Amos 'N' Andy,
one of the most popular and longest running radio programs of all time, was brought
to television in the summer of 1951. The series was produced by Freeman Gosden
and Charles Correll, the two actors who had created and starred in the radio
version. Since they were white, and the entire cast of the show on television
had to be black, a much ballyhooed search was held, over a period of four years,
to find the right actors to play the parts. Only Ernestine Wade and Amanda
Randolph were brought over from the radio cast.
Set in Harlem,
'N' Andy centered
around the activities of George Stevens, a conniving character who was always
looking for a way to make a fast buck. As head of the Mystic Knights of the Sea
Lodge, where he held the position of "Kingfish", he got most of the
lodge brothers involved in his schemes. That put him at odds not only with them,
but with his wife, Sapphire, and her Mother. Mama, in particular, didn't trust
him at all!
Andy Brown was the most
gullible of the lodge members, a husky, well-meaning, but rather simple soul.
The Kingfish was constantly trying to swindle him in one way or another, but the
"big dummy" (as Kingfish called him) kept coming back for more. More
often than not, Kingfish would get them both into trouble, but win Andy's
cooperation with an appeal to fraternal spirit - "Holy mackerel,
Andy! We's all got to stick together in dis heah thing... remember, we is
brothers in that great fraternity, the Mystic Knights of the Sea."
Amos was actually a rather
minor character, the philosophical cabdriver who narrated most of the episodes.
Madame Queen was Andy's girlfriend and Lightnin' was the slow-moving janitor at
Civil rights groups such as the
NAACP had long protested the series as fostering racial stereotypes, to little
avail. Amos 'N' Andy
drew sizable audiences during its two-year CBS run, and was widely rerun on
local stations for the next decade. The turning point came in 1963 when CBS
Films, which was still calling Amos
'N' Andy one of its
most widely circulated shows, announced that the program had been sold to two
African countries, Kenya and Western Nigeria. Soon afterward, an official of the
Kenya government announced that the program would be banned in his country. This
focused attention anew on the old controversy and in the summer of 1964, when a
Chicago station announced that it was resuming reruns, there were widespread and
bitter protests. CBS found its market for the show suddenly disappearing, and in
1966, the program was withdrawn from sale, as quietly as possible.
As to whether the program was
in fact racist, there was no agreement on that. The creators certainly didn't
think so, and actor Alvin Childress (Amos) was quoted as saying, "I didn't
feel it harmed the Negro at all... Actually, the series had many episodes that
showed the Negro with professions and businesses like attorneys, store owners,
and so on, which they never had on TV or movies before..." Others pointed
out that the situations were no different than those found in many comedy
programs with white characters. Nevertheless, the humor certainly derived from
the fact that these very stereotypes that had so long been unfairly applied to
an entire race were used throughout. As a result, it is unlikely that Amos
'N' Andy will ever be
seen again on television.