Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Amos & Andy
The characters were represented as African Americans, or more accurately blackface minstrel show caricatures of African Americans. Gosden and Correll were white actors who came up through the minstrel tradition. Godsden and Correll were highly skilled voice actors. In the early days of the program they played all the male character roles. Between the two, they voiced over 170 distinct characterizations in the show's first decade.
Today Amos & Andy is mostly remembered for its stereotypes of African Americans. However, most of the humor of the show came from silly situations, bad puns, and commentary on current events rather than racial mockery. In the early period of the show, there were dramatic overtones as well. While the depiction of African Americans in the show is racially offensive by today's standards, the characterizations were more sympathetic and rounded than that of most other shows of the 1920s, which continued to use the old minstrel show stereotypes of the 19th century and did not enjoy the success of Amos & Andy. It should also be noted that the program was the first (and, for many years, the only) on-the-air depiction of African-American small businessmen and the community in which they lived.
The most prominent immediate predecessor to Amos & Andy was the blackface act, the Two Black Crows, who did two-man comedy routines without dramatic elements in vaudeville, film shorts , and comedy records .
The title characters, Amos Jones and Andrew H. "Andy" Brown, were depicted as being undereducated blacks from rural Georgia coming North to find work in the big city of Chicago (a format similar to Gosden and Correll's earlier show Sam & Henry). Amos was na´ve but honest, hard-working, and (after his marriage to Ruby Taylor in 1933) a dedicated family man. Andy was more blustering, with overinflated self-confidence. After a lack of success finding work, they started the Fresh Air Taxi Company, although Andy, a dreamer, tended to let Amos do most of the work. Other regular characters included their lodge leader George "The Kingfish" Stevens, who was always trying to lure the title characters into get-rich-quick schemes, and "Lightning", a slow-moving Stepin Fetchit-type character.
Amos & Andy was one of the earliest success stories of radio syndication, and many stations besides WMAQ carried the program using prerecorded records. In August 1929 Gosden & Correll moved the show to NBC which offered them higher pay (the first NBC broadcast was on August 19). At the same time the storyline of Amos & Andy had the title characters move from Chicago to Harlem, New York City, where they were soon joined by the rest of the regular characters.
The program was very popular. Sponsors over the years included Pepsodent toothpaste, Campbell's Soup, Rinso detergent, and the Rexall drugstore chain. President Calvin Coolidge was said to be among the devoted listeners. Huey P. Long took his nickname of "Kingfish" from one of the characters on the show. By 1931 an estimated 40 million Americans were regular listeners. Many movie theaters began the practice of stopping the films for the 15 minutes of the Amos 'n Andy show and playing the program over the sound system, then resuming the film.
In 1930, RKO brought Gosden and Correll to Hollywood to do an Amos & Andy motion picture. This was entitled Check and Double Check (a catch phrase from the radio show). The cast included a mix of white and black performers (the latter including Duke Ellington and his orchestra) with Gosden and Correll disconcertingly playing Amos and Andy in blackface. The film pleased neither critics nor Amos & Andy's creators, but turned a tidy profit for RKO. RKO offered Gosden and Correll a contract to do a sequel, which they declined. Years later Gosden was quoted as calling Check and Double Check "just about the worst movie ever".
(Godsden and Correll also posed for publicity pictures in blackface.)
In 1943, after 4,091 episodes, the radio program went from 15 minutes 5 days a week to a half-hour once a week format. While the five-a-week show often had a quiet, easygoing feeling, the new version was a full-fledged sitcom in the Hollywood sense, with a studio audience (for the first time in the show's history) and orchestra. More outside actors, including many African-American comedy professionals, were brought in to fill out the cast, and many of the half-hour programs were written by Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher, later the writing team behind Leave It To Beaver and The Munsters.
In this new version, Amos became a peripheral character to the more dominant Andy and Kingfish duo, although Amos was still featured in the traditional Christmas show where he explains the Lord's Prayer to his daughter.
A television version of Amos & Andy was produced from 1951 to 1953, with 78 episodes filmed. The television show used African American actors in the main roles, although the actors were instructed to keep their character's voices and speech patterns as close to Gosden and Correll's as possible. While African American advocacy groups had protested the radio show on several occasions, progressive groups such as the NAACP were a primary factor in getting the TV show taken out of production and removed from the air.
Meanwhile, the radio show had managed to escape the latter-day furor relatively unscathed. In 1955 the format of the radio show was changed to include playing recorded music in between skits, and the show renamed The Amos 'n' Andy Music Hall. The final Amos & Andy radio show was broadcast on November 25, 1960. Although by the 1950s the popularity of the show was well below its peak in the 1930s, Gosden and Correll had managed to outlast most of the radio shows that came in their wake.
In 1961, Gosden and Correll essentially made one last effort to bring to program to television, albeit in a "disguised" version. They were the voices in a prime time animated cartoon, Calvin and the Colonel, featuring anthropmorphic animals whose voices, and whose situations, were almost exactly those of Andy and The Kingfish. This effort at reviving the series in a way that was somehow supposed to be less racially offensive ended after one season.
In 1988, the Amos & Andy program was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame .
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