by Billy Ingram
Filmmakers faced a major challenge when they wanted to cast Black actors in mainstream motion pictures prior to the 1960s. How do you create a situation where blacks and whites would realistically be in the same place at the same time, interacting in any meaningful way with one another? It rarely happened in real life; therefore, without putting the Negro character in a servile position the situation would be rejected by an audience keenly aware that they were living in a strictly segregated society.
That's why Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong found themselves cast as home workers in their film debuts (New Orleans in 1946); snuck into the movie through through the back door, the servant's entrance of the entertainment business.
Watching the immortal blues singer Billie Holliday forced to play a domestic in her only movie appearance is painful. If ever anyone looked ill at ease in a maid's uniform, it was proud Lady Day, who gave voice to the ultimate musical indictment of slavery, 'Strange Fruit.' "I fought my whole life to keep from being somebody's damn maid," was her bitter pronouncement.
so it was
The success of Amos 'n' Andy in the twenties led to the CBS radio network signing blues singer Tess Gardella to play Aunt Jemima in 1931.
The series was based on her portrayal of Aunt Jemima in a 1920's stage review. That familiar, smiling black woman (actually a painting) first appeared on boxes of pancake mix in the early 1890s.
"On the old plantation," the legend (1920's advertisements) went, "Aunt Jemima refused to reveal to a soul the secret of those light fragrant pancakes which she baked for her master and his guests. Only once, long after her master's death did Aunt Jemima reveal her recipe. It's still a secret." (All of this was decades before Quaker Oats bought the company.)
The first real-life Aunt Jemima was former slave Nancy Green, who signed an exclusive lifetime contract with the pancake mix makers in 1893 to make public appearances as the character.
Lifetime contract? Isn't that the definition of slavery?
STORY CONTINUES AFTER THIS AD
In public exhibitions, Green sang, cooked pancakes and told fables of contented plantation life. Sure enough, Nancy Green maintained her role until she was run down by a car and killed on Chicago's southside on September 24, 1923.
Tess Gardella, a white woman in blackface, was hired to replace her. Aunt Jemima the radio program (starring Tess Gardella) lasted from 1931-33, with revivals in the 1940s and in the fifties when Amanda Randolph (Saffire's Momma on Amos 'n' Andy) assumed the role. Edith Wilson was chosen portray Aunt Jemima in television ads and in personal appearances from 1948 to 1966.
world in a jug, Lawd,
Another happy-go-lucky, dizzy domestic in the spirit of Aunt Jemima was Beulah, brought to life in 1939 when Marlin Hurt introduced the character on Hometown Incorporated. In 1943, Beulah moved over to That's Life before changing employers again and finally settling in at 79 Wistful Vista, the home of Fibber McGee and Molly, one of network radio's most popular (and longest-running) programs.
Hurt based his performance on the childhood maid he knew growing up in the deep South. His Beulah was a simple-minded but well-meaning meddler, adding a bit of spice to what was otherwise a bland, easy going sitcom.
The reaction to Beulah was overwhelming. Marlin Hurt had a unique way to jump start his appearances when Fibber McGee would call out for the maid. Hurt, with his back to the studio audience, would whirl around quickly and shout, "Somebody bawl fo' Beulah?" The crowd would collapse in laughter. "Somebody bawl fo' Beulah" became a popular catch phrase, as did another Beulah-ism, "Love dat man!"
Marlin Hurt as Beulah was launched as a half-hour sitcom in 1945, the second successful spinoff of Fibber McGee and Molly. (The Great Gildersleeve in 1941 was first, that was the first spinoff from another show ever).
In this new format, Beulah was like a deferential Lucy Ricardo, continually getting her employers (the Henderson family) in - then out of - all sorts of trouble. Sitcoms being what they are/were, eventually the time would come in every episode when well-meaning Beulah confessed, "Yes 'um, it's all my fault, Mr. Henderson." But ultimately Beulah miraculously saved the day with her earthy wit and blind persistence.
If a servile maid spouting malapropisms wasn't exactly a racial slur, then certainly Beulah's lazy boyfriend Bill Jackson fit the description. Slow moving, hardly-working, hard-eating Bill tries his best to get there "after the job is done."
radio show with Hurt:
Bill: "It's Bill, baby. No pain, no strain. I rode in here on the crest of a heatwave. Ooowee, it's hot out there."
Beulah: "Well, shut the door. I'm keeping the place closed up here so it stays cool."
Bill: "Lemme sit down here. I'm steamin' like a uphill freight train."
Beulah: "Where you been? You told me on de phone you'd be over here in three shakes."
Bill: "That's what I did. Come right over here in three shakes - two Pineapple and one vanilla."
There's no question that radio broadcasts and movies of the era served in a subtle way to 'educate' Blacks on the proper way to act and speak.
Programs like Beulah were rooted in the tradition of the minstrel shows that had been touring the country for decades. Broad, ignorant Negro caricatures, portrayed exclusively by whites in blackface, set a wicked standard for American Blacks to follow.
Sixty years ago, if an African-American performer wanted to portray a Negro character on stage, radio or in film, they had to play the white man's vision of the Negro - based squarely on the minstrel model. It wasn't unusual for Black motion picture actors of the thirties and forties to be forced to take lessons from white vaudevillians on how to achieve the "correct" Negro dialect.
When Marlin Hurt died unexpectedly in 1946, Beulah went on hiatus while a yearlong replacement hunt began. The series was revived in 1947 when another white man, Bob Corley, took on the role of Beulah.
Corley was roundly rejected by listeners and gone within six months. It was then that network execs had a revolutionary idea - why not cast a Black woman in the role?
Beulah Part One / Beulah TV Show / Beulah Part Three
Beulah - Radio & TV shows
Please consider a donation
so we can continue this work!
Heavy-set Tess Gardella hit the vaudeville curcuit in the 1920s as Aunt Jemima in an act that included a blues song by Irving Berlin that went, in part:
"Hellooo everybody don't you know my name,
I'm Aunt Jemima of the pancake fame,
See me in the subways here and there,
In fact I'm on the billboards everywhere,
The pancake business it was low,
So I got my pancake bakers and went out to get the dough,
Because I'm Aunt Jemima and my five bakers,
They're all ragtime shimmy shakers,
We got kind of tired of the place that we were at,
We all walked out and left the pancakes flat."
Video Vault / Holiday Specials / Fabulous Fifties / Unseen Scenes / Game Shows / Lost Kid Shows / Movie Stars on TV / Saturday Morning Shows / Requested Forgotten TV Shows / The Super Sixties / The New * * Shows / 1980's Wrestling / TV Blog
|Television's Embarrassing Moments / Action Shows of the Sixties / TVparty Mysteries and Scandals / Variety Shows of the Seventies / The Eighties / TVafterparty / The Laugh Track / 1970's Hit Shows / Response to TVparty / Search the Site / Add Your Comments|
1950's TV Shows / Fess Parker & Davy Crockett / Jack Benny Program / Highway Patrol / Betty Hutton Show / 1952 Olympics Telethon / Amos 'n' Andy / Little Rascals & Our Gang / Howdy Doody / The First Batman Movie From 1943 / Who Was the REAL Aunt Jemima? / Freedomland USA / John Wayne Won Lassie in a Poker Game! / Lucy's Sitcom Before I Love Lucy / The Lone Ranger / 1950s Shows I NEED To See / Jack Lemmon & Billy Wilder on Marilyn Monroe / So This Is Hollywood / When Jerry Lewis Ceased To Be Funny / The Plainclothesman / Buck Rogers in the 25th Century / First Solo Female Series / Kuda Bux / Was the 1959 Santa Claus Movie Too Christian?!? / TV During WWII / Top Ten TV Shows 1950s / Jack Larson's Suprising Life As Superman's Jimmy Olsen in the 1950s / Judy Garland's 2nd TV Special and Las Vegas Debut / Early Network News Broadcasts / Lost Desilu Sitcom: Those Whiting Girls / Lost Superboy Pilot / The Shadow 1954 Pilot / KTLA News / Tribute to Sandy Becker / The Adventures of Dr. Fu Manchu / / O.Henry Playhouse / NYC's First Bozo Bill Britten / The Magical Land of Alakazam! / 1950s and 60s Bloopers / TV's First Working Woman / Cannonball - 1950s Trucking Drama / Sonny Fox Kid Shows / Lauren Bacall on Bette Davis / Sunset Boulevard Explained / Abbott & Costello TV Show / The Three Stooges: The Where They Were / The First 'Black' Show - Beulah / Women on TV in the 1950s / The Today Show / Hey Jeannie / The Jeannie Carson Show / TV's First Educator Paul Tripp / Ernie Kovacs / Soap Opera Miss Susan / Adventures of Superman Lost Episode / Bette Davis vs Ronald Reagan / Captain Z-Ro / Obscure Actress Mary Castle / Serious 1950s TV shows / Remembering David Susskind / TV's First Rerun Series / The Ken Murray Budweiser Show / Saturday Morning Serials / Two Variety Shows of the Fifties / Game Shows of the Fifties /1950's TV Wrestling / Greensboro's Soda Pop History / Mr. Adams and Eve / TV's First Star / Oh Susanna! the Gale Storm Show / Bob Hastings / TV's First Star / History of the Laugh Track / The First Interactive Video Game / Designing Winky-Dink / Buffalo Bob Smith / The McKimson Brothers & Animation / Interview with a Show Business Legend / The Soundies / Snaders Telescriptions / Steve Allen Interviewed / Racket Squad / December Bride / The Big Show / Beverly Garland & Decoy / Richard Crenna & The Real McCoys / Roger Muir / Noel Coward's 1955 TV Special / Jon Provost Interview / 1950's TV Shows on DVD / Oh Susanna! The Gale Storm Show / 1950's Old Time TV Thanksgiving / Outrageous 1950's Commercial! / The Real Superman? / Mickey Mouse Club's Cheryl / Gale Storm / NYC's St. Patrick's Day Parade Telecasts / Julie London / The Goldbergs / 1950's Female Singers / The Dead End Kids / Bowery Boys / Fred Allen / Ed Wynn / Mr. Belvedere Movies / Art Linkletter / The Bickersons / Marty & Live TV / George Gobel & Red Buttons / Barbara Billingsley / Billy Gray Interview / Abbott & Costello Show / The Honeymooners / Three Stooges' Joe Besser / Whirlybirds / Burns & Allen Show
|Classic TV Commercials / 1950's TV / 1960's TV / 1970's TV / Lucy Shows / John Wayne / Gene Roddenberry / Big Blue Marble / Monty Hall / Carrascolendas / Mr. Dressup / Major Mudd / Chief Halftown / Baby Daphne / Sheriff John / Winchell & Mahoney / Fireball X-L5 / Mr. Wizard / Captain Noah / Thanksgiving Day Specials / Disney's First Christmas Special / Saturday Morning Cartoons / The Magic Garden / Amahl & the Night Visitors / Holiday Toy Commercials / Lucy & Desi's Last Christmas Show / Joey Heatherton / Fat Albert / The Virginian / Bewitched / Death of John Wayne / 1974 Saturday Mornings / Chuck McCann / Rudolph Collectables / Shrimpenstein / Local Popeye Shows / New Treasure Hunt / Star Wars / KISS / Lancelot Link / Saturday Morning Cartoons / Wonder Woman / Classic Comic Books / Andy Griffith / Cher / TV Shows on DVD / Outtakes & Bloopers / 1967 TV Shows / Romper Room / Captain Kangaroo / Chicago Local Kiddie Shows / Boston Local TV / Philly Local TV / NYC Local Kid Shows / Electric Company / Bette Davis / Judy Garland / Christmas Specials / Redd Foxx / Good Times / Sitcom Houses / What's Happening! / Winky Dink & You / Sonny & Cher / Smothers Brothers / Soupy Sales / The Carpenters / Route 66 / Bozo / The Carpenters Christmas Specials / Local Kid Shows / Death of TV's Superman / Wonderama / Sesame Street / Bob Hope Specials / Little Rascals / Gay Icon T-Shirts / Alex Toth Book / TV Terrorists / Irwin Allen / The Untouchables / Carol Burnett Show / Batman TV Show / Green Hornet / Today Show History / Our Gang / Doris Day Show / 1970's Commercials For Women / Bill Cosby in the 1970s / The Golddiggers / Lola Falana / 1970s TV Shows / David Bowie on TV / Hudson Brothers / Jackie Gleason / Hollywood Squares Match Game / Andy Williams / The Flip Wilson Show / Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour / The Bobby Darin Show / The Richard Pryor Show / George Burns / Lucy's Lost Christmas Special / Classic Christmas Toy Commercials / Cricket On The Hearth / 1950's Holiday Shows / Amahl and the Night Visitors / A Christmas Carol on TV / The Yule Log / Celebrity Commercials / Rudolph / Movie Posters & More!|
for is right here: