Controversial Classic (3-19-1928)

The most popular show of radio’s golden age made its debut in Chicago today.  The show was “Amos ‘n’ Andy.”  The title characters were two African-American men who had moved from the South to a big city in the North.

Amos was played by Freeman Gosden, and Andy was played by Charles Correll.  Both men were White.  They did their show in what they considered Southern Black dialect.

3-19--gosden & correll.jpg

Gosden and Correll had been doing a similar program called “Sam ‘n’ Henry” on WGN.  When they moved to WMAQ on this date, they had to change the names of their characters.  Within a year, “Amos ‘n’ Andy” went national.  Within another year, it was the biggest thing on radio.

The original show ran six days a week with continuing story lines, like a soap opera.  Listeners really got involved.  The program was so popular that many theaters would halt their movies at “Amos ‘n’ Andy” time, and pipe the radio broadcast right into the auditorium.

As time passed, many episodes revolved around the head of the local lodge.  Known as the Kingfish, he was usually involved in some shady scheme that would later backfire on him.  Huey Long, the famous Senator, was called the Kingfish by his followers, and considered the nickname a badge of honor.

What did African Americans think of “Amos ‘n’ Andy?”  Some said they liked it, others said they did not.  The Pittsburgh Courier organized a boycott, but abandoned it after awhile.

“Amos ‘n’ Andy” became a TV show in 1951.  During their early days on radio, Gosden and Correll had actually made a movie in blackface.  They knew better than to try that again.  They kept on doing the radio, but put African-American actors on the tube.

3-19-aka.jpgAmos, Kingfish, Andy (Alvin Childress, Tim Moore, Spencer Williams)

The TV program ran two years on CBS, then went into syndication.  Gosden and Correll ended their radio run in 1960.  Pressure from the NAACP convinced the network to pull the TV reruns off the air in 1966.

“Amos ‘n’ Andy” remains controversial.  Critics claim it was demeaning and reinforced stereotypes.  Others say that the TV show was never as offensive as the radio program, and that it did provide a showcase for many African-American actors.

Here’s a thought.  A few years ago, Jackie Gleason’s old TV show “The Honeymooners” was made into a movie, but with a Black cast.  Why not remake “Amos ‘n’ Andy” with a White cast?

Personally, I think Bill Murray would make a dandy Kingfish.

—30—

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