By Elizabeth McLeod
There is a radio program that was possibly the most influential in the history of American broadcasting.
This program was the first original serial to be devised for the broadcast medium.
This program was the first program to be distributed by syndication.
This program captured the attention of more than forty million Americans, six nights a week, at the peak of its success -- nearly one-third of the nation's total population at that time.
And today, more than seventy years after its premiere, few programs make historians more uncomfortable.
Few programs are more worthy of serious analysis -- and yet many --even most --historians find it impossible to discuss this program objectively.
That program was "Amos 'n' Andy."
The modern-day view of this series was summed up as early as 1972 by author William Manchester, who dismissed the program as "a nightly racial slur," and used its Depression-era popularity to illustrate the casual racism which pervaded that time. Since then, a popular view of "Amos 'n' Andy" has grown up in which the very title has become a synonym for the excesses of crude and vicious racial stereotyping, an embarrasment to observers looking back from our "more enlightened" age. And yet this popular image has little to do with the substance of the original program: a sentimental and often melodramatic nightly serial that offered its millions of listeners a deft mixture of humor, suspense, pathos, and philosophy.
One problem modern observers may have in comprehending the appeal of
the series is that so little is understood of the program's original format.
To form an assessment of "Amos 'n' Andy" based on the 426 episodes aired
in a half-hour situation comedy format between 1943 and 1955 or on the
78 episodes of the television series filmed between 1951 and 1953 is to
reach a judgement based on only a small sampling of what the series actually
was -- ignoring the 4,091 episodes of the series which aired in the nightly
fifteen-minute serial format between March 1928 and February 1943. These
serial episodes differ sharply from the later versions of the program in
both format and in overall tone -- and it was this original version of
the program, now almost totally forgotten, which most clearly spells out
the vision of its creators. Clearly, a reevaluation of "Amos 'n'
Andy" is needed -- one which puts aside the emotional baggage the show
has accumulated in recent decades, and which examines what, exactly, it
was that Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll were trying to do.
Freeman Fisher Gosden was born in Richmond, Virginia on May 5, 1899, the youngest of five children born to Walter W. Gosden Sr.and Emma L. Smith. Walter Gosden was a Maryland native who had enlisted in the Confederate Army as a teenager, and before reaching the age of twenty, he had attained the rank of sergeant in Company H of the 43rd Battalion of the Virginia Cavalry -- better known as "Mosby's Rangers", a partisan unit of near-mythic reputation under the command of the legendary Colonel John Singleton Mosby. After the war, Walter Gosden settled in Richmond and in contrast to his adventurous teenage years, he became a bookkeeper -- spending more than a quarter of a century toiling over the ledgers of the Planters National Bank. Though Emma Smith's father had been a doctor, the Gosdens were not wealthy -- living in simple middle-class style in a rented house just a short walk from Richmond's black district. Freeman attended grammar school in Richmond, and later spent a year living with his older brother Walter Jr. in Atlanta, Georgia, where he attended a military academy for boys. Returning to Richmond after that year, he enrolled at John Marshall High School, but due to his family's worsening financial situation, he was forced to drop out at the age of sixteen and obtain a job as a shipping clerk with a local shoe-manufacturing firm. The family was repeatedly touched by tragedy during Freeman's childhood --oldest brother Willie took his own life in 1902 at the age of nineteen, Walter Gosden died in 1911 at the age of sixty-six, and finally, in September of 1918 came the crowning emotional blow -- Freeman's mother and sister were killed in an auto accident.
Young Freeman --known as "Curly" to his friends because of his kinky, sandy-colored hair -- sought refuge from his family's tragedies in local theatres: from an early age he was an enthusiastic patron of Richmond's small-time vaudeville houses, and quickly developed an interest in putting on shows of his own. In this he was aided a close childhood friend, a black youth named Garrett Brown.
Garrett lived for several years with the Gosden family. He was four years older than Freeman, but they shared similar personality traits: both were intelligent, quick-witted, and skilled observers of the people around them. Both were excellent mimics, and enjoyed imitating the various dialects heard around the Richmond streets -- and they took special pleasure in putting on impromptu shows for the entertainment of Freeman's ailing father. Often these performances took the form of minstrel shows -- with Garrett as end man, and Freeman as interlocutor, the boys swapped wisecracking comedy lines and told dialect jokes. Such collaborations continued even after Garrett went to live with his father at the age of fourteen.
Freeman went on to gain a reputation as a budding entertainer, and occasionally appeared in amateur-night shows in Richmond theatres. On at least one occasion he moved from verbal to visual mimicry, and appeared as a Charlie Chaplin impersonator. It was at this time that Gosden met a fellow Richmonder by the name of Lewis "Slim" O'Neil, who became his closest friend during this period, and encouraged his interest in show business. Together, O'Neil and Gosden put together an eccentric dance act and made their professional stage debut on April 27, 1917 -- in a benefit minstrel show in Fredericksburg, Virginia organized by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Despite his youth, Freeman was developing into a well-rounded entertainer, but his progress was interrupted by a bad case of War Fever. On April 6, 1917 -- even as Freeman and "Slim" were rehearsing for their big debut -- the United States entered the First World War. That summer, Gosden and O'Neil enlisted together in the U. S. Navy.
Gosden spent the first World War stateside after his vulnerability to seasickness led his superiors to classify him as Unsuitable For Sea Duty. Insead, Seaman Gosden was sent to a Navy communications school at Harvard University -- where he was trained as a wireless operator, beginning a lifelong interest in the newest communication technology. His trip to Harvard marked his first visit to the North, and as O'Neil had also been assigned to the school, they were able to continue their off-duty entertainments for fellow sailors, with Freeman taking up the ukulele during his tour of duty in Boston. When his training was complete, Gosden was transferred to the Navy base at Virginia Beach, where he waited out the war monitoring radio traffic.
Following his discharge in 1919, Freeman took a job as a traveling salesman for the American Tobacco Company, but found the work uninteresting, giving it up for a sales job with a Petersburg, Virginia automobile dealer. He also continued to pursue his interest in show business -- appearing in benefit shows whereever he could, and sharpening his skills as an all around entertainer. It was his appearance in one such show that brought him to the attention of a Chicago-based theatrical entrepreneur by the name of Joe Bren.
Bren was a former vaudevillian who had found a new and profitable niche for himself -- managing a company that produced benefit shows for fraternal and civic groups all over the East, South, and Midwest. The Bren Company would provide scripts, music, and a qualified director -- while local citizens competed to fill the parts. The shows were usually light-hearted musical revues which often took the form of minstrel shows. Gosden's appearence in a Bren production in Richmond in late 1919 caught the eye of the director, who sent a report back to the home office praising Gosden's facility with Negro dialect -- and Bren responded by offering the young man a job as a traveling director.
It was in September 1920 that Gosden met another Bren representative while putting on the "Jollies of 1920" for the Elks of Durham, North Carolina -- Charlie Correll had been working for the company since 1918, and Gosden was assigned to work under Correll to get the hang of directing. It was a partnership that would last a lifetime.
Charles James Correll was born in Peoria, Illinois on February 2, 1890, the oldest of three children born to Joseph Boland Correll and Julia Anna Fiss. The family was securely working-class -- Charles' father was a brickmason with the Peoria construction firm of Ebaugh & McFarland, and his grandfather was an Irish immigrant who had married a Georgia woman prior to the Civil War and had relocated to Illinois after spending time in a Tennessee refugee camp following the war. Joseph Correll was a friendly, ebullient man, and young Charlie inherited much of his father's personality. "You couldn't feel melancholy under the same roof with Charles. He wouldn't stand for it. " remembered his uncle, Joseph Fiss, in 1930. The boy's bouncy personality made a stage career inevitable -- indeed, young Charlie delivered his first lines at the age of seven, appearing in a second-grade play put on by the Greeley Grammar School. Throughout his school years, up until his graduation from Peoria High School in 1907, Charlie Correll was a regular participant in dramatic productions. Like young Freeman Gosden, Charles Correll also spent much of his boyhood soaking up smalltime vaudeville shows, and as a teenager earned a highly-prized job as an usher in a neighborhood theatre. He also studied piano, taking a few months' worth of lessons, and then learned to play quite well by ear.
After completing high school, Charles spent a year working as a stenographer -- he had learned shorthand as part of his school's "commercial" course -- and then devoted several years to learning his father's trade. But Joseph Correll sensed that his son's heart wasn't in his work. "Charles was interested in plays and dancing," he told Radio Digest in 1930, "and I let him work out the problem for himself."
Indeed, while working in the construction business, Charles maintained
an interest in the stage. He appeared in amateur shows, provided piano
accompaniment for motion pictures, and became a member of a vocal quartet.
Theatrical activities continued to fill his evenings, even after he took
a wartime job as a munitions worker at the Rock Island Arsenal in 1917.
He was performing in a benefit show organized by the Joe Bren Company in
Davenport, Iowa in 1918 when he came to the attention of the Bren representative
-- who recognized both Correll's talent and his friendly way with people,
and offered him a job.
The Joe Bren Company's productions were usually sponsored by fraternal orders -- Masons, Shriners, and Elks were the firm's steadiest clients -- and the shows generally followed the standard minstrel format -- opening with a singing minstrel chorus, followed by comic interplay between the "end men" and the Interlocutor, or master of ceremonies. This first act would be followed by a straightforward series of musical specialties, and the show would conclude with a broadly-played comedy sketch in which the entire company would participate. The Bren companies were usually quite large -- the idea being to involve as many leading local citizens as possible -- and only the end men usually appeared in blackface makeup. From the slight documentation which is available, it appears that even though the Bren productions often featured a recurring blackface character billed as "Jefferson Snowball," the comedy material devised by the Bren writers tended to emphasise broadly-played satire over purely racial themes -- there appear to have been few traces of the exaggerated "chicken-stealing coon" comedy that had enjoyed its greatest popularity in the 1890s and early 1900s. Instead, Bren sketches were often built around aggressive parody of "high culture" such as grand opera or Shakespearean drama -- skits in which the humor flowed as much from the deflation of these often self-important genres as it did from the malapropisms and dialect of the parodists. Correll and Gosden were not primarily performers during their days with Bren -- but they did occasionally step in when needed, often harmonizing on comic songs with Correll at the piano and Gosden on the ukulele or the tiple. Gosden occasionally danced in Bren shows, and also gained a reputation as a skilled comic monologist.
In 1924, both men were recalled to the company's home office in Chicago, where Gosden was assigned by Bren to organize and oversee a circus division and Correll took on administrative duties in the amateur show department. For both men, 1924 marked the end of their active participation in minstrelsy. Instead, they turned their attention to a new form of entertainment -- taking a room together, and working up an act of their own with the idea of breaking into local radio. Their inspirations were vaudevillians like Gus Van and Joe Schenck and recording artists like Billy Jones and Ernie Hare -- acts which emphasised crisp two-part harmonies combined with a slick line of comic patter between selections, and occasionally a number or two in an ethnic dialect. Correll and Gosden developed an act quite similar to those of other harmony duos of the day -- even down to the interpolation of comic dialogues within their songs, in which Gosden experimented with humorous voice characterizations. Although their style was far from unique, they presented their selections with a genuine sense of fun -- and they soon found their way to the microphone.
Correll and Gosden had dabbled in radio as far back as 1921, and had
occasionally participated in broadcasts between 1922 and 1924 as promotions
for local Bren productions. In early 1925, they presented their harmony
act for the first time over the Calumet Baking Powder Company's station
in Chicago, WQJ, an engagement which soon earned them a regular time
slot on the Edgewater Beach Hotel's station WEBH. "We didn't get any money
-- we didn't get nothing," recalled Correll. "There was no money in those
days. We got nothing except a blue plate dinner at 1 o'clock in the morning."
But money wasn't the objective. Instead, the pair hoped their radio work
would lead to the stage -- and indeed, they were able to sell a collection
of some of their best material to popular Chicago bandleader/entertainer
Paul Ash. The resulting "tabloid revue," entitled "Red Hot," gave Correll
and Gosden their first taste of big time success.
At first, they were general utility men at WGN -- they performed their harmony act nightly over both WGN and its shared-time affiliate WLIB -- sometimes making multiple appearances between 7 pm and midnight. Their act was well received, and they began to attract notice in the radio press. In November 1925, they were signed by the Victor Talking Machine Company, and made their first recordings -- two sides featuring numbers they had popularized during their broadcasts, "The Kinky Kids Parade," a song about a playful group of black children, and "Blinky Moon Bay," a generic pop ballad of the day. Both sides were rejected, and were never issued -- even though several other acts went on to record "Kinky Kids Parade" for themselves. Subsequent sessions proved more satisfactory for Victor executives, and between March of 1926 and December 1927, Correll and Gosden recorded a total of twenty-one songs, sixteen of which were released. The records sold moderately well, and the act had a following on radio. But Correll and Gosden weren't at WGN long before they were approached with a proposition that would change their lives forever.
During the 1920s, the newspaper comic strip was in its golden age --
and beginning with Sidney Smith's "The Gumps" in 1919, a craze for continuity
strips swept the nation. "The Gumps" was syndicated by the Tribune -- and
WGN executive Ben McCanna began to think that what worked in print could
work equally well on radio. The idea was revolutionary: radio drama was
still in its infancy, and no one had ever tried what McCanna was suggesting:
a continuing dramatization, to be aired six nights a week. Knowing of Gosden
and Correll's skill with dialogue, McCanna approached them with the idea
of adapting the strip for the air.
The strip was an acid-etched look at bourgeois America. Andy Gump, the chinless patriarch of the Gump family, was a grasping, amoral character -- always involved in petty scheming, and always striving to climb beyond his lower-middle-class station. His speech was bombastic and self-important, and his self-confidence seemed boundless, even when faced with the failure of his latest venture -- and this tendency often made him an easy target for bunco artists. The storylines in "The Gumps" carried on for weeks at a time, with readers hanging on every panel, anxious, say, to learn whether the fabulously wealthy Uncle Bim would be enticed into an ill-advised marriage with the scheming Widow Zander.
Gosden and Correll viewed the proposal with misgivings. The idea seemed risky -- they had made a name for themselves with their harmony act, and didn't like the idea of putting that reputation on the line and associating their voices with a potential flop. They also found themselves intimidated by the material -- the married life angles, especially seemed beyond their ability to portray, since neither man could perform a passable female voice.
The solution lay in Gosden's own background -- the black dialect he had learned as a child in Richmond, and which in turn he had taught to Correll during their years on the road producing home-talent shows for Joe Bren. Use of dialect would disguise the voices of the performers to the point where they would no longer be Correll and Gosden, harmony singers -- they could portray characters totally separated from themselves. If the series failed, Correll and Gosden themselves could walk away unscathed.
Use of black dialect also presented interesting dramatic possibilities. Since the World War, Chicago's black population had increased dramatically, as black men moved North in significant numbers, lured by the promise of industrial jobs. The "Great Migration" had been the topic of much discussion, and a vibrant black community had coalesced on Chicago's South Side. Gosden and Correll were intrigued by the idea of a story set in this community -- the story of two young black men from the rural south seeking their fortunes in the big city, a story that could easily be constructed around very basic human themes, many of those themes similar to those which had made "The Gumps" a success. On the surface it might seem that this idea had taken Gosden and Correll a long way from "The Gumps." But by the time their first series, "Sam and Henry" went on the air in January 1926, they had managed to work a lot of what had made the strip popular into their own creation.
Like "The Gumps," "Sam and Henry" most often revolved its plots around money: how to get it and how to hold onto it. Like Andy Gump, Sam Smith and Henry Johnson often became involved with petty chiselers and confidence men, notably a fellow identified only as "The Most Precious Diamond," the head of a fraternal order called "The Jewels Of The Crown." And most of all, the character of Henry, played by Correll was very similar in personality to Andy Gump himself. Both were conceited windbags who didn't know as much as they thought they did -- who talked big but could seldom live up to their boasting. While this characterization is a stock figure in much popular comedy, it seems very likely that the similarity between Andy Gump and Henry Johnson was not a coincidence. The similarity was well disguised by the setting of the radio program -- but is nevertheless quite obvious to anyone familiar with the comic character.
The Andy Gump/Henry Johnson/Andy Brown similarity is helpful in seeing
that much of "Sam 'n' Henry/Amos 'n' Andy" had nothing to do with
race. Most of the things that happened to Andy Brown could have happened
just as easily to Andy Gump -- or to any other bombastic, self-important
fellow in the comics, in fiction, or in real life. And this is the essential
point: the program wasn't about *what* Sam and Henry, and later Amos
and Andy, were -- but rather, about *who* they were. Gosden and Correll
quickly grew beyond the caricatures of the minstrel stage -- or the
comic page -- to create characters who were living, breathing people.
Radio drama was in its infancy in 1926, and there were few models for Gosden and Correll to study. Their performances for the Bren company had never prepared them for the work they were now doing -- and consequently, "Sam 'n' Henry" was developed on a "sink or swim" basis. Although no recordings exist of any of the actual broadcasts from this period, phonograph records made by the team for the Victor Talking Machine Company in 1926 and 1927 preserve several examples of "Sam 'n' Henry" skits -- and reveal that both men were still learning how to use the microphone. Gosden and Correll deliver the dialogue in a stilted, almost stagey manner, with Gosden shouting out his lines, and Correll, by contrast, mumbling out his responses with a peculiar under-the-breath delivery. The performers were, at first, deeply self-conscious about their performances -- and were not at all confident about the program's potential. Worried that its failure would detract from their marketability as a harmony team, Correll and Gosden insisted on complete anonymity during the first months of "Sam and Henry," and kept their identities secret even from co-workers at the radio station -- going so far as to broadcast their nightly episodes in total isolation from a private room in the Drake Hotel, rather than from the regular WGN studio on the tenth floor of that building.
Crude or not, "Sam 'n' Henry" gradually built a following. Gosden and Correll poured themselves into the show -- writing all the scripts, playing all the characters, and, when their identities were finally revealed, squeezing in a grueling schedule of personal appearances to promote the program. By the end of their first year on the air, they were unqualified hits -- and it didn't take the ever-innovative Gosden long to realize that what worked in Chicago could just as easily work all over the country. The performers had begun making recordings of short "Sam 'n' Henry" sketches for Victor just four months after the series began, and these had sold well. The success of these discs suggested to the performers that live broadcasting over a single station need not be their only option.
Accordingly, the performers suggested to WGN management that the show itself be recorded on phonograph discs -- which could then be leased to other stations. But WGN turned down the idea, fearing that the station would end up competing with itself."Sam 'n' Henry, by contract, was an exclusive WGN feature, and the company was determined to keep it that way. Correll and Gosden chafed at the dismissal of this idea -- which could have brought them considerably more exposure and, in turn, more money from personal appearances. But they were under contract thru the end of 1927, so there was little they could do but wait.
The contract ended in December 1927, and other performers attempted to continue "Sam 'n' Henry." Gosden and Correll left WGN, and began a personal appearance tour of the midwest, doing their song and patter routine. Although they could no longer perform as "Sam and Henry," they were able to weave bits of character dialogue into their stage appearances -- just so long as the names weren't used.
This limbo wouldn't last long. The team quickly negotiated a deal with the rival station WMAQ, owned by the Chicago Daily News -- agreeing to do a similar serial show at a higher salary, and with the right to distribute recordings by syndication. Arrangements were made with Marsh Laboratories of Chicago to make advance recordings of each episode on 12" 78rpm discs -- which would be distributed to subscribing stations for airing in synchronization with the live broadcast from WMAQ. With their business manager Alexander Robb overseeing the administrative details, and the Chicago Daily News Syndicate taking care of the distribution, Correll and Gosden had, in essence, created their own de facto network. They called it a "chainless chain," and realizing the value of the concept, attempted to secure a patent. They were unable to do so, however, and by the early 1930s, their idea had formed the basis for a vast new industry -- that of broadcast syndication.
The new series would premiere in March of 1928 -- and Correll and Gosden spent much of February preparing. From the beginning it was clear that the show would take the same approach that had made "Sam 'n' Henry" so popular -- character-driven drama with a humorous undertone. There were subtle changes, but in the most basic way it was clearly the same program that had been so popular at WGN. And by this time, Gosden and Correll had become well-versed in microphone technique. Their new show would prove to be a better-crafted production than its predecessor, with the past two years having given the pair a thorough understanding of how to bring their characters to life.
The names proved the most difficult aspect of the new series. As originally written, the first two episodes told the story of "Jim" and "Charley " These names didn't quite fit, and episodes three and four changed "Jim and Charley" to "Tom and Harry." But Gosden still wasn't happy -- to his painstaking ear for detail, the names just didn't work, didn't give precisely right impressions of the characters. As the team worked on the script for episode number 5, Gosden began riffling thru the Chicago phone book -- and hit upon a listing for a man named "Amos." Immediately, he knew this was the name he wanted -- it summed up in four simple letters the essence of the character. And then it didn't take long to name Amos's friend -- "Andy" sounded just right for a big, deep-voiced, "round and juicy" sort of character. Grabbing the first four scripts, Gosden scratched out "Jim" and "Charley" and "Tom" and "Harry." "Amos 'n' Andy" were on their way.
The new series started from the beginning. Amos Jones and Andy Brown were hired hands on a farm outside Atlanta, Georgia, working for a man named Hopkins, and the first week's worth of episodes found them looking ahead to their plans for a new life in Chicago. Amos was portrayed as a naive young man, plagued by self-doubts, and worried about being able to find work in the North -- while Andy was older, more worldly, and absolutely convinced that he had the answers to everything. Even when a friend warned the pair about the difficulties of finding good jobs, the cold weather, the high price of food and lodging, and all the other pitfalls that awaited, Andy remained determined to push forward. Finally, with twenty-four dollars in their pockets and four ham and cheese sandwiches to see them thru the trip, Amos and Andy said goodbye to their friends and their old life -- and boarded a train for Chicago.
Amos---De only trouble is wid dis heah thing Andy, I didn't like what dat fellow tol' us jus' 'fore we got on de train.
Andy---You ain't goin' pay 'tention to ev'ything yo' heah, is yo'? I tell yo' I know whut I'm doin'.
Amos---I ain't resputin' yo' word. De only thing I'se thinkin' 'bout is gittin sumpin' to eat when we git up dere, 'cause after buyin' dese heah san'wiches, I ain't got but eight dollars.
Andy---Dat ain't nuthin' to be 'fraid of. I ain't got but thirteen dollahs myself.
Amos---S'pose we git in Chicago dere an' we can't find work right away---dis heah money ain't goin' last us long, is it?
Andy---Listen heah son, when we gits in Chicago, de minute we step off de train, dey is liable to come right up to us an' grab us.
Amos---Grab us fo' whut? Put us in jail or sumpin'?
Andy---No, no---grab us an' ast us if we want a job.
Amos---You heard whut John told us though back dere at de depot, ain't yo'?
Andy---Whut yo' mean----about dem two boys goin' to Chicago?
Amos---Yeh---he say dem boys went up dere an' starved to death.
Andy---De trouble wid dem boys us--both of 'em was like you. Dey didn't have no sense---but wid a man like me along dat knows how to handle big bizness men, we ain't goin' have no trouble.
Amos---I goin' let you do all de talkin' when we git up dere. You git de jobs an' I'll do my share o' de work.
Andy---I done tol' yo' dat I'se goin' git myself a job managin' sumpin'.
Amos---If I kin manage to git a job, I'll be alright.
-- Episode 5, 3/24/28.
Amos and Andy would find rough times in Chicago, until they met a young man named Sylvester -- a soft-spoken but intelligent youth who worked as a garage mechanic, and was directly based, according to Gosden, on his childhood friend Garrett Brown. Sylvester would help Amos and Andy find lodgings in the big city, and would help them get started with their own business, "The Fresh Air Taxicab Company Of America, Incorpulated." Most importantly, Sylvester would introduce Amos and Andy to his employer, a prosperous businessman named William Lewis Taylor -- who had a bright, attractive daughter named Ruby.
Amos---Andy, you have to hand it to me -- dat is certn'y a good lookin' pitcher o' Ruby Taylor, ain't it?
Andy---Don't git me any more regusteder dan I is.
Amos---You ain't mad 'cause I brought de pitcher home, is yo'?
Andy---I is sittin' heah workin' on de books tryin' to figger out ev'ything---keep de figgehs straight---den you comes in an' I find yo' been oveh to Ruby Taylor's house while I is sittin' heah workin'.
Amos---Well, I tell yo'----I just happened to run into Ruby Taylor on de street an' we talked about a minute an' she sau dat she had sumpin' over at her house fo' me so I walked over dere wid her an' she gimme dis pitcher.
Andy---Is you fallin' in love wid her?
Amos---No, I ain't fallin' in love wid her. I likes her though---I thinks she's plenty sweet.
Andy---You was de one dat told me las' week afteh yo' heard about Mamie gittin' married dat you would neveh be de same or you would neveh fo'git it---now yo' come home wid a pitcheh of anotheh gal.
Amos---Well, whut I tol' yo' was de truth---I neveh will git over Mamie gittin' married but it ain't no harm in havin' her pitcher.
Andy---Whut is you goin' do---sit dat around heah now so dat I gotta see dat thing ev'vy mornin', noon, an' night, huh?
Amos---I'se goin' sit it oveh heah---you don't have to look at it 'less yo' wanna. I might tack it up on de wall.
-- Episode 105, 7/23/28.
So began an epic that would continue night after night for the next fifteen years -- first over WMAQ and thirty-eight stations by transcription. While the program was broadcast on a sustaining basis over WMAQ, some of the "chainless chain" affiliates arranged for local sponsorship. In the West, the program was heard over San Francisco station KFRC, under the sponsorship of the Shell Company of California -- and Shell promoted the program thru giveaways at its chain of gasoline stations, helping to make it a major success with California audiences. In 1929, California would mark the crowning point of Gosden and Correll's tour of the Pantages vaudeville circuit, attracting turnaway audiences -- and emphasising that a single well-produced radio program could appeal to listeners all over the country. Fan mail began pouring in for the performers, and the letters capture the sense of personal identification many listeners felt for the characters.
"We cannot soon forget how much Amos and Andy have contributed to our happiness. There is no service higher than that which helps take the drudgery out of difficult lives. We have chuckled over Andy's never-failing magnificence and his colossal ability as a business man. We have been inspired by the high aims and rigid honesty of Amos, and we have all been close to tears at times when real trials and tribulations beset either of our beloved friends."
-- fan letter to "Amos and Andy" from F. M. Hander and Family, 8/19/29
The program's wide appeal was noted by an advertising executive by the name of William Benton, the assistant general manager of the Lord and Thomas agency's Chicago office. In January of 1929, Benton suggested to agency president Albert Lasker that the program might be a good fit for one of the agency's clients. The Pepsodent Company, a Chicago-based manufacturer of toothpaste and antiseptics, was looking to reverse a declining sales trend, and Benton and Lasker suggested to Pepsodent advertising manager Harlow P. Roberts that the firm sponsor "Amos 'n' Andy" on a national network. Finding the company agreeable, Lasker brought the package to Niles Trammell, Chicago manager of the National Broadcasting Company. After weighing the proposal for several months, Trammell finally turned to NBC-Chicago announcer Sen Kaney, a former colleague of Correll and Gosden from the WGN days -- and asked him to get in touch with the duo. Kaney located them in Kansas City, where they were in the midst of a highly successful personal appearance tour. After exchanging pleasantries, Kaney got to the point: "As soon as you get back to Chicago, Niles Trammell wants to talk to you!"
This wasn't the first time the program had been pitched to a network. At that time, WMAQ was an affiliate of the Columbia Broadcasting System, and even as Lord and Thomas and Pepsodent were considering Benton's suggestion, WMAQ program director Judith Waller was traveling to New York to suggest that CBS pick up "Amos 'n' Andy." Columbia executives dismissed her offer, unable to see its potential. It was a decision they would live to regret.
The performers were interested in the network proposition for both financial and practical reasons. Althought the "chainless chain" had been very successful -- by mid-1929 "Amos 'n' Andy" was being heard nationwide, on more stations than carried any NBC program -- quality control was becoming a problem. Correll and Gosden had occasion to listen in on stations carrying the recorded programs -- and were often appalled at what they heard. "When they got them out on the road, you couldn't control them," noted Correll. "You'd send them to a station and they were playing them at 78 [rpm] and 85 and everything else. We heard them a couple of times and they were all garbled up." The necessity of having to work weeks ahead in the scripting of the program in order to make the advance recordings was also beginning to wear on the performers.
After meeting with Trammell in Chicago, Gosden and Correll traveled to New York in mid-July of 1929 to discuss the Pepsodent/NBC proposal with representatives of both the company and the network. The performers approached the appointment with a mixture of determination and amazement at how far they had come in so short a time. "Now there's one for the books," mused Correll more than four decades later. "Sending a couple of punk actors like us down to talk to a big sponsor for a program on the networks."
There were misgivings: NBC president Merlin Ayelsworth had expressed concern about the quarter-hour format of the program -- in the brief history of network broadcasting, time had always been sold in units of either 30 minutes or a full hour. A fifteen-minute nightly program was unprecedented, and Ayelsworth was unsure if setting such a precedent would be in the best interest of the network. Ayelsworth was troubled also by the program's content, wondering whether audiences would accept a program dealing with characters who were not "white, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant." That millions of listeners nationwide had already done so seems to have escaped his notice -- but Pepsodent's commitment to underwrite the show outweighed his objections. More significant concerns were raised by Pepsodent itself. While the company was interested in sponsoring Correll and Gosden, company officials found the simple two-man-dialogue format of the program a bit too humble. Instead, it was suggested, why not present Correll and Gosden as end men in an elaborate minstrel show, complete with orchestra and chorus? Gosden and Correll vigorously opposed this idea -- arguing that it went against everything they'd accomplished in the more than three years they'd been on the air -- they well realized that they owed their success to their innovative serial-drama technique. Gosden and Correll were adamant -- either do the show as they were already doing it, or the deal would be off.
The performers' arguments finally prevailed. On July 27th, it was announced that Gosden and Correll had signed a one-year contract guaranteeing them $50,000 each, and plans were made to bring the show to the coast-to-coast NBC Blue network. The program would come to the chain just as it had been heard over WMAQ and the "chainless chain." Bill Hay, the burble-voiced Scotsman who had announced Correll and Gosden's Chicago programs since their WGN days would announce the network show. The only new addition to the format would be a theme song: after much discussion, WMAQ musical director Joseph Gallicchio selected a plaintive, yearning melody from Joseph C. Briell's score for the film "Birth Of A Nation." Gallicchio's small string orchestra would play this song at the open and close of every episode -- and would make "The Perfect Song" one of America's most familiar melodies.
Correll and Gosden spent several days in mid-July familiarizing themselves with the geography of Harlem, and the final weeks of the syndicated "Amos 'n' Andy" revolved around the lead characters' relocation from Chicago to New York. In the final "chainless chain" episode, broadcast on August 18, 1929, Amos and Andy sat in a rooming house in Pennsylvania, pondering their future.
Andy---We is somewhere between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, ain't we?
Amos---Yeh, we somewhere in dere.
Andy---De mo' I looks at dis map de mo' regusted I gits. Boy, we done been through mountains an' ev'ything else.
Amos---Dem was pretty mountains, wasn't dey?
Andy---Just think Amos---if it hadn't been fo' me, you wouldn't-a seed all dis country. I brought you up heah from Georgia. De only mountains you would eveh see would be Stone Mountain down near Atlanta.
Amos---Yeh, but I done seed some pretty mountains in de last day.
Andy---Dem boys dat lives down in Georgia---dey ain't NEVEH seed nuthin' like dis, is dey?
Amos---No, but dey ain't takin' de chance dat we is takin' neitheh.
Andy---Whut yo' mean, ain't takin' de chance.
Amos---I mean dat dey know where dey goin' sleep an' dey know where dey goin' eat an' dey know dey got a job. Heah we is goin' to New York----we don't know whut we goin' do.
Andy---Dat IS right too. Yo' know, I been thinkin' 'bout dis heah thing. We was crazy to come heah.
Amos---We was gittin' 'long alright in Chicago.
Andy---We had friends dere. Dat Kingfish is de cause of all dis. He done talked us into all dis.
Amos---Yeh, de Kingfish talked us into it alright----but it ain't no use to git cold feet now.
Andy---Oh no---ain't no use to git cold feet. We gotta keep a stiff uppeh lip AN' loweh lip.
Amos---We just gotta do de best we kin when we git dere, dat's all.
--Episode 438, 8/18/29.
On the night of August 19th 1929, Correll and Gosden made their first
network broadcast. In just four years, they had come a long way from those
A COAST TO COAST HOOKUP
The program made the transition from syndication to network without a hitch -- keeping its original audience and gaining a whole new one. In the storyline, Amos and Andy moved to New York in hopes of improving their taxicab business. While Andy dreamed up grandiose plans for cornering the taxicab market in the East, Amos was pleased that this move would bring him closer to Ruby Taylor, who was attending a private boarding school in that city.
The romance of Ruby Taylor and Amos Jones was the linchpin of the series during most of its first decade -- even though seven years went by before Ruby ever spoke a word on the air. This simple love story brought out the best in Gosden and Correll's characters -- Amos, fighting back his natural shyness to stammer out his feelings in one-sided phone conversations, while Andy stood by muttering sarcastic asides -- which by their very tone revealed his own loneliness. Probably no writers in all of radio were more skilled at expressing basic human emotion in their scripts -- as epitomized by Ruby's near-fatal bout with pneumonia in the spring of 1931--
King---Come in Amos.
Andy---Don't git scared now.
Amos---Whut's de matter, Andy?
Andy---Sit down a minute.
Amos---Well, whut's de matter---tell me whut's de matter, please.
Andy---Well, I'll tell yo'--just a minute---pull yo'self together now.
Amos---Well Andy, don't keep me waitin'---whut's de matter? Tell me!
King---Ain't nuthin' de matter.
Amos---Well, whut's wrong?
Andy---Well now, heah's de thing. Mr. Taylor just phoned oveh to de office an' wanted to git ahold o' you, tell yo' to drop oveh to de hospital 'cause Ruby is been astin' fo' you, an' de doctor think it would he'p some if she could see yo'.
Amos---She been astin' fo' me?
King--- Ev'vy time she wake up Amos, she been callin' fo' Amos, so de doctors talked it over and thought it would be a good idea fo' you to go see her.
Amos---Is she worse?
Andy---I don't know if she's worse or not. She might be a little worse but dat'll be alright.
Amos---Well, whut must I do now?
Andy---Come on now, let's go out heah an' git in de elevator an' go on up dere an' we'll wait outside of de do' while you go in an' see her.
Amos---Alright, come on---let's do dat. Where's Mr. Taylor?
King--- Come on, let's git in de elevator. I'll push de button.
Amos---De gal is worse Andy. You ain't keepin' it from me, is yo'?
Andy---Well, she IS a little worse but it's nuthin' you kin do 'bout it Amos.
Amos---Go ahead, git in Kingfish.
Andy---Go ahead Amos, git in.
King---Whut floor is it, Amos?
Amos---She on de 3rd floor. Stop at de 3rd floor, please sah.
Andy---Don't fo'git son dat I is stickin' wid yo', an' we is all fo' yo' an' we'se fo' Ruby too.
King---Ev'vybody pullin' fo' yo' Amos.
Elevator man---(very soft) Third floor.
Amos---Thank yo'----her room is right down here a little ways.
King---Now don't git nervous.
Amos---I'll try not to. Here's her room right heah.
King---Well, dey got a sign on dere "No Visitors."
Andy---Yo' betteh not knock on de do' Amos.
Amos---Wait a minute, heah come de doctor up de hall now.
Andy---Yeh--let him know dat you is heah.
Amos---Did yo' say I kin see her?
Doctor(cjc)---Yes, we'll take you in there right now. The only thing I want you to do is to be quiet and don't stay but a minute. The girl is very sick and we want her to see you.
Amos---Alright doctor---take me in dere den, will yo' please?
Andy---We'll wait out heah in de hall.
King---Well, dat's a tough job fo' Amos.
Andy---I cert'ny do hope ev'ything come out all right. De crisis is bad, ain't it?
King---I glad he got down heah 'cause it might help Ruby if she see him.
Andy---Dere's two people dat love each otheh. I ain't neveh seed nobody in love like dey is, an' it's real love too.
King---Ev'ybody dat knows 'em knows dat dey really love each other alright.
Andy---'Course some time Amos gits down in de dumps an' wonder if she love him or not, but in de back of his head he know dat she do.
King---If anything would happen to Ruby, dat would break de boy's heart alright. Yo' know, I like dat kid Andy.
Andy---Ain't but one like him in de world---dat's him.
King---De doctor told him not to stay in dere but a minute, but dat's goin' be a tough minute on him I guess.
Andy---I thing de gal is worse off den dey is sayin'.
King---Wait a minute, heah he come.
Andy---Come on now Amos---don't do dat.
King---We is wid yo' Amos. Stop cryin' now.
Andy---Come on---walk down heah.
King---Did yo' see her?
Amos---She opened her eyes an' looked up at me, an' said "Sweetheart whutever happens I want you to know dat I'll always love you", an' den she closed her eyes an' I couldn't see her breath. (sobs)
--Episode 971, 5/4/31.
The simple sincerity of the writing and Gosden's and Correll's by-this-time-extraordinary skill as radio actors made a profound impression on the audience, as noted by New York Times radio columnist Orrin E. Dunlap Jr.
"...And when Amos 'n' Andy signed off last Monday night many listeners believed that Ruby had passed through the golden gates of the great beyond. It was a sad evening for the invisible audience. Many admitted tears. Children in the streets called that 'Ruby Taylor is dead.' It was a great piece of radio acting that revealed how an emotional appeal can be stirred up in an unseen audience. It showed the vast possibilities in radio drama, and proved that Amos Jones and Andrew Brown are real actors." -- "Listening-In," New York Times, 5/10/31.
Andy, meanwhile, struggled in his romantic life -- his blustering self-confidence leading him thru a string of disappointments. His 1928 entanglement with Lulu Parker, an ambitious divorcee, led to a breach-of-promise suit -- and when Amos and Andy moved east, the stage was set for that scenario to repeat itself with the advent of the formidable Madame Queen. This aggressive beautician and Andy carried on a whirlwind romance thru most of 1930 -- until New Year's Eve, when Andy tried to back out of his ill-advised marriage proposal --
Amos---...Whut in de world did you say to Madam Queen?
Andy---Well---somebody says it's a minute to 12---I stahted thinkin'. 'Fore I knowed it I heerd some bells ringin'---ev'ybody was hollerin' "Goodbye 1930, Hello 1931---Happy New Year," so I whispered in Madam Queen's ear, I say "Sweetheart, come oveh heah in de corneh, I wanna tell yo' sumpin'."
Amos---Of all de tricks you done ever pulled, dat was de worst one.
Andy---Den I say to her---I fo'git zactly whut I DID say, I was kind-a nervous, but I remembeh sayin' sumpin' like "Honey I don't see how we goin' git married tomorrow." She say "Whut yo' mean?" I say "Honey we goin' have to put off de weddin' 'cause mama told me neveh to git married on a odd year like 1931," an' I looked at her an' her eyes was gittin' as big as saucehs. She ast me again if I was foolin' an' I said "Honey to tell you de truth, I just can't git married tomorrow." Den I wished her a happy New Yeah.
Amos---I looked over in de corner an' saw yo' talkin'.
Andy---Den she kind-a backed up lookin' at me, an' while she was lookin' at me I heard her call fo' her sisteh. Dat's when I left.
Amos---Well, whut did yo' run away fo'?
Andy---Well, I wasn't goin' git in no argument wid both of 'em, 'cause if both of 'em jump on me, it was goin' be too bad.
Amos---If you could just see yo'self right now sittin' dere wid dat paper hat on yo' head an' dat red ribbon 'round yo' neck----
Andy---I didn't even know I had de hat on. I left my otheh hat oveh dere.
Amos---Well Andy, I don't know whut's goin' happen to yo' son.
Andy---Oh, sumpin's goin' happen---I kin feel dat in de air.
Amos---You know she fainted---I told yo' dat. After she had dat catnip fit she just fainted right away. We put acrobatic spirits of pneumonia under her nose---dat didn't he'p none so we got a doctor.
Andy---Ain't nuthin' else happened oveh dere, is it?
Amos---When she come to she was callin' "Andy--Ducky Wucky---Andy."
Andy---Dat was de wrong time to tell her alright--I ought to told her last week.
Amos---De Kingfish's wife is mad wid yo' too. She said yo' ruined de party.
Andy---Well, ev'ybody didn't have to git mad wid me. Dey could-a stayed dere an' had a good time.
Amos---How was dey goin' have a good time wid Madam Queen screamin' 'round dere an' ev'ything after you told her dat?
Andy---Well Amos, I was wrong. I done spent a lot o' New Year's eves in my life but I ain't neveh had one like dis one.
Amos---You cert'ny did spoil it fo' ev'ybody.
Andy---Wait a minute---who's dat comin' down de hall?
Amos---I don't know--I hear somebody comin'.
Andy---Listen, dat might be Madam Queen. (fades) I goin' git undeh de bed. Tell 'em I ain't heah.
Knock at door.
Amos---Come in. Well, hello brother Crawford.
John---Hello Amos. I could not help but come over to see Andy, but I see he's not here---an' it's just as well.
Amos---Whut's de matter?
John---Well, I wanted to tell the brainless wonder what I thought of him.
Amos---Well, I guess Andy's a little worried right now, so you kin see him tomorrow.
John---I wanna sit down on the side of the bed though Amos, and tell you a few things about that numbskull.
Amos---Is Madam Queen alright now?
John---She's sick in bed an' we've had to call the doctor, and my wife is gone crazy. She acts like she blames me for it, and it wouldn't surprise me if I would have to spend the night here with you. I don't know I'll be able to sleep at home.
Amos---Well, you better go home though once more an' see if ev'ything's alright 'fore you stay here 'cause dey might wanna see yo'.
John---Well, I could phone home and just stay right here. There's a phone out in the hall, isn't it?
Amos---Dere's a phone in the hall, but the landlord don't like yo' to use it after 12 o'clock at night, so you better go on over dere.
John---Well Amos, I wanna say one thing to you before I go about Andy. I've often said to my wife that I didn't think Andy had a lot of sense. Now I KNOW he doesn't have any sense. He is without a doubt, the biggest blockhead I've ever seen, an' he showed it tonight.
Amos---Well, I guess he was a little nervous.
John---He has spoiled everything for everybody else, and the last thing that Madam Queen said before I left the house was that she would get him for this.
Amos---Well, I guess ev'ything'll work out alright.
John---Well, it wouldn't work out alright if Andy's got anything to do with it. He's made my wife very unhappy, and when I see him I intend to tell him a mouth-full.
Amos---Why don't you git on over to de house and see if ev'ything's alright, Den come back.
John---I might as well take my clothes off right now and go to bed.
Amos---You better go over dere an' see once more though.
John---Well, I'll take your advice and do so. I'll be back in 15 minutes, 'cause I wanna see Andy when he comes in anyway.
John---And you tell that blockhead when he comes in that I'm coming back to tell him that he can't treat my sister-in-law that way. I'll be back in a little while Amos. (fading) Happy New Year.
Amos---Same to you. I'll be waitin' heah fo' yo'. (pause) Come on out, he's gone.
Andy---(fading in) Well, dere's a pal fo' yo'. Dat just goes to show yo'.
Amos---An' de funny part of it is dat he's right. A fine start you got on 1931.
--Episode 865, 12/31/30.
The storyline carried on for thirteen weeks - gripping the attention of the nation like no radio production before or after. By this point, Correll and Gosden had become masters of the cliffhanger ending, wringing the last drop of suspense out of every script -- and when they finally snapped the story to its climax by revealing that Madame Queen's previous husband --who had deserted her years earlier -- was still alive and that the couple had never legally divorced, forty million listeners sank back in their chairs with relief.
Collins--(cjc) Your honor, I dislike to interrupt my opponent. I am not taking any objection to his remarks. However one of my witnesses, Amos Jones has just returned to the court room, and I would like to get permission to have him on the stand for just a few minutes.
Judge--(ffg) I will have to refuse you. Amos Jones has had his opportunity on the witness stand. Go ahead Mr. Smith.
Smith--(ffg) Gentlemen of the jury, Mr. Collins spoke of Andrew Brown being forced to write Madam Queen letters. Suppose we would grant that assumption. Suppose she asked him to write her a letter---which she did not, but suppose she DID ask him to write her a letter so that she could have something in black and white. If he loved her he would possibly grant her request and write the letter, but he would not, under any circumstances, let a woman force him into writing 67 love letters. Gentlemen, I assure you that SHE did not request him to write her these letters. Why should a woman ask a man to write her letters? If she wanted evidence she had it in ONE letter, and she did not need 67 letters, and that is apparent because I only read you excerpts from two or three of the 67 letters. BUT THE WOLF WROTE HER 67 LETTERS VOLUNTARILY.
Collins--(cjc) You honor, I would like to ask the court again please for permission to place Amos Jones on the witness stand.
Judge--(ffg) This request has been refused, and is now being refused again. Please be quiet in this court room back there.
Bailiff--(cjc) You folks in the rear sit down.
Judge--(ffg) Go ahead Mr. Smith.
Smith--(ffg) Gentlemen, I have presented to you one of the most complete cases, and one of the most one-sided cases ever recorded in any court in the United States. (aside to Judge) Your honor, would you ask Attorney Collins and Amos Jones to extend me the courtesy of being quiet during my talk to the jury?
Judge--(ffg) Mr. Collins, if you have to talk to your witness, take him out in the other room---we must have it quiet in here.
Collins--(cjc) Your honor, I realize that it is not in order to put a witness on the witness stand after the case is practically closed. You and the jury are here listening to this case to ascertain one thing, the truth---and if you do not permit me to put Amos Jones on the witness stand for a short time to tell a vital fact, you will have been wasting the time of THIS court and will only cause us to take an appeal, therefore wasting the time of another trial.
Judge--(ffg) Your witness has been on the stand, hasn't he?
Collins--(cjc) Yes, your honor, he has---but since that time, he has been working to help you, and those 12 men know the truth, and I beg of you to let him take the stand and tell what he knows.
Judge--(ffg) Put him on the stand and get it over with as quickly as possible.
Bailiff--(cjc) Do you swear that the testimony that you are about to give in this case is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?
Collins--I will not examine you. I will just ask you to tell and prove what you know.
Amos---Well, de other day when Madam Queen fainted, I got respicious, an' I tried to find out why she fainted. I found out dat she fainted 'cause she saw sumpin'. She saw a woman and yesterday a woman fainted right out dere sittin' right about dere. Dis woman fainted 'cause she saw Madam Queen. I followed dis woman in de other room, I followed her home, and I got de whole story. Dis woman wanted to see Madam Queen lose dis case 'cause she hated Madam Queen, an' de reason she hated Madam Queen is because Madam Queen made dis woman's husband divorce her an' den Madam Queen married dis woman's husband---and dis woman is mad wid Madam Queen because she took her husband away from her. I is done found dis man dat married Madam Queen. He is her second husband. Madam Queen is been married three times, an' I got dis man, her second husband, out in de other room wid a policeman, an' he'll tell yo' right now, if you'll git him in heah, dat him an' Madam Queen ain't never been divorced. An' if whut I'm tellin' yo' ain't de truth, why is Madam Queen fainted again? Look at her. She's cold.
Judge--Quiet in this court room please. People, sit down.
Bailiff--(cjc) Everybody back in your seats. Quiet in the court room.
--Episode 924, 3/10/31
MEET THE CAST
And so it went -- Gosden and Correll spun a complex dramatic tapestry around their characters, night after night, year after year. And gradually a rich supporting cast surrounded Amos and Andy. There was of course George "Kingfish" Stevens, the head of the Mystic Knights of the Sea -- who showed up in May of 1928 as the conniving successor to "Sam 'n' Henry's" "Most Precious Diamond. The Kingfish sought refuge from his difficult home life and troubled marriage in the sanctuary of the lodge hall, constantly proclaiming his interest in the welfare of the members of "that great fraternity," even as he kept a close eye on its treasury.
King---How is yo' boys. Glad to see yo'.
Amos---Whut's de matter? Yo' look like yo' kind-a down.
King---Well, I havin' trouble at home, an' havin' trouble at de lodge hall.
Andy---Well, I ain't de only one dat's in a picklement.
Amos---Whut's de trouble, Kingfish?
King---Well, we had another meetin' of de eggs-zeck committee, an' at de meetin', one of de good brothehs stood up, an' ast ME where de $160 was, like I knowed 'bout it.
Amos---Whut'd yo' tell 'em?
King---I told 'em dat I was de Kingfish of de lodge.
Andy---Dey KNOWED dat though, didn't dey?
King---Well, I told 'em, I say "When it comes time dat you gotta ast de Kingfish questions, den it's too bad 'round heah." Heah I is workin' my head off an' dey ast me 'bout money. Dey don't thank yo' fo' nuthin' yo' do though.
Andy---Well, I glad dey done stopped astin' ME 'bout it.
King---Den dey made me mad.
Amos---Whut did dey do?
King---Dey is talkin' 'bout startin' some new rules 'round dere 'bout handlin' de money.
Amos---Whut kind o' rules?
King---Well, dey wanna git a safe, wid a little hole in de top of it, an' when a brother pays his dues, he drops de money in de hole, an' don't nobody know de combination at de safe 'cept a man down at de bank.
Andy---Dat kinda sews it up, don't it?
Amos---Dat's a good idea, ain't it?
King---How yo' goin' make change an' ev'ything?
Andy---Yeh, dat's goin' be bad. But whuteveh dey have down dere, don't fo'git to tell 'em dat I is done REsigned as de chairman of de financh committee.
King---Well, to tell yo' de truth Andy, dey resigned you before you resigned. Dey sat dat when a brother can't come down to de eggs- zeck committee meetin', den yo' gotta resign 'em.
Andy---Well, dey ain't worryin' ME none.
Amos---Whut's de matter at home Kingfish?
King---Oh, de old battle-axe is on de war-path, dat's all.
Amos---Whut's de matter?
King---Well, ever so often she gotta have one of her fightin' spells, an' it's just time fo' one of 'em, an' it ain't nuthin' you kin do 'bout it. Dey usual come 'round de first of de month when de bills come in but now she done wait till de 11th.
Andy---Is you mad wid de brothehs down at de lodge?
King---I is worked fo' dem brothers down dere----done ev'ything I could---I walked up to de chairman of de eggs-zeck committee, give him de distress signal, ast him fo' $5.00 an' he turned me down.
Amos---Why don't yo' git a job an' go to work an' fo'git about de lodge den?
Andy---Yeh, if I was you, I wouldn't work MY head off down dere if dat's de way dey goin' act.
King---Well, dat's de kind o' work dat I like to do, yo' see. I ain't tied down or nuthin'. After all it's de brotherly love dat I got in my heart dat makes me do dat kind o' work.
--Episode 901, 2/11/31
The Kingfish earned his living from the lodge, and from a career as an "outside man" for various Harlem businesses -- bringing in customers in exchange for a percentage -- but his way with words also netted him a second career that would for a time be kept a secret from his friends: the Kingfish was the mysterious Leroy LeRoy, gossip columnist for one of Harlem's leading newspapers. Rogue though he was, the Kingfish also had a gentle side, offering sincere aid to Amos and Andy in times of real trouble
There was Prince Ali Bendo, a phony mystic whose ill-starred career ended in prison, and there was Pat Pending, the fast-talking inventor of the De Luxe Automatic Flycatching Machine. There was Brother John Crawford, Madame Queen's mousy brother-in-law who worked hard, kept his mouth shut, and tried hard to avoid antagonizing his wife, and there was Henry Van Porter, a swaggering, social-climbing real estate and insurance salesman.
Van----...Now right heah is de subdivision.
Amos---Where? Right dere?
Amos---Where is de cornfield?
Andy---An' whut's all dem trees doin' on it?
Van----Well now, when we start a subdivision, we call up our art department, and our artist draws a pitcher. You see, this is what we call the artist's conception of the subdivision. He can see whut is going to happen an' dat's why he makes it so beautiful. Now Andy, dis lot dat you have in mind is lot numbeh 121, an' de one dat I'm talkin' to you 'bout Amos is lot 124.
Andy---Oh--oh, heah come brotheh Crawford.
Amos---Well dis ought to be sumpin'.
Andy---Come in brotheh Crawford.
Van----Well, my good friend Mr. Crawford.
Andy---Sit down, whut's on yo' mind?
John---I just spent 30 minutes on the battlefield with my wife. Mr. Van Porter, you have started something that I dislike very much and my wife is very unhappy.
Van----Why, what is the trouble?
John---Ever since you talked to my wife I haven't had one minute's peace an' now she's just told me dat unless I move to the bungalow with the roses and the fence and the beautiful yard, she is going to leave me and move there herself.
Van----Well, I KNOW dat yo' wife was very much interested in the charming subdivision I showed her pitchers of.
John---You told her something about the nice fresh air and up to that time everybody in my family had been very healthy but now my children are getting very pale and my wife feels a breakdown coming on.
---Episode 965, 4/27/31.
There was the wealthy philanthropist Roland Weber , who years earlier had been saved from death in a mining accident by Amos' father -- who had lost his own life in the rescue -- and who promised to repay that debt by helping Amos, only to meet a tragic death himself -- and there was Weber's widow Annie, a professional dancer once billed as "Senorita Butterfly" who developed an obsession with Amos that led in 1935 to a tense murder mystery. And there was Frederick Montgomery Gwindell, a hard-charging and abrasive young man who arrived on the scene in 1933 as an "efficiency expert," and soon became Andy's personal arch-enemy.
Gwin---Mr. Brown, I is very busy right now an' 'less you got sumpin' to say I wish you would lemme git back to work.
Andy---Well-a----a----Whut I was goin' to say is-a-----well, yo' know-a----by de way-a, Madam Queen is a funny gal, ain't she?
Gwin---I think Madam Queen is alright.
Andy---Well, she do funny things.
Gwin---I'se very fond o' Madam Queen---like her very much.
Andy---Yeh, I like her too---she's alright.
Gwin---I don't like to hear no man talk about no woman behind her back.
Andy---Oh no, I ain't sayin' nuthin' 'bout her. She's alright.
Gwin---Well, you started to say sumpin' 'bout her an' I don't like it.
Andy---Oh no, you know I was just foolin'---you know I is knowed Madam Queen fo' years.
Gwin---Mr. Brown, let me tell you one thing about myself---when I makes a friend, I keeps a friend, an' when I like somebody, ain't nobody goin' say nuthin' 'bout 'em.
Andy---Well, I'se sorry I made yo' mad.
Gwin---Madam Queen is one o' de sweetest gals dat I is met since I been here in New York, an' I ain't goin' stand fo' nobody talkin' 'bout her.
Andy---Well, you know how I jokes around sometimes---ha ha ha.
Gwin---Well, dat' ain't no jokin' matter---Madam Queen is a friend o' mine an' you or nobody else ain't goin' harm one hair on her head. Not only dat, Madam Queen depends on me fo' a lot of ADvice----knowin' dat I is a 'ficiency expert like I is, she is askin' me whut to do wid money an' all dat stuff. An' I likes her. She's my idea of a great woman---an' I REsents whut you done say.
Andy---Well, I cert'ny is sorry 'bout dat.
Gwin---You wanna drop in here an' say hello to me, dat's alright, but don't you say nuthin' 'bout Madam Queen to me.
Andy---Yeh, well, who I was really talkin' 'bout---it wasn't Madam Queen, it was her sister, brotheh Crawford's wife.
Gwin---I like her very much an' don't wanna heah nuthin' 'bout her neitheh.
Andy---Yeh, I guess I got de wrong people.
Gwin---Mr. Brown, if you got anything else on yo' mind, I'd like to know whut 'tis.
Andy---Oh, nuthin' special-a---you say you drop oveh to see Madam Queen now an' den 'bout finanches, huh?
Gwin---I talks to her on de telephone once or twice each day.
Andy---Yeh, dat's a good idea.
Gwin---Well, Mr. Brown, come in again when I ain't so busy.
Andy---Yeh, I'll do dat.
Gwin---Well, goodbye Mr. Brown.
Andy---Whut is it?
Gwin---I say "goodbye."
Andy---Well, Mr. Gwindell, I guess I betteh be goin'.
Gwin---Alright Mr. Brown---goodbye.
Andy---Yeh---yeh---goodbye---so long--(fades) see yo' again sometime. Yeh-goodbye.
Door noise open and shut.
Amos---(in distance fading in) Well, how'd yo' come out?
Andy---Did yo' heah me talkin' in dere?
Amos---No, I didn't hear yo'.
Andy---You mean to say you didn't heah me talkin' in dere?
Amos---No, de door was shut--I couldn't hear a thing.
Andy---Well son, I told him a mouth full---I say to him, I say "Now you look heah, lemme tell you sumpin' right now"---I shook my finger in his face---I say "Don't you neveh lemme ketch you goin' oveh to see Madam Queen again....."
-- Episode 1516, 2/2/33
There was Mr. and Mrs. Charles Francis VanDeTweezer and Mr. and Mrs. George Washington -- the setters of the Social Pace -- and there was Lawyer Collins, a sympathetic and effective counselor when Andy needed legal advice. There was Aunt Lillian, Ruby Taylor's kindly guardian who was eventually revealed as her biological mother, and there was "Pun'kin," a six year old girl left homeless by the death of her parents, who was taken in and fiercely protected by the kind-hearted Andy. There was Genevieve Blue, Andy's wide-eyed secretary, a beauty contest winner from Texas come North in search of fame and fortune -- and there was her no-nonsense, all-business twin sister Dorothy. And there was Pop Johnson, an elderly trustee of the lodge who surprised everyone by eloping with a nineteen-year -old flapper named Flossie White.
There was Mr. Hotchkiss, an executive at the Harlem bank where Amos kept his savings, who was always ready to offer sound financial advice, and there was Honest Joe the pawnbroker -- the only white character in the recurring cast -- to whom the Kingfish all too often had to turn when funds were running low. There was Roscoe Brownlee, a corrupt publicity agent exposed as a criminal by Amos's detective work and there was Miss Elizabeth F. Sanders, a bank auditor and classically-trained violinist who fell hopelessly in love with Amos. There was Sadie Blake, who pined away for years with her unrequited love for Andy, and there was Dr. W. L. Dickinson, Ruby Taylor's employer -- who was eventually appointed the head of a "colored" hospital in Richmond. And there was a sleepy-looking youth from Alabama named Willie Jefferson, whose drawling speech and slow-motion personality would earn him the ironic nickname of "Lightning."
Andy---Well now, lemme staht all oveh wid yo' Lightnin'. De fust thing yo' wanna do when yo' go into de drug sto' is to walk up to de drug sto' an' say "Rescuse me but I is re-prelentin' de Smooth Skin Face Cream Comp'ny. You ain't got no cards, is yo'?
Andy---Naw, naw, cards wid yo' name on 'em.
Light--Nosah, I ain't got none o' dem.
Andy---Well, de fust thing yo' do is say "Rescuse me but I is re-prelentin' de Smooth Skin Face Cream comp'ny"---den say to de man--say-a----"If you don't mind I'd like to use yo' sto' to sell dis stuff in"---no, wait a minute, dat's bad, you is wrong dere.
Light--I told one man dat. He told me to git a store of my own.
Andy---De fust thing you gotta do is show de man dat de cream is good. Put some on his hand an' rub it in.
Light--Dat's de trouble---won't none of 'em lemme put none on dey're hand.
Andy---Well, whut yo' gotta do is show de man dat owns de drug sto' dat de stuff is alright. He ought to let yo' put a little bit of it on de back of his hand.
Light--Dey won't let me do it though.
Andy---I tell yo' whut yo' COULD do. You could put some in de middle of yo' right hand---den when yo' shake hands you could get it on him dere---but dat might make him mad though.
Light--I been puttin' it on de back o' my hand to show 'em how it worked.
Andy---Well DAT's a good idea.
Light--Yeh, it's a good idea alright but it burns my hand---lookit dere, it took de hair right off dere.
Andy---I wondeh whut Madam Queen IS got in dat cream---she claim it's good stuff. It smells sweet.
Light--It smells sweet but it's plenty strong.
Andy---Well anyway, Lightnin', when yo' git in de sto', you is gotta show de people how de stuff works.
Light--Yessah, I knows dat.
Andy---Now, de fust gal dat walks in de sto', you walk up to her an' say, "Rescuse me, but I wanna show yo' sumpin' heah dat will make yo' good lookin'."
Light--Ev'ybody dat I walk up to thinks I'm tryin' to flirt wid 'em.
Andy---You say de stuff eat de paint off de woodwork?
Light--Yessah, I ain't foolin'.
Andy---Well listen Lightnin', befo' you kin sell de thing, you is gotta believe.
Light--I gotta whut?
Andy---You gotta BELIEVE in it.
Light--I believe alright. I believe it would make a better shoe polish dan a face cream.
--Episode 480, 10/6/29.
All the male roles were played by either Gosden or Correll, and most
of them by Gosden -- whose skill in multiple-voice characterizations may
have been unequaled in all of radio. "To think that two people like them
could have so many different voices," marveled announcer Bill Hay. "The
most remarkable thing about that was that they had some characters for
whom the voices were very different....The characters they had were really
incredible. There was ten or twelve of them, and they could do...the lawyer,
they would do him tonight, we'll say, and possibly for the two or three
next nights. And then they would change the entire thing, and you wouldn't
hear that voice for two, three or four months. But the minute it came on,
the tone, the pitch, was exactly the same as when they had done it three
or four months before."
Of course, not all characters in "Amos 'n' Andy" spoke in dialect --but the common latter-day assumption that they did has led some historians to assume that all "dialect" roles were black and all "non-dialect" roles were white. A careful examination of context reveals that this is usually not the case -- rather, dialect is used as an indication of the character's social status, not race. The role of William Taylor, for example, was invariably written in a strictly Standard English style, appropriate for an educated, professional character. Indeed, surviving recordings reveal that Gosden portrayed Taylor with an authoritative, resonant voice -- dignified, but not stuffy, and definably "black" without resorting to dialect to convey the image of the character's race. Other educated characters, like Ruby Taylor and Lawyer Collins, display similar speech patterns.
Even in characters who speak in dialect there is a wide variation, reflecting
both the personality and the background of the speaker. Indulgence in the
distinctively African-American tradition of "sweet talk" or "fancy talk"
by bombastic characters like Andy, the Kingfish, and Henry Van Porter contrasts
with the slow Alabama drawl of Lightning or the mild-mannered, businesslike
diction of Brother Crawford. And Amos's speech patterns act as an audible
index of his social evolution: when he arrived in Chicago in 1928, his
dialect was similar to Andy's, even down to repeating some of his friend's
distinctive speech habits. But there were always subtle differences --
Amos usually sounded the final "r" in words like "dollar" while Andy usually
dropped it --and by 1933, Amos's speech had improved dramatically, even
as the character himself had taken on a new depth and maturity. By 1939,
Amos spoke a softly-accented version of Standard English.
TALES TO TELL
Most of the storylines during the serial era revolved around one of three basic themes: Amos's desire to settle down with Ruby Taylor, Andy's attempts to avoid matrimony, or attempts to make money by engaging in various business enterprises. During the depression years, it was possible to interpret the "money" stories as a cautious parable about what happened to the United States in the twenties: Amos stood for old-fashioned economic values, believing that wealth had to be earned, while the Kingfish represented the Wall Street lure of "easy money." And Andy was caught in the middle -- representing the sort of overconfident investor who allowed his pride and his desire for fast profits to override his common sense. Again and again the lesson was hammered home in these stories -- Andy inevitably reaped what he sowed when his ill-advised ventures collapsed, just as was happening to America itself with the collapse of twenties prosperity. "We always try to introduce something that is common and happens to everybody," Gosden told journalist Mark Quest in 1930. "For example, most of us are gullible, especially about our financial interests."
Perhaps the outstanding example of a "money" storyline took place during the early months of 1930, when the Kingfish, his wife, and Pat Pending joined to form "The Great Home Bank," a home-based financial institution that would earn money for its depositors thru bets on horse races -- a pointed satire on the speculation-driven economy of the late 1920s. "No matter what we say, we try to leave the right impression," Gosden explained, "so the lesson in those episodes was that you'd be better off if you put your money in a good sound bank than in any wild-cat or fly-by-night scheme in order to get rich." When Amos sternly refused to deposit his $125 in savings with the Kingfish's enterprise, listeners applauded.
Amos---I ain't never seed so many people crazy to know whut I goin' do wid MY money.
Andy---Whut yo' mean?
Amos---Well, it look like ev'ybody's worryin' 'bout it. Just 'cause I done saved $125, all my friends is worried 'bout my money.
Andy---Well, how come yo' didn't put yo' money in dere?
Amos---Well, to tell yo' de truth, I had a long talk wid Ruby Taylor----
Andy---Oh yeh, SHE is de one huh? Dere is a woman stickin' her mouf in it again.
Amos---Dat's alright---sometime de women folks kin give yo' a idea dat you ain't never thought of.
Andy---Whut do a woman know 'bout bizness?
Amos---I don't know whut dey know 'bout bizness but dey got some horse sense---dat's more den a lot o' men is got.
Andy---Well, whut bizness is it o' Ruby Taylor's whut you do wid YO' money? She ain't got no bizness tellin' yo' not to put yo' money in de propolition.
Amos---She didn't tell me not to put it in dere.
Andy---Whut yo' mean she didn't tell yo'?
Amos---Well, I talked to her an' told her whut de Kingfish wanted me to do.
Andy---Whut'd she say?
Amos---She told me she didn't know whut to tell me. She said if it was good, it was alright fo' me to go in it, but she say if it was bad an' I was goin' lose my money, dat I ain't got no bizness goin' in it.
Andy---Well, how did she know if it was good or bad?
Amos---Dat's whut I goin' tell yo'. So den she told me de best thing to do was go down an' talk to de man at the bank.
Andy---You ain't been down shootin' off yo' mouf to DAT man, is yo'?
Amos---I ain't been shootin' off my mouth, but I done told him whut I done told him.
Andy---Whut you told him?
Amos---I told him dat some friends of mine was openin' up a bank heah in Harlem an' I told him dat dey was goin' keep de money at home an' gimme 7 pu'cent. An' den he start astin' me questions 'bout de bank, wanted to see de bank statement or sumpin'.
Andy---Well, you don't know nuthin' 'bout de bank's statement.
Amos---I KNOW I don't. So I got on de telephone an' called up de Kingfish's wife. I couldn't git de Kingfish so I talked to his wife an' she 'splained it to me dat he ain't got no statements. She told me dat she was countin' on runnin' de bank different from all de other banks an' by de time she finished talkin' to me, she told me a lot o' things dat didn't sound right.
Andy---Dere's another woman stickin' her mouf in it again.
Amos---So den de man at de bank told me I better keep my money. He talked to me just like my papa used to talk to me.
Andy---Amos, all dat man wanna do is keep yo' money fo' hisself.
Amos---No he don't either, 'cause de man at de bank told me dat if I wanted to take de money an' buy some good bonds, dat was alright. I ast him 'bout de stock market---if I ought to mess wid dat an' he told me dat if I wanted to buy a little bit o' stock an' pay fo' it all---some good stock, he say, so dat de stock market ain't goin' call on me fo' margin, he say DAT was alright.
Andy---Well, you just passin' up sumpin' good, dat's all.
Amos---Well, maybe sumpin' else come by some time----I'll still have my money, yo' see, an' I kin put it in sumpin' else.
Andy---Dat man down at de bank is done ruined ev'ything.
Amos---No he ain't ruined ev'ything. Dat man told me right, an' I goin' down dere an' talk to him too 'fore I do ANYTHING wid my money. When I finished talkin' to him, I told him how much I thanked him fo' it an' ev'ything, an' he 'splained to me dat dat was whut de bank was fo'.
Andy---Whut yo' mean?
Amos---Well, he told me dat de bank is not only dere to save yo' money fo' yo', but dey wanna he'p ev'ybody out dey kin wid doin' de right thing wid dey're money. Hereafter I goin' talk to de bank too 'fore I I let go o' DAT $125.
--Episode 571, 1/20/30
"Much to our surprise after we had finished these episodes, we got letters from bankers all over the country praising our good work in showing the people the value of good, solid banking institutions," noted Gosden. "I guess the effect wasn't lost on the public either, because we got lots of letters from people who said they had sure learned a lesson from the Kingfish's bank and would know enough to consult their own bankers before they made any investment."
The political content of "Amos 'n' Andy" was considerable thruout the 1930s, and deserves closer attention from social historians. Gosden and Correll were skeptical of the "fast money" attitudes that prevailed during the twenties, and Amos was consistently used as the voice for traditional "hard work and common sense" virtues. But they also expressed a powerful streak of compassion for the less fortunate, and during the most difficult years of the Depression, the characters repeatedly urged listeners to be mindful of those who had been hard-hit by the economic crisis -- and to offer practical help wherever possible.
Amos---Winter is comin' on -- an' ev'ybody now is thinkin' 'bout de parties dey is gonna go to dis winter, 'bout gettin' tickets to de football games, or goin' to de movin' pitcher shows. But dis winter is gonna be a tough winter fo' a lot o' people, and when I say tough, I mean cold an' hungry an' dat's as tough as it kin git. An if ev'ybody would say to demselfs right now dat dey was gonna deny demselfs o' one or two little things durin' de winter an' he'p somebody dat needs he'p, dat would make life a lot easier fo' de poor souls dat ain't got whut some of us is got.
-- Episode 1403, 9/19/32.
The Depression affected the characters in very realistic ways -- many episodes dealt with the difficulty of making ends meet, and the lessons of the times were forcefully driven home when Amos learned that Mr. Taylor had been wiped out in the stock market crash. Ruby had to leave school and go to work as a switchboard operator --eventually earning enough to resume her education, with hopes of becoming a nurse -- even as Amos had to work all that much harder as the couple reached toward their goal of marriage. Meanwhile, despite recurring health problems, Mr. Taylor strove to rebuild his business. The message to listeners was clear: even when faced with the hardest of hard times, Americans couldn't allow themselves to give up hope for the future.
Andy---Yo' know, I b'lieve times is gittin' betteh, Amos.
Amos---Cert'ny dey is.
Andy---Yeh, money is gittin' scattered 'round now mo' dan it was.
Amos---Times ain't bad---de brothers all gather 'round de lodge hall an' 'stead o' talkin' 'bout doin' sumpin', dey all talkin' 'bout how bad times is. I met one brother last night though dat said sumpin' I b'lieve is got some sense to it.
Andy---Who was he?
Amos---Dat boy dat runs dis store over here dat sells dem shirts an' corduroy pants an' all dat stuff.
Andy---Whut'd he say?
Amos---He say dat some people is done lost a lot o' money in de stock market an' he say dat de money dat dey lost was a lot o' big money dat even if dey ain't had lost it, dey wouldn't be scatterin' it 'round ev'ywhere, an' he say dat people is scared more den dey is broke.
Andy---Yeh, peoples is scared alright.
Amos---Den he told me dat if ev'ybody would git together an' start spendin' money an' start buyin' things, things would git goin' again.
Andy---De way it look to me, 'cordin' to dis week we just had in de taxicab comp'ny, bizness is gittin' betteh.
-- Episode 674, 5/19/30.
With the advent of the New Deal, the program took on an even more optimistic tone. Gosden and Correll became strong supporters of the first Roosevelt Administration, and often used the program to promote the President's policies -- beginning in March 1933, when the partners wrote to White House press secretary Stephen Early to seek official permission to include pro-Administration messages in their episodes. On the night of FDR's inauguration, Amos encouraged listeners to pray for Roosevelt's success -- and three nights later, the program devoted much of the dialogue to a discussion of the "bank holiday." FDR's first action had been to close all banks to allow the banking system a chance to stabilize, and as a result, privately-issued "scrip" was being used in place of money in some cities. Many citizens were worried about the what this might mean -- and Gosden and Correll devised a script intended to ease those fears, with Amos and the Kingfish explaining the crisis to the worried Lightning --
Light--Tell me dis -- is de script goin' hurt de country?
King---Well, dey used it in 1907, an' since dat time de country is done had 25 or 26 years o' de greatest prosperity in de history o' de world. Even den, when de country was in de worst shape it was ever in, dey was right on de edge of havin' de greatest prosperity dey ever had -- an' dey didn't know it!
Light--Well, tell me dis brother Kingfish, is de script goin' hurt de money dat we have now?
Andy---Yeh, we'll 'splain dat to yo'. Go ahead Kingfish.
King---Listen my boy---you kin git a hand full of quarters an' half a dollars an' nickels an' dimes an' ev'ything else, an' you kin look at de dates on 'em---1890---1899---yo' find a lot o' coins dated 1901 or 1902.
King---Well, dey usin' de same money today, so de script ain't hurt dat money none, is it?
King---Well, it ain't goin' hurt dis money none now. If it WAS goin' hurt dis money, de gov'ment wouldn't put it out.
Andy---De Kingfish is right now.
Light--I beginnin' to feel better already 'bout de thing.
King---Boys, I is older den you is, an' I know just whut's goin' through yo' minds. You is worried 'cause yo' listenin' to de boys on de corner talkin' 'bout somethin' dey don't know nuthin' 'bout. I was down standin' on de corner yesterday listenin' to one boy down dere talkin'---'bout 10 other fellows listenin' to him---he didn't know whut he was talkin' 'bout--he was guessin' wid ev'ything an' 'fore he finished wid dese boys, he had 'em believin' dat black was white an' green was red---an' don't fo'git dis---dem boys dat heard him, dey tells somebody else an' when dey tells it, dey add a little bit on it, an' dat keeps up till it gits around ten times as bad as it was when it wasn't nuthin' to begin wid.
Amos---I know a gent'man dat's wid one o' de banks heah an' I just talked to him a little while ago. He say dat ev'ything is goin' work out fine. He say dat a lot o' de banks started today---dey opened up an' dey is makin' change, an' dey cashin' gov'ment checks, or gov'ment certificates or sumpin'---an' de peoples kin git in de safety deposit boxes now---an' he say ain't no use to be worried 'bout nuthin.
King---Didn't I tell you boys dat?
Light--Yessah, yo' sho' did.
Andy---Whut else did yo' find out?
Amos---Dis man say dat if anybody's got fear in dey're mind, dey is crazy. He say dat dis bank holiday was de best thing dat could be done, an' it's goin' bring back prosperity quicker dan ever. He say it's de greatest move dat's been made in recent years to git ev'ything goin' like it was. He say dat instead o' dis bank holiday bein' sumpin' to fear, he say it's de greatest move o' reconstruction dat's ever been made.
King---Dat man's right, too.
Amos---Here's sumpin' dat he told me. He say dat President Roosevelt talked to de governors an' he say de way dat money put in de banks kin be kept safe is fo' de banks to either keep de money in cash or put it in Federal Reserve banks or buyin' gov'ment bonds wid it, so de President of de United States is fightin' fo' mo' dan just 'mergency bankin' relief---he is workin' out a plan to have a system in de banks dat will not only he'p 'em now but will he'p 'em fo' all time to come, an' dis banker say dat dat's 'zackly whut's goin' happen, an' Mr. Roosevelt means bizness an' he's gittin' action, an' so yo' see, dis bank holiday is really a great thing fo' de country.
-- Episode 1539, 3/7/33.
Gosden and Correll were subsequently invited to visit the Roosevelt White House -- where they received the personal thanks of the President for their help in calming a nation on the verge of panic. Both the President and First Lady remained devoted fans of the program thru the 1930s.
While most of the political content of the show revolved around Depression issues, and was played straight, Gosden and Correll occasionally used their characters as mouthpieces for their own views on world affairs. "Amos 'n' Andy" became one of the earliest American radio programs to directly mock the notion of Fascism, when in December of 1934, Gosden and Correll used the series as the platform for a stinging satire of the very concept of dictatorship. Inspired by news stories about Mussolini and by reading a biography of Napoleon, the Kingfish seized political control of the small town of Weber City, and was soon carried away by his own delusions of magnificence---
King---In olden times, when rulers was rulers, like I is now, it was customer to PREsent de ruler wid sumpin', an' 'course I is a little bashful 'bout bringin' up de thing fo' recussion, but dere is a lot o' things dat I is gotta be presented wid--de jewelry an' stuff like dat kin come later, but dere is one thing dat is gotta have my attention now.
Andy---Whut is dat Kingfish?
King---Bein' de dictator o' Webeh City, I is gotta look right---course, I look alright, but in order fo' my peoples to feel dat dey is a part o' my looks---a---dey is gotta gimme sumpin' to wear. Now, de emblem o' de dictator in Weber City is goin' be a high silk hat wid a piece o' red ribbon 'round it fo' a hat band.
Andy---I know where you kin git a second hand hat.
King---Don't come 'round heah tellin' de dictator 'bout a second hand hat Andy---dis is gotta be a NEW hat from New York.
Amos---Whut you wanna do 'bout de hat?
King---I is gonna give my peoples de pleasure o' chippin' in an' buyin' me de high silk hat, which will be de emblem of me.
Andy---Yo' want ev'ybody to chip in an buy yo' a hat?
King---So dat my peoples will feel dat dey is doin' sumpin' fo' dey're great ruler---now, comes de most reportant thing of de WHOLE thing.
Amos---Whut is dat?
King---De presentation of de silk hat to de dictator.
Andy---Whut do dat mean, Kingfish?
King---Knock dese ashes off dis seegar fo' me, will yo'?
Amos---Go ahead Dictator.
King---De PREsentation, boys, is dis---lemme stand up heah, put one foot up on de chair. I kin think better----I'll rest my elbow on dis knee.
Andy---I see yo' done cut some slits in yo' shoe dictator.
King---Yeh---de dictator's feet is givin' him some trouble.
Amos---Yo' elbow is comin' out o' yo' coat too dere dictator.
Andy---Maybe yo' better switch dat hat fo' a suit o' clothes.
--Episode 1950, 12/5/34
The Kingfish's wife soon became convinced that her husband had become mentally unbalanced, and tried to convince him to see a psychiatrist -- and Amos took note of a "strange glow in his eyes." The climax of this unusual storyline was eerily prophetic: After attempts at reasoning with the "dictator" failed, Amos and Andy were forced to resort to direct action.
King---Will you boys obey de orders of de dictator an' git out please?
Amos---Wait a minute---I wanna tell yo' sumpin' Kingfish.
Amos---You is still de Kingfish to me an' dat's all you'll EVER be.
King---You boys don't wanna go to jail do yo'?
Andy---You goin' make ME mad in a minute.
Amos---Now both yo'all listen to this----I went over an' I called up de man at de bank in New York---de man dat's got charge o' de will dat Mr. Weber left---an' I told him whut was goin' on up heah---I told him dat we wasn't gittin' nowhere---I told him dat you was de dictator---I told him dat you was runnin' de place up heah like you wanted it run an' you was makin' ev'ybody mad---I told him dat you had de swellhead so bad yo' thought yo' was Napoleon---an' ev'ything I told him was de truth----Now ain't no use to git up---git down dere an' listen to dis----now, 'cordin' to de will dat Mr. Weber left, me an' Andy is de trustees of dis 500 acres up here at Weber City, an' you think dat you is de head man up heah, but you ain't---WE is----now heah's a bulletin dat you kin heah----startin' right dis minute we is goin' change it 'round heah an' 'stead o' havin' a Mayor, we goin' have a city manager, an' we is goin' 'head wid de city council too---now, Andy kin go 'head as head of de city council---an' I is goin' be de city manager, an' fo' de time bein' dey ain't goin' be no mayor an' dey ain't goin' be no dictator, an' from now on, you ain't goin' be nuthin'---an' if you don't like it 'round Weber City, git yo'self out o' heah.
King---Now wait a minute, young fellow, let me tell YOU sumpin'.
Andy---GIT YO' HAND OFF O' HIM!
King---Who you talkin' to Andy?
Andy---I'll show yo'---(hits two or three times)
Amos---Wait a minute, don't hit him Andy---don't hit him no more.
Andy---Now lay down dere on de flo'---an' startin' at 12 o'clock tomorrow we goin' keep second hand furniture in dis office, so git out o' heah. Come on Amos, let him lay dere.
--Episode 1954, 12/11/34.
The point was hard to miss. Even in "Amos 'n' Andy's" most broadly-satirical sequence, common sense and the strength of the common man carried the day.
As the series progressed, the characters grew and changed. Andy Brown gradually lost the more overt aspects of his arrogant, know-it-all attitude, as he came to realize thru sad experience that he didn't know it all. But his head could still be turned by appeals to his vanity, and he never stopped dreaming the dreams of hitting-it-big that had brought him North in the first place. Andy might have seemed impractical at best -- and insufferable at worst. But Charles Correll's carefully-textured performance in the role gave Andy an edge of real, human vulnerability that always seemed to bubble beneath his swaggering facade.
Andy---Ain't no bankeh goin' tell me how to run my bizness.
Amos---De man wasn't tryin' to tell yo' how to run yo' bizness. All de man told you was---you was 'spectin' to git back too much money.
Andy---If I keeps $18.00 in de bank dat man is takin' my $18.00 an' playin' 'round wid it an' makin' hundreds o' dollahs on it---why ain't I got a right to tell de man dat I wanna git some o' dat money myself?
Amos---Go ahead, tell him---but de man told yo' dat you couldn't git it.
Andy---If I take dat $18.00 an' play it on de stock market, I'se liable to be a millionaire tomorrow.
Amos---I don't know nuthin' 'bout de stock market. De best thing fo' us to do though is let de $18.00 stay down at de bank.
Andy---Listen Amos---de trouble wid you is---you think de man down at de bank is got mo' sense den I is. I knows things. I'se doin' dis fo' you as much as I is fo' myself. I'se just as big as anybody is.
Amos---Yo' want me to tell yo' sumpin'?
Amos---De trouble wid you is Andy---ev'vy since you was a little boy--ever since I done known yo', you is done done a lot o' talk---even de boys down in Georgia dat you used to play around wid---dey used to listen to you talk an' den laugh at yo' after you was gone. You is de kind o' fellow dat thinks you is sumpin' dat yo' ain't. No matter whut somebody else tell yo', you think dey is wrong. Now dat man at de bank is done been down dere all his life. He knows more about de bankin' bizness in one minute dan you'll EVER know. De thing fo' you to do is to listen to somebody sometime an' you'll git a-long better. Just 'cause you is president o' de Fresh Air Taxicab comp'ny don't think dat you is de president of de United States---an' de sooner you find dat out, de better it's goin' be fo' ev'vybody.
--Episode 73, 6/18/28.
Andy wanted desperately to be a big man -- but deep down he realized he wasn't, and that he didn't really have any idea of how to make his dreams come true. He made claims he couldn't possibly support simply because, perhaps, he just didn't want to deal with his reality. And he disdained the things that he really wanted -- a stable relationship with a good woman, a home and family -- because in his heart he felt he would never have them. The more hollow his bluster, the more empty his boasts, the more listeners could see -- and sympathize -- with the essential sadness at the core of his personality.
And Amos emerged as an even more complex and engaging character. Gradually, elements of his past came to be revealed -- and the hardships that had, according to the storyline, formed the character of Amos in some ways echoed those that had formed the personality of Freeman Gosden himself. Like Gosden, Amos had experienced a shattered family life. Amos' father had died when he was very young, and his mother had been forced to hire out as a domestic, eventually working herself to death and leaving her young son to fend for himself in the world. Without family, without formal schooling, young Amos had worked hard to better himself, eventually serving in the Army during the World War, all the while keeping sight of the simple ideals he had learned from his mother. Though he seemed timid and soft-spoken at first glance, he was strong-willed and willing to stand up for what he believed in. He could only be pushed so far by Andy, by the Kingfish, or by anyone else, before he'd fight back. While he was by nature kind and gentle, he was also perfectly capable of taking a sock at someone who threatened him. Time and again, Amos repudiated stereotypes to stand out as a warm, genuine, appealing human being. Most of all, Amos worked hard, saved his money, and eventually matured into the happy, confident man who married Ruby Taylor on Christmas Night, 1935. When their daughter Arbadella was born in October 1936, millions of listeners shared their joy --
Amos---Hello Andy, dis is me---sorry to keep yo' waitin' dere.
Andy---Oh, dat's alright--I wanted to heah whut de news is.
Amos---Well, ev'ything is fine Andy,
Amos---Yeh--an' Ruby is happy---
Andy---Yeh, well, dat's great----whut de baby look like?
Amos---Well, 'course Andy, I think it's de cutest baby I ever seed in my life---great big brown eyes---an' it look like to me like de baby is tryin' to talk to me.
Amos---I just seed de baby 'bout 20 minutes ago---an' she is de cutest thing.
Andy---Gee I glad---where you now?
Amos---I is in a lunch room 'bout 2 blocks away from where Ruby is--I came over to git sumpin' to eat--den I goin' back over dere. It's de cutest little baby girl you ever seed.
Andy---When kin I see it?
Amos---Oh, I don't know--I guess tomorrow or de next day--I'll let yo' know.
Andy---I wanna be de fust one, cause you know I is de uncle.
Amos---Yeh, I know yo' is.
Andy---Whut yo' goin' name her?
Amos---We ain't recided yet---I don't know. Tell me dis Andy, how is ev'ything goin' at de fillin' station?
Andy---Ev'ything is goin' great---don't worry 'bout it out heah---you just stay wid Ruby an' de baby.
Amos---Well, dat's good. I'se so happy I don't know whut to do.
Andy---Lemme tell yo' sumpin'---you got a minute?
Amos---Yeh, go ahead.
Andy---Listen son---I want you to know dat I don't care whut otheh people tell yo'---whut I tellin' yo' now is right from my heart----
Andy---I is just as happy as you is, an' I want yo' to know how glad I is dat ev'ything is alright---I want yo' to know dat I goin' love dat baby as much as you do.
Amos---Well dat's sweet Andy.
Andy---I know sometimes dat I say things dat you think ain't got no sense or no feelin' or nuthin', but right now, inside o' me, I is so happy fo' you dat I don't know whut to do.
Amos---Well thank yo' Andy.
Andy---An' if you want me to prove, you let somebody try to do sumpin' to dat baby an' I'll show yo' whut I mean.
Amos---Well gee, dat's nice.
Andy---An' one otheh thing---
Andy---When yo' kiss Ruby goodnight tonight, kiss her fo' me, an' give her my love, an' tell her how happy I is.
--Episode 2440, 10/21/36
Amos' tender Christmas Eve explanation of the Lord's Prayer at
Arbadella's bedside, first heard in 1940 and repeated annually, may have
been the program's most famous moment. Even today, listening to Gosden's
heartfelt reading of Amos's plea for everyday human kindness emphasizes
just how different "Amos 'n' Andy" was from traditional "blackface"
Gosden and Correll set themselves apart from the "blackface" tradition early in their radio careers by deliberately avoiding "joke" comedy, and constructing their program on a foundation of solid characterization. This was a complete break from the minstrel tradition, with its interchangeable burnt-cork caricatures. Amos, Andy and their friends were distinctive personalities who experienced a full range of emotions. This in itself was a rarity in American popular fiction, which usually relegated black characters to faceless servant roles or used them to broadly parody the conventions of the white world. "Amos 'n' Andy," by contrast, presented a picture of an entirely self-reliant black community. That the central characters happened to occupy the lower end of the economic scale in no way prevented the series from depicting its upper levels -- doing so with both respect and dignity. Characters like William Taylor and Roland Weber told a white audience accustomed to servile black characters that a black man could succeed, could achieve, could accomplish the American Dream -- and such depictions were extraordinarily rare in the media of the time.
Amos---We ain't got no bizness readin' de man's mail, Andy.
Andy---Ain't nuthin' pu'sonal in de things---I done been oveh 'em once. Now listen.
Amos---You is sumpin'.
Andy---Dis fust one is from a place where dey keep colored orphans---say heah "Dear Mr. Weber----we hardly know how to thank yo' fo' yo' check fo' $1000. It has been very hard to raise money lately, but due to yo' kindness our little colored orphans will not suffeh fo' a long time to come."
Amos---Dat man do a lot o' charity work.
Andy---Den it go on to say heah 'bout---a committee will call on him to thank him, an' all dat stuff. Heah's anotheh one---look heah. Heah's one from El Paso, Texas. "Dear Roland----You kin reach Fred by addressin' him Gen'ral Delivery, El Paso, Texas. Yes, you are right---he is up against it and I know $200 would see him through. Mighty nice of you to think of yo' old friends back heah. Take care of yo'self in New York, ol' fellow---all yo' ol' Texas friends send dey're best regards---signed Joe."
Amos---Dat man got a big heart in him, yo' know it?
Andy---Look heah, heah's a letteh from de George Washingtons.
Amos---I bet brother Crawford would be mad if he knowed dat he dropped dat mail over heah an' you picked it up an' read it.
Andy---Listen at de letteh heah from de George Washingtons. "Dear Mr. Webeh---My husband joins me in tellin' me how sorry we are dat you could not come tea Friday. We will make it Monday instead an' please, please? Mr. Webeh, you really MUST come Monday, we want to know yo' betteh---please do not fail us---Yo' friends, Mr. & Mrs. George Washington."
Amos---Dat's from de George Washingtons, huh?
Andy---Ev'ybody's afteh him, ain't dey?
Amos---Dey sho' is.
Andy---Listen to dis one---heah's a nice one. Say heah, "Dear Mr. Webeh---Enclosed find post office money ordeh fo' $8.00---de hospital bill and ev'ything amounted to only $192, so I am REturnin' de amount left oveh. Thanks to you my husband is back at work again an' we is in de clear. May de Lord bless you"---I can't read dat woman's name dat signed it.
Amos---He do a lot o' stuff, dat boy.
Andy---Now, heah's a letteh dat IS a letteh.
Amos---You know you ain't got no bizness readin' dat man's personal mail Andy.
Andy---If brotheh Crawford kin read 'em, why can't I read 'em?
Amos---Well, brotheh Crawford is workin' fo' de man.
Andy---Well, brotheh Crawford dropped de lettehs heah in de office an' I just picked 'em up. Now listen to dis one.
Andy---Dis heah's from one o' de men dat work fo' Webeh down in de oil fields.---Say heah---"Deah Mr. Webeh----Number 16 came in yestidday---anotheh gusheh---nobody hurt---we have got it tamed an' tapped an' are sinkin' in de casin' today---it looks like anotheh 500 barrels a day---this proved you guessed right again---I am gettin' to work on numbeh 17 an' 18---you will hear from me---befo' you close de deal fo' de ten acres adjoinin', I think we ought to hold off to see how number 17 an' 18 come out, don't you? Regards an' congratulations---signed Walker."
Amos---Listen Andy, give dat mail back to brotheh Crawford an' stop readin' it.
Andy---De man is got a lot o' money Amos, an' I bet he throw it away to de birds.
Amos---No, he don't, I goin' tell yo' whut he done. He had a pair o' rubber heels put on his shoes---de fellow sent his shoes over, charged him a dollar---he sent 'em back an' told de fellow to take 'em off, it was too much money---den de fellow say it was 50 cents, an' Mr. Weber paid de 50 cents---but heah's whut he done---de boy dat works fo' de shoe REpair man was dressed up in kind-a ragged lookin' clothes---you know, de boy dat brought de shoes back an' forth---
Amos---So Mr. Weber took him over an' bought him $15.00 worth o' clothes.
Amos---Dat's whut he done. When he buys a newspaper, if de paper's three cents, 'stead o' throwin' a nickel out an' leavin' de nickel dere, he picks up his two cents---even if he gotta wait dere 5 minutes fo' de man to give him de change---but he'll go right out in de street an' if he see a blind man or somebody, he'll give 'em a dollar or two.
--- Episode 1806, 3/15/34.
While it must be acknowledged that Gosden and Correll tended to paint too-bright a picture when it came to depicting relations between the races -- in the rare instances where black characters interacted with characters obviously intended to be white, race was never an issue -- the show nevertheless went further than any popular media of its time in suggesting to white listeners that a black man was more than a clown or a servant. Even in a character like the slow-moving, slow-talking Lightning -- who was probably inspired by the late-1920s popularity of the black movie comedian Stepin Fetchit, and who was as close as "Amos 'n' Andy" ever came to portraying the classic "stereotype Negro" -- the character was treated not as a two-dimensional butt of jokes, but as an individual.
Amos---Listen, Andy, I don't see how in de world we kin fire Lightnin'.
Andy---Well, Gwindell say he gotta be fired---he done already hired another fellow in his place.
Amos---But you know how Lightnin' is livin' now, don't yo'?
Andy---Whut yo' mean?
Amos---Well, he's hardly makin' enough to live on---he's married, an' on top o' dat, why Lightnin' gives his wife's mama a dollar or two ev'vy week out o' his salary an' she repends on dat.
Andy---I know, it's tough alright. Gwindell say we gotta git him fired an' he's gotta go now.
Amos---I got a idea.
Andy---Whut you goin' do?
Amos---Let's call up Pop Johnson---he owns de hotel---let's ast him if we can't keep Lightnin' heah.
Andy---Yeh, do dat.
Amos---Come on right heah to de switchboard an' let's call up Pop.
Andy---You tell Gwindell though dat you done it 'cause I don't wanna git him mad wid me.
Amos---I'll tell him. I'd almost ruther git off myself dan to fire Lightnin' 'cause ain't nobody rependin' on me 'cept me---Lightnin's got his wife an' his wife's mama too.
-- Episode 1503, 1/16/33.
The performers also set themselves apart from their minstrel predecessors by actively seeking the endorsement of black leaders. Even in their earliest days in Chicago, the team made a point of maintaining a cordial relationship with such organizations as the Chicago Urban League and the DuSable Club, the latter the city's leading organization of black business and professional men. Indeed, the Chicago Urban League had actually endorsed the program in 1928 -- concluding after a straw poll of black community leaders that Correll and Gosden "always presented a creditable side to the characters they portrayed." The performers' efforts on behalf of black charities were noted with approval by the Chicago Defender, a prominent weekly newspaper catering to the African-American community. The team clearly valued the support of such organizations .
One might draw the conclusion from these efforts that Gosden and Correll were doing their good works out of self-interest, conscious as they were of the need for good publicity. But the fact remains that no other "blackface" entertainers of the day ever even tried to do that much: for such personalities to even recognize the existence of the black community was unprecedented. And their concern with how they were viewed by black Americans reveals, perhaps, the glimmerings of a social conscience advanced beyond the norms of the 1920s. "Both Charlie and I have deep respect for black men," Gosden once explained. "We felt our show helped characterize Negroes as interesting and dignified human beings."
Perhaps Charles Correll expressed it best. In an interview shortly before
his death in 1972, Correll stressed the contrast between traditional blackface
and the sort of portrayals they insisted upon in their radio program. "In
'blacking up,'" Correll pointed out, " you become a minstrel. You're
not a normal human being. But these fellows in our radio show were
"There is something charming about Amos 'n' Andy that holds any person's attention. If they were attacking the colored people, their entertainment would have died long ago, but what they are saying is so humorous and free from the taint of prejudice I do not see how any person, white or colored can take it in a personal way....The reason why I believe no modern colored comedian could surpass them is this. The modern Negro is too self-conscious. To give you an example of what I mean, I have a friend who owns a radio. He never misses Amos 'n' Andy when home among his family, but when in the presence of white people he just cannot stand to listen to them. I will listen to Amos 'n' Andy in any place among any crowd. Amos 'n' Andy have this race down pat, I am telling you." -- Name withheld, barbershop patron, Hartford.
"Like everyone else in Harlem, I listen to Amos 'n' Andy every night. Those white boys know how to play Negro parts better than any blackface comedians I have ever heard. For one thing, they do not belittle the Negro and I think their programs have done more to help the white people understand us than all the books ever written." -- Name withheld, rooming house owner, 134th Street, Harlem.
"Amos and Andy are to be congratulated for putting on such a fine program every night....As a graduate of DeWitt Clinton High School, I marvel at their ability to find interesting material....I do not think any of us feel that Amos 'n' Andy are caricatures of our race. Sometimes a fare will ask me if I am driving a Fresh Air Taxi -- it never makes me sore." -- John Jones, taxicab driver, 49 East 128th Street, Harlem.
"My post is in the heart of Harlem, and it gives me a good chance to watch my people and know what they like and dislike. With very few exceptions, everyone I come in contact with is a rooter for Amos 'n' Andy." --- Patrolman 12119, 32nd Precinct, Harlem.
Other responses were critical --
"If you want my personal opinion, here it is -- Amos and Andy are commercializing certain types of Negro characters, as they could not find anything among the whites to amuse the general public." -- Name withheld, barbershop proprietor, Hartford.
"No real Negro wants to burlesque his people the way they are doing in this enlightened age....Let two Negroes do those same things -- that is, speak and act like Amos and Andy -- and they would not be long at it, for not only would their own race would not listen to them, but would wage constant war against them. Another point is this. No race likes to have its women exposed, and that is what Amos and Andy have done. Here is what I mean: Madam Queen has a traveling salesman as her sweetheart. When he is in town, Andy must stay on the outer rim of things; when he is gone she calls up Andy and gives him his date. Of course, this is true to life among all races, but knowing some white peoples' attitudes toward the unfortunate side of Negro life, I should rather deplore this." -- M. A. Johnson, undertaker, 19 Pavillion Street, Hartford.
"Only the most illiterate type of Negro will speak as Amos and Andy do, and that type is fast leaving us."-- Name withheld, attorney, Hartford.
The dissonance among black Americans over "Amos 'n' Andy" reached its public peak in 1931, when publisher Robert Vann of the Pittsburgh Courier took a strong editorial stand against the program -- a stand which particularly criticized the lower-class background of the series.
"The characters portray two types of Negro to be found in the United States. The men portraying the characters are white. The company employing Amos 'n' Andy is white. The people reaping the financial gain from the characterizations are all white. But the people who are getting the black eye out of it all are the Negroes of this country, and of every other country where Negroes are found....There is a positive disapproval of the exploitation of two types of Negro for the sole purpose of making money at the expense of a group of people who need every helpful influence it can get from every source possible." -- Editorial, Pittsburgh Courier, 4/25/31
Far from gathering universal support, however, the campaign was repudiated by several other black papers. As the drive was nearing its height in the summer of 1931, the Chicago Defender pointedly invited Correll and Gosden to host the annual summer picnic of the "Bud Billiken Club" -- a highlight of the season for the black children of Chicago -- sharing the stage with the orchestras of Duke Ellington and Lucky Millender, and to ride in a place of honor as grand marshals of the accompanying parade. Another black paper, the Louisville News,rejected the Courier's call to action by declaring that it was "utterly unable to work up a sweat over 'Amos 'n' Andy'" --
"...For every two Negroes that talk like Amos 'n' Andy there are twenty thousand Colored Americans far removed from them in intelligence, in speech and in character. Our white neighbors know this as well as we know it, and the race is not affected."-- Editorial, Louisville News, reprinted in Kansas City Call, 8/28/31
And from Harlem's Amsterdam News, Vann's campaign drew only an acid rebuke -
"...The Courier campaign will serve one good end. When they complete their tally of signatures, we will know precisely how many halfwits there are in the race." --Theophilus Lewis, Amsterdam News, 7/22/31
After eight months, the Courier abruptly halted the campaign. No verified, independant count of petition signatures was ever made, but the paper claimed at various times to have gathered anywhere from 400,000 to 750,000 names in opposition to "Amos 'n' Andy." Despite Vann's published claims, the national office of the NAACP never endorsed the Courier's drive -- and at least one chapter of the organization, in Wyoming, publicly denounced the effort as a mere publicity stunt for the newspaper.
Correll and Gosden themselves followed the protest closely by means
of newspaper clippings gathered from all over the United States -- and
directly responded to one of Vann's harshest criticisms by abruptly dropping
a storyline that revealed that Madam Queen had committed bigamy. However,
the performers never publicly commented on the campaign, which proved to
be the only organized opposition to the series to arise until the NAACP
condemned the television version of the program in 1951. Ironically, even
then, the NAACP failed to condemn the radio program.
"Radio's past being a short one, the word institution has a relative meaning, but "Amos 'n' Andy" were and are an institution. They held their fifteen-minute spot against all comers, created names and phrases that went into the language, and had as much as anyone to do with creating the technique of the continued story on the air. As most serials do not, they worked in terms of character, in an easy, relaxed style, with good humor, and above all, an enthusiasm incredibly sustained throughout more than 4,000 episodes. Certainly they have earned a rest. Just as certainly, they must return, if only because a public institution has a civic duty."--"No Tears," New York Times, 2/28/43
Correll and Gosden did return to the air that October, but in a radically different format. The steady, human flow of the nightly serial had been replaced by a half-hour weekly situation comedy. The quietly contemplative mood created by two men sitting alone in a tiny studio, creating an entire busy world out of their own minds and voices, was replaced by a brassy, fully Hollywoodized production, complete with a raucous studio audience, a full cast of supporting actors, including at various times such African-American performers as Ernestine Wade, James Baskett, Ruby and Dorothy Dandridge, William Walker, Roy Glenn, "Wonderful" Smith, Jester Hairston, Eddie Green, Amanda and Lillian Randolph, and Johnny Lee, and a team of gag writers hired to translate the simple, honest characterizations of Amos, Andy, the Kingfish, and their friends into full-fledged comedy stars. The new show -- and significantly it was now entitled "The Amos 'n' Andy Show"-- was a rousing success, enduring for the next twelve years as one of the most popular weekly programs on the air.
Originally, the weekly programs stuck relatively close to the flavor
of the original series. With Amos having settled down to married life with
Ruby and his children --daughter Arbadella received a baby brother, Amos
Jr., in 1941--the storylines in the last years of the serial had tended
to focus primarily on Andy's romantic entanglements and on his business
dealings with the Kingfish. The first few years of the half-hour series
continued in this pattern, emphasizing
plots that could be wrapped up with a surprise twist at the end -- under Gosden's editorial supervision, the writers consciously worked for an O.Henryesque story structure. But as the 1940s wore on, there was a shift in the prominence of the lead characters. By 1947, the Kingfish had become the central character of the program, and it was he who drove the plots. The subtle mixture of self-importance, guilelessness and vulnerability which had characterized Andy was gradually replaced by a more generic sort of gullibility -- and in order for the Kingfish's increasingly outlandish schemes to work, Andy had to be made not just gullible but more than a little stupid. And Amos receded even further into the background, his presence largely reduced to that of a brief walk-on, in which he would tip Andy off that once again the Kingfish had played him for a fool. Viewed strictly as situation comedy, the new series could often be extremely funny -- in 1948, respected New York Herald Tribune radio critic John Crosby praised the series as "the best character comedy on the air" -- but it was no longer the gentle, philosophical, often-moving story it had been in its serial days. As popular as it was, as well-remembered as it is, "The Amos 'n' Andy Show" is but a shadow of the series which preceded it.
In 1948, Correll and Gosden sold all rights to the series to the Columbia Broadcasting System, and under the aegis of CBS prepared for the brave new world of television. The television version of "The Amos 'n' Andy Show," its cast headed by legitimate-stage actor Alvin Childress as Amos, "race movie" director/star Spencer Williams Jr. as Andy, and the unforgettable Tim Moore, a veteran of nearly fifty years in black vaudeville, as the Kingfish was dogged by controversy from its premiere, as it took the characters even further down the broadly-comic path that had been followed during the late years of the radio program. Behind the scenes there were continuous and emphatic battles between Gosden, director Charles Barton, and producer James Fonda over the exaggerated slapstick tone of many of the television episodes. Further strife grew out of the network's insistence that the actors duplicate the vocal inflections of the radio versions of their characters as exactly as possible rather than attempt to interpret the characterizations for themselves -- creating friction when Gosden attempted to coach the performers on the set. The NAACP's formal protest of the television series in 1951 only served to amplify the tension, and after unsuccessfully taking his complaints about how the series was handled all the way to CBS president William Paley, Gosden finally washed his hands of the television series. The video version was cancelled by its sponsor in 1953, but CBS made an additional thirteen episodes that fall for first-run syndication, and it continued to air in rerun form for the next thirteen years before it was withdrawn from distribution. Protests and controversy have dogged the television program even after its disappearance from the rerun market, and although bootlegged copies have circulated widely on home video, CBS has so far refused to sanction any sort of official re-release.
The radio version of "The Amos 'n' Andy Show" continued thru the 1950s protests unscathed -- and in fact was the most popular radio program on the air from 1951-1953. But radio itself was by now a dying medium, and when the weekly show finally ended in the spring of 1955, the performers had already moved into their next series -- "The Amos 'n' Andy Music Hall," a nightly feature of recorded music, sandwiched between pre-recorded bits of character dialogue.
On November 25, 1960 CBS aired the final broadcast of "The Amos 'n' Andy Music Hall," having announced that the series would be dropped along with most of the other long-form dramatic and comedy offerings on the network schedule -- casualties of a new era in broadcasting. The farewell was brief and subdued. After one last attempt at a comeback -- providing voices for the 1961-62 ABC-TV animated series "Calvin and the Colonel," which reworked late-era "Amos 'n' Andy Show" plot ideas into funny-animal stores -- Correll and Gosden slipped quietly into retirement.
Charlie Correll remained active and gregarious in his later years, granting frequent interviews, and responding readily to fan mail. He often visited old friends in Chicago -- making a point of staying at the Drake Hotel, where "Sam and Henry" had begun forty years before -- and it was while making one of these visits that he suffered a fatal heart attack. On September 26, 1972, he passed away at the age of eighty-two. In commenting on his partner's death, Gosden acknowledged the deep and lasting friendship the two men had shared."We were partners for 32 years and friends for 50. During all that time, we never exchanged an unkind word."
Freeman Gosden never appeared before a microphone again after 1962. He enjoyed his retirement, dividing time between his home in Beverly Hills and his summer residence in Palm Desert -- where he had befriended his neighbor, former president Dwight Eisenhower. Gosden and Ike were frequent partners on the golf courses, and after the former president's death in 1969, Gosden devoted himself to raising funds for the Eisenhower Medical Center in Palm Desert until he was forced to curtail his own activites following a heart attack in 1971. He had little contact with most of his former radio colleagues after Correll's death -- but did remain close to two African-American veterans of the "Amos 'n' Andy Show" cast -- Ernestine Wade, who for fifteen years had portrayed the Kingfish's no-nonsense wife Sapphire, and Jester Hairston, best known for his role as Sapphire's brother Leroy. Although he responded to fan mail when able, Gosden avoided the public eye during the last years of his life, and usually declined interview requests -- reluctant to discuss the controversy which had surrounded "Amos 'n' Andy" in the final years of its life and which had led to the withdrawal of the television series reruns from syndication in 1966. A friend observed that it "bothered him to the end of his life that 'Amos 'n' Andy' fell from public esteem."
On August 19, 1981, Gosden delivered his final performance -- speaking
by telephone and offering a quick sampling of his familiar voice characterizations
to an assembly of well-wishers in his hometown of Richmond, who had gathered
to celebrate "Freeman F. Gosden Day," declared by the Richmond City Council
as a tribute on the fifty-second anniversary of "Amos 'n' Andy's" network
premiere. His health declined rapidly over the next year, and on December
10, 1982, Freeman Gosden passed away in a Los Angeles hospital at the age
Amos---Andy! Andy, answer me, you ain't 'sleep.
Andy---I know I ain't.
Amos---Lift up yo' head. I wanna talk to yo'.
Andy---Whut yo' want?
Amos---How come you run away from de hotel?
Andy---Amos, it just got me, dat's all. I was workin' dere doin' de best I could, an' I just couldn't cut it, dat's all. An' I thought o' dis place here, made me think o' how happy I used to be when I was heah in de taxicab office, got to wishin' dat I was back heah, neveh stahted dat hotel bizness---an' I felt like I wanted to come oveh heah an' sit down in heah by myself.
Amos---I know how yo' feel, but you ought not to run out on de hotel when yo' git busy like dat.
Andy---I know it Amos, but my brain just got tangled up---ev'ybody was wantin' sumpin' at de same time, an' I just had to git out.
Amos---I know how yo' feel.
Andy---Look at dis office heah boy. Heah's where we worked, an' worked---den we give it up, moved oveh to de hotel. Why can't we get back heah, git out o' dat hotel mess?
Amos---Dis ain't no time to feel like dat though Andy.
Andy---I feel like givin' up, dat's whut I feel like.
Amos---I know, Andy, but dis ain't de time to give up---when things look tough like dis an' we ain't makin' money, dat's de fust thing yo' think about, but dis ain't no time to do it---dat's when we gotta plug hardeh den we IS plugged befo'----if peoples gived up when dey got down, why dey'd NEVER git nowhere. I know how yo' feel---yo' feel like you is licked----but you can't think dat way----ev'ything goin' come out alright---ev'ybody in de world, no matter how much money you think dey got gits down in de dumps sometimes an' de rich an' de poor both sometimes feel like givin' up, but dey don't do it. Dey keeps on fightin' an' when dey fight enough dey comes back an' dey comes back strong---it might take time to do dis but boy, don't give up. A coward is de one dat gives up, an' you ain't no coward---now, I ain't goin' jump on yo' an' I ain't goin' let de Kingfish jump on yo'---I just want yo' to tell me dat yo' ain't goin' give up an' you'll try to fight 'cause de real man fights when things look de toughest.
Andy---Alright Amos. I'll try again.
Amos---Dat's de stuff---now come on----put yo' arms 'round me. Dey might git yo' nerve, dey might git yo' goat, dey might git yo' money, but don't fo'git dey ain't got you.
Andy---Yo' right son.
--Episode 1329, 6/24/32
It was this enduring story of persistence in the face of adversity that was the true theme of "Amos 'n' Andy." It may seem something of an ironic myth when placed against the backdrop of the Great Depression -- but Americans in that desperate era needed that myth. The forty million listeners who followed the series at the peak of its success didn't see Amos and Andy as minstrel stereotypes, or as representations of an entire race. In the never-say-die adventures of these two characters, millions of Americans saw themselves.
In 1930, Gosden and Correll received what may have been their finest tribute, in an article in the black-owned Baltimore Afro-American, in which the author concluded --
"It [the program] has all the pathos, humor, vanity, glory, problems and solutions that beset ordinary mortals -- and therein lies its universal appeal." --Baltimore Afro-American, 3/22/30.
The author of that statement, a young journalist by the name of Roy Wilkins, would later head the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Today, one sees in "Amos 'n' Andy" what one has been conditioned to see -- and that conditioning may involve racial issues which go far beyond a simple fifteen minute radio program. But perhaps, someday, we'll have come far enough as a society to examine the series -- and its legacy -- with a truly open mind.
Summaries of each nightly episode aired from 1928 to 1933 may be found here.
Two complete sample scripts including commercial continuity for Pepsodent products may be found here.
The scripts for the complete "Breach of Promise" storyline, from December 1930 -- March 1931 are available here.
Few recordings are known to exist from the classic serial years of "Amos
'n' Andy." Less than sixty of the 1928-29 syndication recordings are known
to survive, and even fewer episodes have surfaced from the 1929-43 network
Ely, Melvin Patrick, The Adventures of Amos 'n' Andy: A Social History of an American Phenomenon, New York: Free Press, 1991.
Ely's work is frankly a work of social history, not a detailed study of the series' content. Detailed examination of the original scripts is confined primarily to the first two years of "Amos 'n' Andy," and thus Ely occasionally draws conclusions about the program that might well differ had he continued a detailed reading of the scripts beyond 1929. His emphasis on the racial issues in the series also leads him to occasional false interpretations of what he did read -- compare his evaluation of the "Honest Tom's All Star Carnival" storyline from 1928 as an example of "white cupidity feeding on black stupidity" with the actual scripts, in which is it made evident thru contextual clues like the use of the term "brother" that the carnival men who swindle the Mystic Knights of the Sea are themselves intended to be perceived as black, despite the absence of dialect in their speech. (Compare Ely, pp. 89-90 with "Amos 'n' Andy" episodes 151 thru 168, 9/17/28 thru 10/7/28, especially episodes 163 thru 165, 10/1/28 thru 10/4/28.)
But in general Ely's account is balanced, fair, and thoughtful in its consideration of the pros and cons of the program, and his research into the black response to the series presents the definitive study of this always-controversial aspect of the series.
Ross, Dale Howard, The Amos 'n' Andy Radio Program, 1928-1937 -- Its History, Content, and Social Significance. Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, University of Iowa, 1974.
Ross's examination of the first decade of the series presents a comprehensive discussion of the first three years, followed by a less-detailed overview of the next seven years. Ross makes occasional interpretive errors similar to those of Ely -- particularly a discussion of the 1928 "Pawn Shop Robbery" storyline which is factually garbled, failing to correspond in key points with what is found in the actual scripts. Ross uses this discussion to draw a significant racial conclusion -- claiming that Amos's use of a white attorney in this storyline demonstrates that in the characters' world "the forces of law and order are white, the forces of crime and misrule are black." In the actual scripts, it is made clear thru contextual clues that the attorney is in fact intended to be black, invalidating Ross's presumption of a racial overtone in the sequence. (Compare Ross, pp. 125-131 with "Amos 'n' Andy" episodes 74 thru 89, 6/19/28 thru 7/7/28 -- with special attention to page 128 as compared to episode 81, 6/28/28. See also Ely, p. 90, where the lawyer's race is correctly interpreted.)
Generally, however, Ross's discussion of the series is both perceptive and true to the original content, and his work offers a valuable resource for researchers looking for an easy-to-digest overview of the content of the program in its prime years.
Wertheim, Arthur Frank, Radio Comedy, New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.
Two chapters of this landmark study of radio comedy are devoted to the work of Correll and Gosden -- one focusing on their background leading up to the creation of "Sam 'n' Henry," and the other devoted to "Amos 'n' Andy," tracing the progress of the program from 1928 to early 1933. Wertheim offers substantial quotes from original scripts, and was the only serious researcher ever to succeed in interviewing Freeman Gosden. Wertheim emphasises the popularity of "Amos 'n' Andy" thru the Depression years, but arguably overemphasizes the Depression as a factor in the program's success.
Correll, Charles J. and Freeman F. Gosden, All About Amos 'n' Andy and their Creators, Correll and Gosden, New York: Rand McNally & Co., 1929.
The only "official" biographical work on Correll and Gosden was in fact prepared by the publicity department of the Chicago Daily News in early 1929 to take advantage of the early popularity of the "chainless chain" series, and was revised slightly for a second edition in 1930. While the book is very brief and admittedly superficial, it offers a useful window into how the performers wanted to be seen by the audiences of their time. Despite its shortcomings, it also offers valuable insights into the performers' working methods.
Cripps, Thomas, "Amos 'n' Andy and the Debate over American Racial Integration," in American History, American Television: Interpreting the Video Past,edited by John E. O'Connor, New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co. 1983.
A carefully researched discussion of the 1951 NAACP protest of the "Amos 'n' Andy" television series, with a particular emphasis on the class-consciousness which drove it. The article has little relevance to the radio version of the program, other than to make it clear that the protest did not involve the radio series, and commits occasional errors of fact in discussing it (claiming for example that the radio cast was not racially integrated until 1948 - when in fact the first black cast member joined the program in 1939). Nevertheless, the article offers valuable documentation for an important chapter in the program's history, a chapter which has been heavily mythologized over the past fifty years.
Brasch, Walter M., Black English in the Mass Media, Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1981.
A fascination examination of how African-American Vernacular English has been represented and interpreted in works of literature and popular entertainment over the past two hundred years. The use of dialect in "Amos 'n' Andy" is briefly examined, but the entire book provides a useful backdrop for considering the representation of language in the series.
Dillard, J. L., Black English: Its History and Usage in the United States. New York: Random House, 1972.
A groundbreaking work of sociolinguistic research examining the roots and distinguishing characteristics of African-American Vernacular English. Helpful for understanding the significance of malapropism and "fancy talk" as well as offering a general understanding of the linguistic rules present in the dialect. Brief references are made in the text to "Amos 'n' Andy."
Text Copyright (C) 1998-2001 by Elizabeth McLeod
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