Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Amos & Andy Christmas Show

Amos from Amos & AndyOne of my favorite Christmas shows is by far the most controversial.

Amos 'n' Andy. If you say it's racist that's one of those rare statements in life that is 100% true and 100% false. You can read the entire messy history of Amos 'n' Andy and make up your own mind.

The Amos 'n' Andy television show (1951-1952) was one of only two TV series with blacks in major roles, there wouldn't be another until Bill Cosby in I-Spy in 1967. It was also genuinely funny with a superb cast.

The 1952 Amos 'n' Andy Christmas episode was one of TV's first holiday themed broadcasts - based on a script that had been performed yearly for more than a decade on network radio's most popular program, Amos 'n' Andy.

This moving holiday tradition began in 1940 with a 15-minute episode that centered around Amos sitting by his daughter's bedside and explaining the Lord's Prayer to her. It was a powerful and touching moment, perfectly capturing that simpler, religiously inspired Christmas spirit that prevailed decades ago. Nearly half the nation tuned in to those annual holiday broadcasts.

Amos 'n' Andy AdThis is how Amos and Andy were presented to the public, two white guys corked up... I'd say that's offensive.


On the radio, caucasions Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll gave voice to Kingfish, Amos and Andrew H. Brown. Deserved or not, Amos 'n' Andy was roundly criticized for being racist in nature. While it can easily be argued that the radio version was offensive - the whole idea of white guys portraying conniving and lazy black guys was highly problematic right there. But it did provide much needed work to African-Americans who appeared in the supporting roles and as guests, in the 1940s there were very few blacks employed on network radio.

Here's the second of the yearly holiday broadcasts from the radio days:

The TV program was a different matter; a superb, all-African-American cast helped to mitigate the program's inherent ridicule factor. The problem was there was no balance, no serious show on TV starring blacks to counter this broad sitcom. (As silly as Lucy was there were other more competent women in TV shows to balance her out. Not many but still...)

The best Amos 'n' Andy radio scripts from years past were adapted for TV, with few significant changes, beginning in 1951; these were original stories penned by the guys who went on to write and produce such seminal television shows as Leave it to Beaver, The Munsters, Andy Griffith Show and other classics.

The Christmas tradition was carried over from radio to television; the script remained virtually unchanged, right down to Andy playing Santa. (That's right - one of the first glimpses of Santa Claus that Americans got from their television sets and he was black.)

Freeman F. Gosden, Jr., the son of one of the creators, recalled in an interview those long-ago Christmas radio shows."It is probably safe to conclude that more people heard Amos' description of the Lord's Prayer than that of anyone else in the world. There is no question that he felt this was his proudest lifetime achievement. We would go to the studio and watch the show from the client's booth. Then Dad would bring the recording home and after dinner play it over and over again until midnight, with tears in his eyes."