown at an African-American film festival in New York, and earlier this year, A&A-TV clips were shown in documentaries on TV-Land (owned by Viacom, CBS's parent company) and on CBS itself. There have also been feelers put out about a licensed video release thru Columbia House -- and with all of this rumbling of activity, I think there's a very good chance we'll see a licensed reissue of the TV series in some form, whether cable reruns or DVDs, within the next five years.
All that said, I'm frankly not a big fan of A&A-TV -- it and the later half-hour radio shows seem to me to be an unfortunate cheapening of the deep characterizations Correll and Gosden had established in the 1930s serial, and it pains me to see Andy, for example, being played as little more than an amiable boob when he was once a fully-rounded, many-layered person you could really care about. But I do think the TV series should be legally available in some form to those who want to view it and decide for themselves what they think about it.
This whole thing is complicated. Roy Wilkins, for example, thought it was a great radio program. Later, as head of the NAACP, he pushed to have the TV version canceled. A&A made some blacks think of the old, hated minstrel shows, and of white men playing in blackface. After WW-II, black Americans were less willing to accept second-class citizenship, and more willing to protest.
Actually, the Association head at the time of the 1951 protest of the A&A TV series was Walter White, who had earlier led the movement against stereotypical portrayals in movies. White's interest in putting pressure on show business to eliminate or minimize portrayals of working-class/lower-class African-Americans drew quite a bit of heat from within the Association itself, from members who believed that the group had more important priorities. Black performers themselves were also highly critical of White's campaign, arguing that the Association had no officials with any background in show business, and therefore, in the words of actor Spencer Williams -- who had a long background in film prior to his involvement with the A&A TV series -- they had "no grounds to kick."
So yes, it was an extremely complicated issue.
However, I should point out that the NAACP itself never involved itself in any protest of the A&A radio series -- the only comment the national office ever made on the subject prior to the TV protest was a letter to the Pepsodent Company in 1933, criticizing an episode in which Amos and Andy, while on a road trip, stopped for the evening in a "colored tourist camp." This, the Association felt, gave the impression that tourist facilities were formally segregated in the North -- and even though most facilities were unofficially segregated, Correll and Gosden acknowledged the point and omitted such references from future scripts.
Roy Wilkins himself was on good terms with Correll and Gosden during the 1930s and 1940s, and had a private meeting with them in 1939 to discuss the program and its popularity among African-American audiences.
I think it might be more accurate to say that both programs drew their comedy from a close observation of human nature -- neither program used comedy that was wholly dependent on the ethnicity of the characters as the source of the humor. Both programs emphasized extremely strong individual characterization rather than generic "character types" -- this is what separated "Amos 'n' Andy" from "Pick and Pat", and what separated "Lum and Abner" from "Eb and Zeb." And it was the foibles of each individual character, reflecting universal traits of human behavior as they reacted to the situations they were in, that were the source of the humor. It worked because no matter what Andy or Lum did -- every listener knew someone who would react very much the same way in that given situation, or could recognize elements of their own traits in those of the characters.
Fourth, during the 15 minute segments it seems to me A&A is much more drama oriented while L&L is more comedy oriented, although A&A inserts comedy too.
There were occasional dramatic moments in L&A -- the death of Robert Blevins, the only Pine Ridge citizen to be killed in action in WW2, stands out as a really moving, dramatic performance -- but in general L&A always tended to be a much broader program.
I think this is where Lauck and Goff really stood out from the dozens of other serials in the early thirties inspired by the A&A craze -- while they closely followed the basic format of A&A in the way they structured their program, they created a mood that was entirely different. A&A, because of its urban setting, tended during the 1930s to be a much more realistic program -- its characters dealt with the realities of the Depression, and even though these realities were certainly not depicted in meticulous documentary detail, the program could often be a stark reminder that not everyone in America lived in middle-class comfort.
One of the most interesting depictions of this was in the A&A episode of 8/11/31, in which Amos and Andy discuss the fact that there are people in Harlem walking the streets who haven't eaten in days, and they agree to start setting aside the leftovers from the lunch room in order to support a program for feeding the poor and jobless. This mirrored what was actually happening in many poor urban neighborhoods in the days before Federalized welfare programs -- restaurants routinely were asked to package their uneaten scraps in sanitary 5-gallon buckets for distribution to soup kitchens, and Amos and Andy were doing precisely what many of their real-life counterparts were being asked to do.
By contrast, "Lum and Abner" rarely seems to have acknowledged the Depression. There is, for example, mention in the 1935 "Hog Chain Letter" storyline that the project is being undertaken in the interests of "Farm Relief," but this theme is not developed to any substantial degree, and you aren't given any feel for just how desperate farmers were getting in 1935. L&A, with its far more comic mood, was much more a deliberate escape from the Depression than a mirror of it -- and it simply wouldn't have worked for Lum and Abner to try to address the Depression in the same way that Amos and Andy did.
L&A did move closer to reality during the war years -- Lauck and Goff never missed a chance to promote War Bonds, explain rationing, or insert other OWI-type material in their episodes -- but even during this era they still remained essentially a comedy, doing material that A&A could never have done: the "Mars Expedition," Robert the Robot, and similar out-and-out comedy sequences that would have simply not worked in A&A's world.
Another way to compare the two series is to look at how they handled similar plots. Both series did extended sequences in which the title characters cared for a foundling baby - this was pretty much a standard-issue plot done by dozens of radio serials and newspaper comic strips over the years. A&A did it in 1932, with the story of "Baby Lula-May," who was abandoned in the back of the Fresh Air Taxicab by her desperate mother; and L&A did it in 1942 with the story of "Little Lum" (or Little Charlie, if you prefer) left behind in the Jot-em-Down Store by a mystery woman. The A&A sequence was played as straight drama -- leavened with bits of humor as Andy tried to come to grips with the challenge of changing diapers -- and came to its climax when Amos tracked down the mother and discovered the desperate poverty in which she lived. The L&A sequence, by contrast, was a sort of comedy-mystery, the resolution of which I won't spoil for those who haven't heard it. But while Lum and Abner dealt with some of the same challenges that Amos and Andy had faced in acclimatizing themselves to the presence of the baby, the basic mood of their story was entirely different from the rather bleak scenario depicted by A&A. That's not to say there weren't dramatic moments in the L&A storyline -- but the tone of the drama was still very different from that of A&A.
That it worked for both programs points out something important -- it's not the plot that counts, it's what you do with it to make it your own. And while the essential structure of L&A -- two guys sitting at a table doing multiple characters in a continuing storyline -- was clearly inspired by A&A, what made L&A successful is that they took that framework and adapted it to suit their own characters and their own distinctive vision.
I think it all boils down to the different points of view of the people behind the shows. Chet Lauck was a very intelligent, college-educated man -- and was very familiar with 19th/early 20th century literary humor. He was quite fond of George Ade, Bill Nye, and Mark Twain, and I think the comic sensibilities of L&A strongly reflect these influences. On the other hand, Freeman Gosden brought an entirely different set of sensibilities to the table: he was raised in a strict religious family, quit school at sixteen, and while he was also very intelligent, he was not especially well-read. His literary tastes ran to the works of O. Henry, an author who mixed subtle character-driven humor with sentimental Victorian melodrama, and to early 20th century "inspirational" authors like Elbert Hubbard. A&A's serial-era tendency toward sentimentality and inspirational/philosophical musings clearly came out of these influences.
One of the elements that I find most fascinating about Correll and Gosden's 1928-43 work is that they seem to have instinctively understood certain theoretical principles that have become essential to modern acting techniques. Neither one of them had any formal training as an actor, neither one of them was particularly well-read, and they were both a long, long way from being coffee-house-frequenting Group Theatre intellectuals. But nonetheless, they understood -- and practiced -- the most basic techniques of "method" acting years before the Stanislavsky/Strasberg theories were widely taught in the US, and they apparently worked out these techniques entirely on their own.
In looking over interviews they gave during the 1929-31 period, you'll find repeated references to how "they become the characters they play," and when this is mentioned, it's always mentioned as being something unusual. This may sound like hype, but it actually is a simplified description of their basic working method, as both actors and writers. Consider this 1934 comment from their secretary, Louise Summa:
"They are four distinct people, not two. You see, Charlie and Freeman usually come into the office about noon. From the minute that door closes behind them, they stop being Gosden and Correll and become Amos and Andy. Sometimes they write a script in an hour, sometimes it takes four, but during that time they never for a moment step out of character. They usually take off their shirts, collars, and ties, and often when they get through they're wringing wet. They live everything that goes into those scripts."
Anyone who's ever seen a "method actor" preparing for a role thru improvisational exercises will instantly recognize what was going on behind that closed door. "A good actor becomes the character through-and-through," Gosden once declared. "A good character portrayal is when the character consumes the actor entirely." This is a common theory today -- and may even seem a little trite -- but it was breakthru thinking in 1929, when old-fashioned "representational acting" still dominated the American theatre. The fact that Correll and Gosden practiced an internalized "presentational" style of acting that few people in that era had ever seen or heard helps to explain just why A&A made the impact that it did.
C&G practiced this technique for the duration of their 1928-43 run: when the studio door closed, Gosden and Correll effectively ceased to exist for ten minutes, and there were only Amos and Andy and their friends. Each character had a detailed backstory, and a specific set of psychological and emotional motivations influencing their behavior at any given moment -- and these personal histories and motivations in turn drove the action in the continuing storylines. Because the actors knew and fully understood these motivations -- even when those motivations weren't being specifically discussed in the lines they were reading -- the characters came to life. They weren't just two guys sitting at a table reading lines and doing voices.
One of my favorite surviving examples of this is found in the 6/10/29 episode of A&A, a recording from the late chainless-chain period held by the Library of Congress. Amos is heard preparing for a date with Ruby Taylor, who is finally back from school for the summer - while Andy sits on the bed and picks at him in one of the best representations of passive aggression I've ever heard depicted in a radio program. Regular listeners knew that ever since Andy's failed romance with Lulu Parker, he'd been jealous that Amos could sustain a meaningful relationship with a woman and he couldn't, and Correll does an excellent job of projecting this subtext thruout the episode -- he plays the scene in a low, grumbling voice, pestering Amos for getting the towels all wet or for wasting gasoline in the taxicab, or for wearing too much grease on his hair, even as it's very apparent that he isn't really talking about gasoline or towels or hair grease at all. There is no comedy in this episode at all -- it's a pure character sketch, beautifully written and extremely well-acted.
Another good example, which survives only in script form, is the September 1934 death of Amos's mentor/father-figure Roland Weber in a car accident -- an incident with strong parallels to the deaths of Gosden's own mother and sister. Given what is known of Gosden's philosophy of acting and writing, it's reasonable to conclude that this whole scene is drawn from, and was played as, a sense memory of what he had felt at the time of the actual accident. This is the most basic principle of "method acting" -- to find the character's emotions in your own.
Given that A&A lost this sense of realism when it switched to a half-hour live-audience sitcom format and the performers started working to the crowd instead of to each other, maybe the solution for modern radio drama is to go back to Correll and Gosden's original technique -- and try working in a locked studio with no audience and the windows draped over.
What factors causes Amos and Andy to change their program in 1943?
It was a combination of factors.
The first was the fact that listening patterns had changed substantially since the program was at its peak in the early thirties. Overall radio listening at the 7pm hour had been declining steadily since the mid-thirties, and reached an all-time low during 1942-43. This was considered a consequence of wartime changes to many family schedules -- people just weren't home in the early evening to follow a continuing serial program.
The second major factor was economic. In January 1943, the shortage of tin due to the war forced the Campbell Soup Company -- then A&A's sponsor -- to cut its domestic production by fifty per cent. This meant a corresponding cut in the company's advertising budget, and as a result Correll and Gosden were informed that month that Campbell's simply couldn't afford to continue the nightly broadcasts, which were then concluding the third year of a $1,000,000 contract. As a result, "Amos 'n' Andy" as it was originally conceived -- a nightly strip -- came to an end on 2/19/43. In that episode, Andy announced that he was finally out of debt -- and that he would follow Amos's example and take a full-time job in a defense plant, bringing the series to a natural conclusion. The central theme of the whole series had always been the conflict between Amos's work-to-get-ahead outlook on life and Andy's "something for nothing" attitude -- and having Andy finally acknowledge that Amos was right all along was a satisfying way to end the series.
The third major factor was personal. Correll and Gosden had both gone thru some significant changes in their personal lives since 1940. Correll's wife Alyce had given birth to two children by 1943, fulfilling Charlie's lifelong dream of having a real family of his own, and he wanted to spend more time with them. Meanwhile, Freeman and Leta Gosden's 13-year marriage had ended in divorce in 1940, with Leta's major complaint being that her husband's single-minded devotion to the radio program made any sort of normal social life for the couple impossible. Then in 1942, Leta Gosden died -- leaving Freeman with two teenage children to raise on his own. (He would remarry in 1944.) With all these changes, the performers were forced to reevaluate their personal priorities -- and decide whether the grueling workload of writing and performing a five-a-week program on their own was really worth it anymore. After fifteen years of this routine (or seventeen, if you count "Sam and Henry,")-- with only one vacation, an eight-week break in 1934 -- they finally just felt like they'd had enough.
The fourth major factor had to do with changing styles in radio programming. "Amos 'n' Andy" in its original form was never a laugh-out-loud funny program, nor did it intend to be. Gosden described its formula as "a laugh here, a little pathos there, and some good advice everywhere" -- a formula which combined elements that were amusing, touching, and instructive. But this combination was very much out of style by 1943 -- the trend was to loud and brash. To survive, A&A had to become an entirely different program. So it was that when A&A returned to the air in October 1943, it had become a half-hour weekly sitcom instead of a nightly serial.
And the fifth major factor was dilution of vision. For fifteen years, Correll and Gosden alone had decided what would go into A&A -- but with the sitcom, outside writers, producers, and agency people suddenly had more of a say. This progressively changed the content of the program -- the agency wanted Laughs, Laughs, Laughs, and as a result new supporting characters had to be introduced to supply them -- and old established characters dropped because they weren't exaggerated enough for a sitcom setting. The result was an uncomfortable blending of elements from the old show, distorted to fit the new format: Andy, Kingfish, Sapphire -- with new joke-driven sitcom elements: Gabby, Shorty, etc. And the whole Amos-and-Ruby storyline, which had been the heart of the original series, was first marginalized and then dropped -- because Amos wasn't, and had never been, a comedy character. Finally, the addition of the live audience meant a degree of separation from the listener that had not been there in the serial: listening to the serial, you were right there in the taxicab office with the characters, like old friends -- but with the sitcom, you were sitting in an audience watching performers on a stage. The intimacy that had made the original series so special had been shattered forever.
As a result of these factors, the disciplines that had given the original series its unique flavor were abandoned -- and it's unfortunate that without a substantial run of recordings of that original series, it's difficult for modern OTR enthusiasts to really grasp what it was that made the original program so memorable. Because in its day, and in its prime, it was the best-crafted program on the air.
"What about Amos 'n Andy, who for years have been the acknowledged twin kings of the air? Radio Guide made a survey in Chicago during the evening hours. It showed that only twenty-four percent of those listeners who were called now regularly listen to Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll. Twenty-nine percent used to listen regularly but now tune them in only on occasion. And the remaining forty-seven percent won't listen to Amos 'n Andy any more. This last group is divided into two classes, about equally divided. Half never listened to them, and half say their broadcasts have been so uninteresting during the past year that they just won't tune in.
The last sentence of that is the key. 1931 had been an extraordinary year for A&A in terms of storyline: the year started off with the Madam Queen breach-of-promise suit, which ran for thirteen weeks. Then, in April and May, Ruby Taylor came down with pneumonia and nearly died. And, after a deliberately-easygoing summer, the fall saw another intensely-dramatic sequence -- the Jack Dixon Affair, which ran for thirteen weeks, and included Amos being beaten senseless by the villain of the piece, and then charged with first-degree murder when said villain was found shot to death on the banks of the Harlem River. (Of course, things worked out all right when the murder trial was revealed, two days before Christmas, to have been nothing but a very bad dream.) In terms of whipping their audience to a high pitch of excitement, Correll and Gosden set a pace for themselves during 1931 that no other writer/performers would ever equal -- and, indeed, they couldn't keep up that pace themselves.
1932, by contrast, tended to wander story-wise. The big storyline for the first quarter of the year was Andy's career as a professional wrestler, which had its amusing moments, but never approached the intensity of the events of 1931. Then there was a brief sequence in the spring in which Amos, Andy, the Kingfish, and Madam Queen opened a weight-loss spa -- and that storyline simply fizzled out when Correll and Gosden couldn't figure out where to go with it. This gave way to the story of Lula-May, a baby found abandoned in the back of the Fresh Air Taxicab, and Amos's search for her real mother -- a sequence which had potential, but never seemed to fully achieve it. And then in June, Amos, Andy and Brother Crawford made a big mistake business-wise by closing down their successful lunch room and going in partnership with the Kingfish and Pop Johnson to open the Okey Hotel.
This was the most radical change in the series since the characters moved from Chicago to New York -- and suggests that Correll and Gosden were hoping a new setting would inspire new ideas. The hotel idea started off interesting, but the taxicab company and lunch room had become so well-established in the series that it didn't quite seem like "Amos 'n' Andy" without them. And once they had established the hotel, Correll and Gosden seemed unsure about where to go from there - the program began to feel a bit too much like "The Nebbs," a popular comic strip of the era that had a similar hotel setting.
What all of these 1932 sequences were missing was a strong hook: a powerful adversarial character or a sense of real danger for the lead characters. Simply put, there wasn't enough dramatic conflict thru most of 1932 to create the sort of attention-grabbing suspense that had been the hallmark of the program during 1931. Correll and Gosden themselves eventually realized what was wrong -- and around the time that this Radio Guide article appeared, they began to get the program back on track: much of November and December of 1932 was taken up by the "Clifton Mills Affair," in which Mr. Taylor began to think that Amos would never be able to provide for his daughter -- and asked him to step aside in favor of his new business partner, an up-and-coming young achiever. Amos learned that Mills was actually cheating Taylor -- but was afraid that if he revealed what he knew, Taylor would think he was acting out of spite and wouldn't believe him. No sooner had this sequence finally been resolved than the obnoxious Frederick Montgomery Gwindell was put in charge of the Okey Hotel -- sparking a seven-month-long storyline that would eventually drive the hotel out of business and land Andy in court again.
These two sequences sparked a healthy recovery in A&A's audience -- the program picked up more than two million listeners over the previous year, rising to an average of just over 26,000,000 a night -- and in fact, because of the increase in the number of radio homes during the previous two years, there were actually more people listening to A&A in 1933 than during the craze year of 1931, when the average nightly audience ran to about 25,600,000. The paradox is that the 1933 rating was actually 16 points lower than the rating for 1931 -- even though more people were actually listening. This phenomenon is explained in my article "Amos 'n' Andy By The Numbers," at http://www.midcoast.com/~lizmcl/aar.html -- which points out why one should be very careful about drawing conclusions from ratings statistics without understanding how they relate to actual audience figures.
I think this was last discussed when neither of us had the answer, but are there any other local sponsors of the syndicated Amos 'n' Andy identified? The logs of WMAQ show the program to have been unsponsored there, until the Red Letter Day (literally) when the program started on NBC under Pepsodent sponsorship. Sponsor identifications were typed in red on the WMAQ logs!
I've documented two others besides Crown Drug in Kansas City. The Shell Company of California sponsored the program on KFRC in San Francisco, for Shell 400 "Dry" Gasoline, and the Surebest Baking Company sponsored the series on KRLD, Dallas for Surebest Bread.
Both of these sponsors gave away premiums to promote the series. During the spring of 1929, Shell gave away shell-shaped "Fresh Air Taxi" logo stickers promoting both the gasoline and KFRC, and Surebest gave away a postcard of Correll and Gosden in street clothes (the head-and-shoulders picture of C&G appearing at the top of each page on my A&A website is taken from this postcard.) Interestingly, the Surebest postcard shows the performers as themselves -- but their real names appear nowhere on it, with the caption reading simply "This is Amos -- This is Andy."
I'm sure that there were other sponsors, and that's one of the things I'm looking to document as I continue to research the chainless-chain. One thing I've never run across, however, is a complete list of all stations that carried A&A between 3/19/28 and 8/18/29 -- and identifying these stations is proving to be something of a challenge. Most accounts agree that the chainless chain started with 38 subscribers, and in interviews late in life Charlie Correll recalled that by the end of the syndication period they had about 75 subscribers, and that the chain was "growing steadily" when they were approached by NBC. By contrast, when they joined NBC Blue, their first lineup only included fifteen stations -- but one of those was WJZ, which gave the team their first regular exposure in New York.
So far, however, I've been able to positively document only fifteen chainless-chain stations, with another six "probable" affiliates:
A number of these stations were either owned by newspapers or had affiliations with newspapers. The syndication program was administered by the Chicago Daily News Syndicate, and I suspect they approached newspaper-oriented stations first simply because they knew the newspapers were already familiar with the concept of syndication in print form. Newspaper stations were also likely subscribers because the syndication program also included Charley Mueller's "Amos 'n' Andy" comic strip as a direct tie-in with the continuity of the radio series.
Those of you who do microfilm research in your local newspapers could be most helpful by checking to see if A&A was on the air in your town during the chainless-chain period of 1928-29. Any information on additional stations not listed above would be most welcome, along with any mentions of local sponsorship.
Date: Thu, 21 Mar 2002 10:59:24 -0500
From: Elizabeth McLeod firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: Re: East vs. West Changes
Anyway, from what I have read, I understand that often, if a show was done for the entire nation, they would go on the air and do the East Coast version then later do the West Coast version. Just out of morbid curiosity, I was wondering, when after rehearsal, if it was common to do the east coast version on the air and then have to revise the script or dialog quickly before the west coast version because something in the show just didn't work.
In my study of the early "Amos 'n' Andy" scripts, I can find very few instances of changes between the early and late programs -- sometimes there's incidents of individual lines being cut for timing purposes, and there are occasionally entire sections of dialogue that have been replaced -- but it's impossible to know for sure if this happened prior to the first broadcast or between the first and the second. Correll and Gosden never rehearsed their 15 minute programs, so I'm inclined to think that the occasional interpolated changes reflect adjustments made between the Eastern and Western shows, and they're usually quite minor -- a word or two changed to make a line clearer.
There are a couple of exceptions, though -- the first "Friday Night Minstrel Show" special, broadcast on 12/4/36, is drastically changed between the first and second shows, with an entirely different guest star featured. This may have had to do with a scheduling conflict or sponsor cheapness -- but it wasn't a typical event by any means.
The second exception occurred because of a genuine personal tragedy. On the afternoon of January 5, 1939, Correll and Gosden completed their Eastern broadcast at 4:15pm Pacific time, and then went immediately to Cedars of Lebanon hospital, where Charlie's wife Alyce was preparing to give birth to their first child. They expected to be able to return to NBC in time for the Western show at 8. However, the baby -- a girl -- died shortly after birth, and Correll was so shattered by the loss he had to be sedated. Gosden took him home to Holmby Hills, poured him a stiff drink, sat with him until he fell asleep, and then went back to the studio for the second show. The Western broadcast was by this time just minutes away, and there was no time to rewrite the script. So Gosden went on the air alone -- cold -- and rewrote the entire script as he went, turning the episode into a dialogue between Amos and the Kingfish, with Andy's lines turned into quotations and third-person exposition. Director Joe Parker later called this the most incredible "show-must-go-on" performance he had ever seen -- adding that when Gosden finished, he stood up from the table, shoved the script in his back pocket, and, in tears, left the studio without a word to anyone.
can you identify the sketches from those records in some way? How many such records were there? Were these records recorded on both sides, one sketch per side?
The "Sam and Henry" records were standard 10-inch 78rpm double-faced shellac discs, issued as part of Victor's regular black-label popular series. Four such records were released:
20032: Sam Phonin' His Sweetheart 'Liza (matrix no. BVE-35328) /Sam & Henry At The Dentist's (BVE-35329) Both recorded 4/20/26.
20093: Sam's Speech At The Colored Lodge (BVE-35066)/Sam & Henry At The Fortune Teller's (BVE-35073) Recorded 5/27/26 and 5/28/26.
20375: Sam & Henry Rollin' The Bones (BVE-35067)/Sam & Henry Buying Insurance (BVE-35068) Both recorded 5/27/26.
20788: Sam's Big Night (BVE-39092)/The Morning After (BVE-39093) Both recorded 7/7/27.
In addition to these "Sam and Henry" sides, brief interpolations by Sam and Henry are heard on Victor 19886, the Correll and Gosden song recordings "All I Want To Do" (BVE-34578) and "Let's Talk About My Sweetie" (BVE-34579), both recorded 3/2/26. The release of this record in late March of 1926 marked the first public revelation of the true identities of "Sam and Henry," although many astute listeners had already recognized and identified the voices of Correll and Gosden.
And were they representative of the show?
Yes and no. The voices and acting styles are probably representative of what was being heard on the air -- and, indeed, these voices are noticeably different from the familiar voices of Amos and Andy: "Sam" delivers his lines in a sort of hoarse yell, while "Henry" speaks with almost an under-the-breath mumble. The content of the records are short vignettes which are similar, but not identical, to material actually used on the air. However, like "Amos 'n' Andy," "Sam and Henry" was built around continuing melodramatic storylines, not a disconnected series of comic skits, and the records don't capture that element of the radio program at all.
However, it's possible to get a very general sense of the characters from these records, especially if you compare them with the text of the scripts published in the "Sam and Henry" book. It's interesting to note that despite the common belief that "Amos 'n' Andy" were simply "Sam and Henry" renamed, there are significant differences between the characterizations in the two series. Some of them are obvious -- Sam and Henry were enthusiastic drinkers, but Amos and Andy never touched any form of liquor. Sam and Henry enjoyed gambling, but while Amos and Andy occasionally played cards for matchsticks, and Andy fancied himself a bridge expert, the two were never portrayed as serious gamblers.
But other differences are more subtle -- Sam may sound like Amos, but he is clearly not the same person. Sam was an utter, absolute innocent -- he believed anything Henry told him, and was by far the more gullible of the two, constantly being swindled by con men and hustlers. Amos, by contrast, always had a healthy sense of skepticism whenever Andy started with the big talk, and while he always tried to give people the benefit of the doubt, he had long since come to realize that there were people in the world you couldn't and shouldn't trust. From the very beginning of A&A, Amos was portrayed as an intelligent, thoughtful man who never had the advantage of an education -- whereas Sam was not only uneducated, but not all that bright.
Henry and Andy are also quite different. Both are blowhards -- but Henry actually seems to be genuinely mean to Sam. He's both a jerk and a bully -- and most important, he seems to actually believe his own exaggerations. But Andy, by contrast, is trying to fool himself along with everyone else: Correll and Gosden carefully portrayed him as the victim of a whopping inferiority complex, who used big talk and "putting-on-the-dog" as a way of hiding from his own feelings of insignificance -- if there was a chance he could convince everyone he was "Andrew H. Brown, President," he might possibly be able to convince himself of his own worth. That his bluster clearly convinced no one gave Andy a tragic vulnerability that helped to make him a far more complex, sympathetic character than Henry ever was.
The explanation of this evolution is simple: when they started "Sam and Henry" in 1926, Correll and Gosden had no idea what they were getting into, nor were there any other radio serials they could study to learn the technique: they were literally inventing the form as they went along. All they had ever written were short revue-type comedy sketches, and had never attempted to create a realistic character. So "Sam and Henry" started out rather crudely.
But by 1928, they had learned a lot -- and the break from WGN gave them the chance to start with a clean slate. The first weeks of "Amos 'n' Andy" are much more refined in terms of characterization than the start of "Sam and Henry," and give evidence that Correll and Gosden were applying the lessons they'd learned about how to create believable characters. You can see the seeds of this instinctive skill as far back as the start of "Sam and Henry," but they didn't really master the technique until they left WGN and started over from the beginning.
Amos 'n' Andy -- Which is the correct title: "Amos 'n' Andy" or "The Amos And Andy Show"?
"Amos 'n' Andy" properly refers only to the 3/19/28 thru 2/19/43 nightly serial. The title appearing at the top of page one on each serial script is "AMOS AND ANDY," but the title registered as a trademark with the U. S. Patent Office in 1928 is officially "Amos 'n' Andy," with two apostrophes, and all of the scripts were copyrighted under this title.
"The Amos 'n' Andy Show" is properly used only in referring to the 10/8/43 thru 5/22/55 weekly half-hour sitcom, or to the 1951-53 TV series. Although newspaper schedules sometimes abbreviated the series title to "Amos 'n' Andy," and it was popularly referred to as such, the actual half-hour scripts are all titled "THE AMOS 'n' ANDY SHOW," and were copyrighted under that title.
These were two very different series in terms of both format and content, and Correll and Gosden themselves did not consider the two series as one continuous run: in their own record-keeping system, the serial and the sitcom scripts had entirely separate numbering sequences. OTR writers discussing A&A would do well to bear these facts in mind -- the two titles do not properly refer to the same program.
Bill Paley and his talent raid are profiled in this week's issue of Business Week.
Oh my. Nice to see that even posthumously, the Paley Publicity Mill keeps-a-grinding.
The most flagrant error in the piece, of course, is the "Paley's next programming coup was 'Amos 'n' Andy' in 1929." There's an interesting story here, but it's too bad the author missed it -- what actually happened is that Paley and his people had a chance to get A&A at the beginning of the craze and they were so completely short-sighted that they BLEW it.
A&A were based at WMAQ, which was at that time a CBS affiliate, and had first refusal for network purposes of programs developed there. During 1928, CBS was futzing about with Moran and Mack, the Two Black Crows -- a Columbia Records act which flopped resoundingly on radio because the recording company refused to allow them to do any of their most familiar material on the air. Meanwhile, Correll and Gosden were taking the midwest and west by storm with their chainless chain, and CBS could have had them at any time -- but had no interest. "If Moran and Mack can't succeed in radio," they reasoned, "who are these two hicks?"
Finally, in January of 1929, WMAQ program director Judith Waller traveled to New York to meet with Paley and his staff for the express purpose of pitching "Amos 'n' Andy" as a network feature. They listened to her presentation, and just stared at her. "Do you propose that we air this program six nights a week," Paley finally asked, "for fifteen minutes a night?"
Waller indicated that this was, precisely, what she was suggesting.
She was shown the door. CBS didn't sell fifteen minute periods and didn't believe in strips. The whole idea was preposterous.
That same month, Niles Trammel of NBC was having the same conversation with Albert Lasker and William Benton of Lord and Thomas -- and unlike Paley and his people, he understood. The New York CBS executives had never heard Amos 'n' Andy, and had no real cognizance of the impact of their serial format. Trammel, however, based in Chicago, was right in the middle of it -- and managed to convince NBC's New York executives to approve the idea.
Within a year, "Amos 'n' Andy" had revolutionized network radio, with NBC raking in the profits. CBS, on the other hand, had a thick layer of egg on its face that would take years to fully expunge. And one might theorize that Paley's lifelong quest to surpass NBC had its origin right there, no matter what the publicists try to tell us.
Can any radio historian on the Digest remember where race was mentioned on a sitcom?
Interestingly, race was mentioned fairly often in the earliest years of "Amos 'n' Andy" -- there were frequent mentions of persons or institutions being "colored." For example, in their first episode on NBC, on 8/19/29, Amos and Andy arrived in New York and asked a passing policeman for directions to where the "colored people" lived. Several days later, Amos and Andy stood on the corner of Broadway and 42nd Street and marveled at the racial diversity of the New York population. Such offhand references to race were fairly common during the first six years of the program.
These references disappeared after 1934, when the national office of the NAACP criticized an episode mentioning that Amos and Andy stayed in a "colored tourist camp" during a cross-country road trip. The Association felt that this implied that tourist accommodations in the North were segregated (which, in reality, they often were), and as a result of this complaint, Correll and Gosden became extremely careful about avoiding any sort of racial designations.
"Colored" was the only racial term ever used by Correll and Gosden in an A&A script -- this in an era when far less sensitive terms were commonly used on the air. (The "N-word" wasn't banned by NBC until 1935.)
"The Original Amos 'n' Andy" -- Coming in Spring 2005 from McFarland & Co.
Looking through the March 19, 1938 issue of WLS Radio' "Stand By" there's this note: "Gosden & Correll are real pioneers of radio. They spoke into a microphone for the first time in 1920, on an experimental station in New Orleans."
This is a story that was told by Correll and Gosden themselves as far back as 1928, and as far as I've been able to document they did pass thru New Orleans during their 1920-21 season tour as traveling home-talent-show directors for the Joe Bren Producing Company. There were, however, no licensed broadcasting stations in New Orleans at that time, nor would there be until 1922. However, there were amateurs operating unofficial stations.
Correll himself wrote about this incident in an incomplete, unpublished memoir, describing the station as "the kind that would go on the air if someone telephoned to ask," evidently referring to a small, home-based amateur transmitter that would be used by neighborhood hams to test and calibrate their receivers. This wasn't any sort of a proper radio station, but given Freeman Gosden's interest in amateur radio -- he had served as a radio operator in the Navy during the First World War -- it would make sense for him to strike up an acquaintance with any ham operator he might have encountered during his travels for the Bren Company. Most likely Correll and Gosden encountered such an operator while putting together talent for a show in the New Orleans area, and were given a chance to speak over his transmitter to promote the upcoming stage show.
Correll and Gosden didn't appear over an actual broadcast radio station, however, until they were taken off the road in 1924, and given administrative duties at the Bren Company's home office in Chicago. They appeared anonymously on a program put on over WLS that year by Bren staffers, and then made their first billed appearance over the Calumet Baking Powder Company's station WQJ in Joliet, to promote a Bren show being held in that suburban town. That engagement led directly to their appearances on WEBH, beginning in April of 1925, and it's from that point that their actual radio career commenced.
Yeah, just got my satellite tv schedule for May, and there they are: May 9 at 9:30 pm Eastern time, on the Turner channel. Enjoy Check and Double Check!
Of course, Correll and Gosden themselves would be absolutely horrified at the notion that people were still looking at this film 76 years later -- both of them found it embarrassingly bad, so much so that for as long as he lived, Freeman Gosden refused to let his children see it, condemning it at "the worst movie ever made."
The big problem, of course, is that it was impossible to translate the original "Amos 'n' Andy" radio series to any visual medium given the richness of its original serial format. The program's humor was quiet and subtle and characterization was built slowly over storylines that lasted for weeks or months at a time -- with the emphasis on plot and character, not jokes and gags. "Check and Double Check" utterly abandoned any pretense of capturing the actual mood of the radio program by not only grafting on a silly plot about boring rich white people, but by having Amos and Andy saying and doing things they never would have done had Correll and Gosden themselves had any input at all into the script. The fact that no visual adaptation of the series ever captured the genius of the original serial is testimony to the fact that radio is radio, and should not be forced to be something it isn't. As Charles Correll put it, "All we could do was disillusion everyone -- everyone had their own idea what Amos and Andy looked like." Which is as it should be.
This subject is considered in greater detail in my book from McFarland & Co., The Original Amos 'n' Andy -- Freeman Gosden, Charles Correll, and the 1928-43 Radio Serial, available via http://www.midcoast.com/~lizmcl/aa.html
Amos & Andy - Amos had a Taxi cab. Andy seldom had a job But dated women King Fish was boss of the lodge that was broke, married and his wife didn't work. They never ate meals.
Amos and Andy were partners in the taxicab business until 1937, when Amos bought out Andy's half. Andy then went on to establish a number of businesses on his own and in partnership with the Kingfish, the most successful of which was a wholesale-retail furniture store, operating under the name of "Andrew H. Brown Enterprises." Aside from the taxicab company, Amos and Andy were partners in various other ventures, most notably the Big 3 Lunch Room (with Brother Crawford as the third of the "Big 3,") the Okey Hotel, the Fresh Air Garage, and the upstate housing development of Weber City.
The Kingfish supported himself thru a percentage of dues paid to the lodge by the members, and also worked as an "outside man" for various local businesses -- he'd steer people to his clients in exchange for a commission. During the mid-thirties, he also had a job as a gossip columnist for a Harlem newspaper, writing under the pen name of Leroy LeRoy.
After A&A became a half-hour weekly sitcom in 1943, no longer written by Correll and Gosden, no effort was made to keep a consistent or realistic continuity, so listeners were left to fill in the blanks from their own memory of what the program had originally been.
Where there any plans to put Amos and Andy on the television, had it actually materialized in the early 1930s? Or did the artist just select them for the image because they were one of the top radio shows of the time? Does Elizabeth know anything about the provenance of this image?
It's cover art from an issue of Radio News magazine, and A&A were chosen as the screen image simply because they were easily recognizable figures as the epitome of broadcasting at the time. There's no further significance to the image.
Correll and Gosden would not make their first appearance on television until February 27th, 1939, in an experimental remote telecast from the grounds of the New York Worlds Fair. Contrary to what every other historian has written about this telecast, I have photographic proof that the performers did not do this telecast in blackface. They had long since stopped using blackface in their stage appearances by 1939, and did this telecast, as all their other personal appearances of the time, in ordinary street clothes. A photo taken during the telecast appears on page 146 of my book, The Original Amos 'n' Andy.
As others have pointed out, "sitcom" as such is a term that wasn't coined till well into the TV era, but references to "Comedy of Situation" can be found a good ways back into the thirties. Such phrases were used in the press to describe humorous plotlines in "Amos 'n' Andy" as early as 1930. Freeman Gosden himself preferred and used the term "character comedy" in describing the style of humor used on the program, but the meaning is similar -- the comedy proceeded from recognizable characters placed in amusing situations rather than vaudeville-style gag lines or random slapstick. "If your characters are likable and familiar," Gosden said, "audiences will respond to that. You don't need a gag in every line to be funny."
Although Correll and Gosden were the first performers to present character comedy on radio, "Amos 'n' Andy" wasn't a sitcom in the sense that we understand it today—as emphasized in my own book on the subject, it was a primarily dramatic serial with humorous undertones. The earliest example of a half-hour character comedy presenting its situations in a complete-in-one-episode format that I've found is "Mr. And Mrs.," a CBS program of 1929-31 based on the comic strip by Clare Briggs, and featuring Jack Smart and Jane Houston as Joe and Vi Green, a middle-class husband and wife who spent all their time fighting and picking at each other, and who seemed to remain married out of sheer inertia. It was an obvious prototype of the bickering-spouse format that would be driven into the ground in the decades to come, but as far as broadcasting is concerned, "Mr. and Mrs." did it before anyone else.
Did the program, in its several incarnations, ever have the characters refer directly or obliquely to their race. Was there ever an instance(s) where they spoke about their economic condition that could be associated with their inferior status, then, as Americans? Was any of this even ever inferred?
There are detailed discussions of these points in my book, "The Original Amos 'n' Andy," published by McFarland in 2005. Although the common myth is that race was never referred to in the program, the fact is that Amos and Andy occasionally referred to themselves as "colored people," as in when they arrived in New York the first thing they did was ask a policeman where the colored people lived. There were occasional veiled mentions of segregation as far back as "Sam and Henry," in which the title characters ride north from Birmingham in "that front car" -- Jim Crow coaches were always located closest to the locomotive. And there's a rather notable instance in a 1930 episode where Amos talks about how he was given extremely poor service by a clerk in a hat store - a clerk who felt he "had no business being there." This was a situation all too familiar to any African-American of the time.
There was also an instance in 1934 in which Northern segregation was explicitly acknowledged -- Amos and Andy, on a cross country road trip, spent a night in a "Colored Tourist Camp." The NAACP immediately wrote in to criticise this, claiming rather unconvincingly that segregation didn't exist in the North, and that the episode gave a poor impression. Correll and Gosden immediately struck any mention of "colored accommodations" from any future scripts.
The Depression era episodes often referred to poverty in Harlem. There is a sequence from the bitter winter of 1931 in which Amos and Andy, while running a lunchroom, talk about boxing up their leftovers to give to the many homeless, hungry people they see on the streets each day. This was a real-life occurrence in many poor urban neighborhoods in 1931, regardless of race.
Amos and Andy regularly voted once they arrived in the north, and Amos could always be counted on to deliver a strongly-worded speech at least once of year stressing the importance of participation in the election process. How these words from a black character were received by Southern listeners has never been documented.
White characters very rarely appeared in the serial A&A -- the non-dialect characters heard from time to time were presented as educated, middle-class African-Americans, not whites, and this is another point often misinterpreted by modern listeners. When white characters did appear, they were invariably presented with either a Jewish or an Irish accent, denoting the white ethnic groups most likely to be encountered by Harlem residents in the 1930s. This use of dialect also had the unique effect of presenting these whites as "Others" and outsiders in Amos and Andy's" world, ensuring that listener identification remained on Amos and Andy and their friends. Correll and Gosden were unique in radio for their careful and deliberate manipulation of dialect characterization for such purposes.
One of the few surviving episodes from the 1930's network run features a guest appearance by Walter Huston playing himself. I think this is from 1936. I don't think he's identified as "white actor Walter Huston", but the audience would have known he was white.
There were a handful of celebrity appearances on the program during 1936, but these were very much the exception rather than the rule. The conceit was that the Kingfish, who had a job on the side as a gossip columnist for a Harlem newspaper, was invited to go to Hollywood to tour the film studios and interview stars. Amos, Andy, and Lightning went along for the ride, and the sequence dominated the storyline during the late summer of 1936. All of the celebs who appeared during the sequence were personal friends of Correll and Gosden, among them Walt Disney, Cary Grant, and Randolph Scott.
There were a couple of other appearances by white celebrities of note in the later years of the serial. In 1939, New York World's Fair president Grover Whalen appeared to give Amos and Andy a tour of the fairgrounds, and in 1941, Fred Allen -- a devoted A&A fan -- appeared in reciprocation of an A&A guest appearance on his own program.
White characters on the program, on the other hand, were extremely rare. The only one to ever have a significant continuing role was Honest Joe the Pawnbroker, who began appearing occasionally from 1939 onward. He was played by Correll in a voice quite similar to that of Jake Goldberg.