Jeff Kallman's excellent The Easy Ace: A Journal of Classic Radio
is a wonderful place to spend hours on end, rediscovering the Golden Age of Radio
as it's meant to be discovered and celebrated. Article after article
is filled with a wonderful new vignette about Golden Age Radio History.
---The Digital Deli Online.

[I]n his matchless on-this-day approach to chronicling “yesteryear,”
he easily aces out a less organized mind like mine,
which promptly lapsed into a more idiosyncratic mode of relating the past.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Farewell, Amos: The Way It Was, 10 November

1982: AU REVOIR---Freeman Gosden---who entertained millions, including several American presidents (at least one of whom, reputedly, refused interruption when the show was on the air), as one-half of old-time radio's ubiquitous (and, originally, groundbreaking) serial comedy-drama Amos 'n' Andy (as co-star and, with Charles Correll, co-writer)---dies at age 83 in Los Angeles.

As a result of its extraordinary popularity, Amos 'n' Andy profoundly influenced the development of dramatic radio . Working alone in a small studio, Correll and Gosden created an intimate, understated acting style that differed sharply from the broad manner of stage actors---a technique requiring careful modulation of the voice, especially in the portrayal of multiple characters. The performers pioneered the technique of varying both the distance and the angle of their approach to the microphone to create the illusion of a group of characters. Listeners could easily imagine that that they were actually in the taxicab office, listening in on the conversation of close friends. The result was a uniquely absorbing experience for listeners who in radio's short history had never heard anything quite like Amos 'n' Andy.

While minstrel-style wordplay humor was common in the formative years of the program, it was used less often as the series developed, giving way to a more sophisticated approach to characterization. Correll and Gosden were fascinated by human nature, and their approach to both comedy and drama drew from their observations of the traits and motivations that drive the actions of all people: while often overlapping popular stereotypes of African-Americans, there was at the same time a universality to their characters which transcended race.

. . .The early 1930s saw criticism of the dialect and lower-class characterizations in the series by some African-Americans, but Amos 'n' Andy also had black supporters, who saw the series as a humanizing influence on the portrayal of blacks in the popular media. A campaign against the program by the Pittsburgh Courier in mid-1931 represented the most visible black opposition the radio series would receive---and while the paper claimed to have gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures against the series, the campaign was abruptly abandoned after six months of publicity failed to generate a clear consensus. Throughout Amos 'n' Andy's run, African-American opinion remained divided on the interpretation of the complex, often contradictory racial images portrayed in the program . . .

. . . While audio recordings of most of the situation comedy episodes exist, most of the serial survives only as archival scripts, stored at the University of Southern California and the Library of Congress . Modern discussions of Amos 'n' Andy commonly focus more on deconstruction of its racial subtext than on factual examination of the original program---often obscuring the seminal role Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll played in the development of American broadcasting.

---Elizabeth McLeod, from "Amos 'n' Andy In Person."

I don't think blacks as a body resented the program. That certainly wasn't what we intended, nor did we ever feel it when we were on the air.

---Freeman Gosden, in a rare interview in 1972.

Listen for yourself, think for yourself, but while you listen and think keep very much in mind that, often as not, Gosden and Correll also received---at the absolute height of the show's popularity (when it was still the cleverly-written and played fifteen-minute serial comedy-drama)---numerous invitations to perform live for black audiences . . . and no blackface.

Amos 'n' Andy, unlike many blackface acts [of the time], didn't drink, gamble, or cheat on their women---or eat pork chops, fried chicken, and watermelon. Gosden boasted that ministers and mothers praised the show's wholesomeness and "cleanliness." To quench any flickering protests, and for goodwill purposes, Gosden and Correll posed with black groups to promote their affection for and knowledge of urban blacks. A black newspaper, the Philadelphia Tribune, praised them as role models in their ability to re-create black culture; "Some of the imitators" of blacks, it noted, "are better than the original article." The leftist columnist Heywood Broun wrote that the pair went beyond racial or even comic considerations and could be enjoyed simply as "living, breathing persons." Many felt Amos 'n' Andy wasn't just funny but cathartic and universal and mirrored "life itself." One exuberant columnist called their humour "Shakespearean." A San Francisco reporter wrote that Gosden and Correll "never slur or make fun of the coloured race, and portray their characters in a human, appealing manner at all times" . . .

. . . [T]hey inhabited an all-black community, but they weren't isolated from the country's real concerns, which the two comics were plunged into when the Depression struck only two months after Amos 'n' Andy went network. Indeed, Amos 'n' Andy reached its greatest popularity during---and due to---the Depression, when the characters' financial woes reflected the nation's but were funnier; they were worse off than most, but ever determined and optimistic . . .

. . . Is there any radio or TV comedy today that could captivate a nation for more than three decades? Amos 'n' Andy was the show that did just that, more deserving of being cherished for its sly, charming self than for being chastised---in the safely enlightened sanctuary of hindsight---for what it was not.

---Gerald Nachman, in "A Voice of Another Colour," from Raised on Radio. (New York: Pantheon Books, 1998.)


1927: LEDDER GO, BOY!---Just months before Amos 'n' Andy begins life under its best-known and loved name (it was born Sam 'n' Henry a few years earlier), The WSM Barn Dance, from a Nashville radio station (built by the National Life and Accident Insurance Company, and given call letters from its slogan, "We Shield Millions"), hosted by by George D. Hay (The Solemn Judge) and Uncle Jimmy Thompson (fiddler extraordinaire), gets a new name . . . under which it, too, will become an American institution, perhaps even more than an old-time radio staple, especially after WSM ramps up to fifty thousand watts five years later and NBC picks up the broadcast beginning in 1939.

Americans and folk around the world, even, will know several generations in which all they have to do---to touch, taste, feel the depth and breadth of American country and western music, many if not most of whose biggest stars (many if not most of whom grew up as fans of the show themselves, in fact) will have secured their careers when invited to join the show---is say the show's name: Grand Ole Opry.

1942: THE END OF THE BEGINNING---That is precisely what Prime Minister Winston Churchill tells Parliament is the meaning of defeating Rommel's army in Africa, in the speech in which Churchill delivered his famous "blood, tears, toil, and sweat," one of the most famous addresses of World War II. (BBC.)

1944: RETURN TO WASHINGTON---Franklin D. Roosevelt returns to Washington for the first time following his re-election to an unprecedented fourth term in the White House, in this special report. (NBC.)


1942: EXPECTING A BABY---Live from Camp Elliot (USMC): A friend leaves her baby with babysitter Gracie (Allen), which in some places could be construed as child abuse . . . only guess who gets the message garbled enough to let George (Burns) think he's an expectant father ("All this fuss over one little baby---what if I was going to have four or five of them?"),
on tonight's edition of The Burns & Allen Show. (CBS.)

Additional cast: Elvia Allman, Margaret Brayton, Sara Berner, Clarence Nash. Announcer: Bill Goodwin. Music: Jimmy Cash, Six Hits and a Miss, Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra. Writers: George Burns, Paul Henning, possibly Keith Fowler and Harmon J. Alexander.

1942: WILL YOU MAKE A BET WITH DEATH?---So much for no real terror at an amusement park ride, on tonight's edition of Suspense. (CBS.)

Cast: Michael Fitzmaurice, Leslie Woods, Nicholas Joy. Writer: John Dixon Carr.

1944: A PARTY FOR BOB GRAHAM---Humourist/actor Robert Benchley is the intended speaker for a publicity party honouring the dive's feature singer (Bob Graham), who'd like to pry a raise out of Archie (Ed Gardner), on tonight's edition of Duffy's Tavern. (Original: CBS; rebroadcast: AFRS.)

Eddie: Eddie Cantor. Miss Duffy: Gloria Erlanger. Finnegan: Charles Cantor. Music: Reet Veet Reeves and His Orchestra. Writers: Ed Gardner, Abe Burrows, Larry Marks.

1953: THE BIG KID---Assigned to the juvenile crime division, Friday (Jack Webb) and Frank Smith (Ben Alexander) want to stop a teen gang war before it starts---assuming they can learn where it might begin from one the gang who was brought in about a break-in, on tonight's edition of Dragnet. (NBC.)

Additional cast: Burt Holland, June Whitley, Gil Stratton. Announcer: Hal Gibney. Writer: John Robinson.

1953: MESSENGER FOR MURDER---Sent to work as a $100-an-hour messenger, Rocky (Frank Sinatra) discovers the hard way that one minute he thinks he's "really living" but the next he's liable not to be, after he walks inadvertently into an apparent kidnapping case when making his first day's pickup, on tonight's edition of Rocky Fortune. (NBC.)

Additional cast: Marion Richman, Georgia Ellis, Bill Justine, Parley Baer. Writer: George Lefferts.


1889---Claude Rains (actor: Shakespearean Circle; This is War; Dr. Christian; Presenting Claude Rains), London.
1899---George Storer (broadcast executive, Storer Broadcasting), Champaign, Illinois.
1907---Jane Froman (singer/actress: Florsheim Frolic; The Bromo Seltzer Hour; Gulf Musical Playhouse), St. Louis.
1909---Johnny Marks (lyricist: Great Moments in Music), Mount Vernon, New York.
1916---Billy May (staff arranger, NBC; orchestra leader: Music Depreciation; The Stan Freberg Show), Pittsburgh.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home