April 21, 2018

THE AMOS 'N' ANDY SHOW


THE AMOS ‘N’ ANDY SHOW
(CBS, June 28, 1951-December 1, 1953, January 4-March 29, 1955)

Hal Roach Studios


            Actors Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll began working in Chicago radio in the 1920s in the hopes of it leading to stage work. After selling some of their works to bandleader Paul Ash, they were able to become full-time broadcasters for Chicago Tribune’s WGN in 1925, and the Victor Talking Machine Company (now RCA Records) offered them a recording contract. WGN wanted the pair to adapt the popular Tribune comic strip The Gumps into a serialized radio show. Since neither was adept at imitating the female voices needed for the series and not wanting to taint their previous work in the event the show failed, they decided to offer an original series about “a couple of colored characters” that would allow them to use a dialect to disguise their identities and utilize their familiarity with minstrel traditions. The resulting show, Sam ‘n’ Henry, began on January 12, 1926 and became a sensation in the Midwest.

Ad for the radio show.

            When WGN refused their proposal to syndicate the series, Gosden and Correll quit the station and went to WMAQ. They offered more money and a syndication deal for a show similar to Sam ‘n’ Henry since WGN owned the rights to the original show. Gosden and Correll went on to create the show Amos ‘n’ Andy, utilizing names they heard two elderly African-Americans greet each other by in an elevator one day. Na├»ve but honest Amos Jones (Gosden) and gullible dreamer Andy Brown (Correll) were Georgia farmers who moved to Chicago in search of a better life. There, George “Kingfish” Stevens (Gosden) would often try to lure the pair into get-rich-quick schemes, or into various kinds of trouble.

Poster for Check and Double Check.

            The show became one of the first radio comedy series and ran as a nightly serial from 1928-43, then as a weekly situation comedy from 1943-55, before becoming a nightly disc-jockey program frim 1950-60. In 1930, RKO Radio Pictures planned to capitalize on the popularity of the show by making a film, Check and Double Check (a catchphrase from the show), starring Gosden and Correll in blackface. The film didn’t go over well with audiences and everyone involved, making it the only time Gosden and Correll performed the roles on camera. They did lend their voices, however, to animated shorts produced by the Van Beuren Studios. Finally, the radio show was adapted into a television sitcom by Hal Roach Studios for CBS.

Kingfish hanging over Andy and Amos.

            Initially, Gosden and Correll planned to voice the characters while having black actors portray them on screen and mouth the lines, but instead they just recorded samples of how the characters spoke as a guide for the actors. Alvin Childress assumed the role of Amos, Spencer Williams as Andy, and Tim Moore as Kingfish. The program debuted on June 28, 1951 and became one of the first shows filmed with a multicamera setup. The NAACP lodged a formal protest against the series and its sponsor, Blatz Brewing Company. The pressure led Blatz to end its sponsorship in 1953 and, despite strong ratings, CBS ended the show as well after 65 episodes. CBS did continue to air it in reruns, including 13 previously unaired episodes beginning in 1955. Mounting pressure from the NAACP and the growing civil rights movement led CBS to remove the show from broadcast altogether in 1966.

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