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Maria Stilson

actor and comedian. Anderson's character Rochester, the manservant in the Jack Benny radio shows and films of the 1930s and 1940s and later on the Jack Benny Show on network television brought him fame and fortune and made him a household name in mid twentieth century America During the 1930s and later most African American screen actors and actresses who took roles in white produced Hollywood films were depicted in subservient or demeaning parts Anderson however was the independent hilariously witty favorite loved by audiences across the nation His unique ability to stir his audience with humor and sympathy made him the highest paid black actor of his time Though his role as a manservant was superficially subservient he was in fact saucy sarcastic ironic and anything but subservient His trademark answer to his boss Yes Mister Benny was delivered in a tone that let viewers know that ...


George H. Douglas

radio and movie actor, was born Edward Lincoln Anderson in Oakland, California. Anderson was from a show business family. His father, “Big Ed” Anderson, was a vaudevillian, and his mother, Ella Mae (maiden name unknown), was a circus tightrope walker. As a youngster Eddie sold newspapers on the streets of Oakland, a job that, according to his own account, injured his voice and gave it the rasping quality that was long his trademark on radio.

Between 1923 and 1933 Anderson's older brother Cornelius had a career in vaudeville as a song and dance man, and Eddie, who had little formal education, joined him occasionally. With vaudeville dying, however, Eddie drifted toward Hollywood. In the depths of the Depression, pickings were slim. His first movie appearance was in 1932 in What Price Hollywood? For a few years he had only bit parts but then he secured a major role in ...


The humor and energy between Benny and Anderson led to the development of a twenty-year collaboration that delighted radio, television, and film audiences. The relationship between Anderson and Benny, for all of its sarcasm, wit, and camaraderie, was typical of the “Uncle Tomism” of the era. Anderson's trademark line to Benny became “What's that, Boss?” Yet blacks not only appreciated the comedy but were also pleased that the character was played by a black actor instead of by a white actor attempting to imitate black expression.

Anderson was born in Oakland, California. His parents performed in vaudeville, and he began acting when he was eight. His formal show business career began in 1919 when he appeared in a black revue and continued when he and his older brother Cornelius toured as a two-man music and dance team. After appearing in his first film, Green Pastures (1936 Anderson ...


Pamala S. Deane

radio, stage, and screen actor, was born in Muncie, Indiana, and raised in Hammond and, later, Anderson, Indiana. He was the eldest of nine children born to James Valley Edwards, a laborer, and Anna M. Johnson, a domestic (she would earn a degree in theology in 1949). He graduated from Anderson High School, and after a brief career as a prizefighter, earned a bachelor's degree in psychology from Knoxville College in Tennessee in 1938. He was employed for a time in the department of industrial personnel at the Calumet Steel Mill and also worked for two years as a district representative for the War Production Board.

Edwards either enlisted or was drafted (his service records were later lost in a fire) in the U.S. Army sometime around 1944 starting as a private in the all black 92nd Infantry Division of the 370th ...


Donna L. Halper

disc jockey, record executive, publisher, better known by his radio names—Jockey Jack and Jack the Rapper—was born in Chicago. His parents, Lillian Schwiech Gibson, a teacher, and Joseph Jack Gibson, a doctor, expected that he would attend college and perhaps follow in his father's footsteps, but the young Jack decided against a career in medicine. He found himself instead attracted to the performing arts, and after attending Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri, in the early 1940s, he returned to Chicago to seek work on the radio. In the mid-1940s, radio dramas were still quite popular, and he became an actor in the first black soap opera, Here Comes Tomorrow, on station WJJD, beginning in 1947 Because he had studied drama in college he had a polished on air style that impressed a number of advertisers and led to more radio jobs ...


Roanne Edwards

Hattie McDaniel appeared in more than 300 films and, despite her considerable talent, was limited to mainly housemaid roles, as were the majority of black actresses of the 1930s and 1940s, including Louise Beavers, Ethel Waters, and Lillian Randolph. Although McDaniel's housemaid roles often exemplified the Racial Stereotypes that blacks abhorred, she transformed many of these roles into sassy, independent-minded characters. In a Hollywood that enshrined white stars at the expense of black performers, she became the first black ever to win an Academy Award—as Best Supporting Actress for her role as Mammy in the 1939 film Gone with the Wind.

Born in Wichita, Kansas, Hattie McDaniel grew up in Denver, Colorado, the thirteenth child of Baptist preacher Henry McDaniel and church singer Susan Holbert McDaniel Hattie s talents for singing and drama were apparent from an early age Encouraged by a teacher she ...


Steven J. Niven

film actress and singer, was born in Wichita, Kansas, the youngest daughter of Henry McDaniel, an itinerant preacher, carpenter, and entertainer, and Susan Holbert. The McDaniels moved to Denver, Colorado, in 1901, where Hattie enjoyed a more settled childhood than her seven older siblings had. Five other children had died in infancy. At home, at school, and at church, McDaniel sang spirituals and recited passages from the Bible. Usually she enchanted, though not always. She later recalled: “My mother would say, ‘Hattie, I'll pay you to hush,’ and she'd give me a dime. But in a few minutes I'd be singing and shouting again” (Jackson, 9). By 1910 McDaniel was already an accomplished singer and dancer, appearing in several minstrel shows in Denver. She later toured with her father and her brothers Sam and Otis in the Henry McDaniel Minstrel Show a troupe popular throughout ...


Monique M. Chism

A woman of strong character, committed to the uplift of the black community, and willing to fight for the causes she believed in, Hattie McDaniel is best remembered for her Academy Award-winning performance as Mammy in the 1939 production of Gone With the Wind McDaniel was the first African American to win this distinguished honor in fact her career included many notable firsts in vaudeville radio and film In many respects her life exemplified the burden an individual is faced with when called upon to represent an entire race of people While McDaniel was celebrated for her Hollywood success she was just as often criticized for taking roles that perpetuated racist stereotypes of African Americans Although her portrayal as subservient maids may have infuriated some black activists she knew how to pick her battles and contributed to the fight for equal rights on many fronts often without public recognition ...


Barry Kernfeld

vaudeville singer, was born Irene Gibbons in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of Frank Gibbons and Julia Evans. Her father died when she was fifteen months old and her mother had difficulty providing for her, and so her career in show business began as a toddler, dancing and singing with Josephine Gassman and her Pickaninnies, a vaudeville act headed by a former opera singer. In this capacity she toured America annually and also visited Hawaii, Australia, and New Zealand from around 1904 to 1906, Europe in 1906, and Australia again from 1914 to 1915.

Gibbons met the songwriter and publisher Clarence Williams while performing in Chicago. Married in New York in 1921, they had three children; their daughter Joy, using the stage name Irene Williams, later became an actress and singer, touring in Porgy and Bess Having grown too old ...


Joel Gordon

Egyptian stage and screen star, director and playwright, was born in Cairo on 14 July 1898, the son of Abd Allah Wahbi Pasha, a senior engineer in the public works ministry. He later recalled attending his first play, Othello, in Sohag, the Upper Egyptian city where his father was posted when he was a boy. In 1912 the family moved back to Cairo, and Wahbi became drawn to the theater district and began acting. His father disapproved—acting was no profession for an elite son—and sent the boy to Italy to study electrical engineering. Undaunted, in Milan he attended a prestigious acting conservatory. By the time he returned to Egypt, in 1922, his father had died, leaving Wahbi with a substantial inheritance, which he utilized to pursue his artistic dreams.

In March 1923 he founded the Ramsis Theater Company The troupe would become home to many of ...