The two directors traded public barbs after Lee, in 2009 said, among other things, that Perry’s films “harken back to ‘Amos n’ Andy’. Perry responded by famously saying Spike “can go straight to hell.”
Lee said he knows the damage that has been done to minority groups through imagery in television and movies. Asked if he was “lumping Tyler Perry” into that statement, Lee responded, “Everything I need to say about Tyler Perry has already been said. The man’s a brilliant businessman, he do what he does, God bless him.”
On June 28, 1951, the “Amos ‘n’ Andy Television Show” debuted, making it the first “all-black” television series – ever. Yes…”The Beulah Show” starring Ethel Waters aired before “Amos ‘n’ Andy,” but it featured an integrated (yes, white and black) cast of actors and actresses. In Part I, the essence of the “Amos ‘n’ Andy Television Show” was described, outlining the central roles of its core cast of characters, inclusive of The Kingfish, Amos, Andy, Sapphire, Lightenin, and Calhoun. This zany cast was brilliant, but irked numerous civil rights groups, namely the NAACP. The protest to cancel the show was relentless, despite high ratings issued by A.C. Nielsen, the same company that regularly ranks many of today’s black sit-coms on the low end of the spectrum. Amid protests and immense pressure placed on the show’s sponsors, “Amos ‘n’ Andy” was finally yanked off the air – original episodes (1953) and syndicated episodes (1962). Was it fair that this pioneering show, featuring an “all black” cast was removed because civil rights groups perceived negative stereotypically depictions of the Negro? Please read Part II and learn more about the “Amos ‘n’ Andy” radio show that transitioned into one of the most controversial television shows ever - black or white.
And now Part 2 …
Amos 'n' Andy's 'Kingfish' was played by Tim Moore
*As the radio cast of Amos ‘n’ Andy grew, it embodied hundreds of black actors and actresses who at one time or another appeared on the show, inclusive of a budding actress by the name of Dorothy Dandridge, her mother, Ruby Dandridge, and Sammy Davis, Jr. However, when the fully integrated radio cast made its “quantum leap” to television, the only performers brought over from radio to television were Ernestine Wade (Sapphire), Amanda Randolph (Sapphire’s mother), and Jester Hairston (Henry Van Porter). Thus, the new television show which was shot at Hal Roach Studios in Culver City, California, prompted a nationwide casting call to find black actors and actresses to round out the show’s ensemble. Thus, Childress (Amos), Williams (Andy), Moore (Kingfish), Stewart (Lightenin’), and Lee (Calhoun) were added.
Whether the radio or television program was racist or not has been debated for many decades. Certainly, both featured some stereotypical characterizations and situations unfairly linked to black people. However, the basic concept of Amos ‘n’ Andy did not differ from the storylines of many black sitcoms of the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s when shows like The Jeffersons, Good Times, Sanford and Son had successful runs, all of which still air in syndication. These shows for some unknown reason received little or no opposition from the NAACP or other civil right groups.
Case in point: Were the antics of George “Kingfish” Stevens any more or less scheming than those of Fred G. Sanford (Redd Foxx) of Sanford and Son, or George Jefferson (Sherman Hemsley) of The Jeffersons? When Sanford and Son premiered January 14, 1972 on NBC, about 10 years after CBS pulled Amos ‘n’ Andy from syndication, why wasn’t there outcry from civil rights organizations over Fred G. Sanford’s antics?
Let’s face it, there have been dozens of black sitcoms over the last 40 years that have compromised stereotypical characterizations of African Americans, and interestingly enough, many of these shows and actors/actresses have gone on to receive various awards and honors. Many viewers who are old enough to have watched television over the last 60 years conclude that the Amos ‘n’ Andy Television Show wasn’t any different than today’s black sitcoms. So why was Amos ‘n’ Andy picked on? Was it because the show was the first “all-black” sitcom? Was it because the show’s characters frequently used dialect that today would be classified as “Ebonics?” Did the NAACP and other groups really believe that white America would think that all black people spoke this way, or that all blacks were always looking for ways to make fast money on clever schemes while doing little work? “I didn’t feel it (The Amos ‘n’ Andy Television Show) harmed the Negro at all,” said Alvin Childress (Amos), during an interview in the mid-1950s. “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 television or in movies before.”
According to numerous publications in the early 1950s, Walter White, a NAACP national leader, felt that the show’s “racial stereotypes were injurious to the image of the Negro community.” Williams, who played Andy, retorted in an Ebony magazine article in 1961 that reflected on the show 10 years after its debut, “The NAACP might have been sincere in their protests, but I feel like this: if the NAACP had a qualified person who was familiar with show business they would have had the right to squawk.”
Fast forward to the multiplicities of black sitcoms televised over the last 20 years and many are guilty of portraying questionable depictions of black people, and interestingly enough, have gone on to win the NAACP Image Awards, to include Tyler Perry’s House of Payne and Meet the Browns. Even in the mid-1990s, comedian Steve Harvey of The Steve Harvey Show was notorious for using a vehicular that included dis, dat, dem, and dose, but, went on to win several NAACP Image Awards.
So, 60 years and several dozen black sitcoms after the premiere of Amos ‘n’ Andy on television, the battle continues to keep reruns from airing, including on radio. In 2000, KNX Radio in Los Angeles announced that it would air the old Amos ‘n’ Andy radio programs, a decision that was met with disdain from civil rights leaders and groups who felt that old stereotypes from the show should not be reopened. Predictably, KNX bowed to the pressure.
With such lingering negative feelings over Amos ‘n’ Andy, it’s doubtful that the show will ever air again on television or radio. However, wouldn’t it be regal to give “Kingfish and the television cast” of Amos ‘n’ Andy a “very special” television tribute for their pioneering days? Wouldn’t it be grand for a television director or producer to stand tall and boldly tell the deserving story…the full story…and nothing but the true about the amazing Amos ‘n’ Andy Television Show, and its cast of actors and actresses that put this historic program on the cutting-edge?
Whether or not this will ever happen is impossible to determine. However, the Amos ‘n’ AndyTelevision Show will always have an historic place in the annals of television, radio, and black history. Therefore, it cannot be denied that the program and its “all black” cast were true trailblazers who blazed uncharted territory so that other African American actors and actresses would have an opportunity to succeed in the medium called television.
*June 28, 1951 proved to be more than just another hot summer night of programming for the relatively new medium called television. The date marked CBS’ debut of Amos ‘n’ Andy, a situational comedy featuring an “all-black” cast.
The airing of this outrageously funny program was the first ever “all-black” television series, and was a pioneering giant for the multiplicity of black sitcoms that have aired over the ensuing 60 years. Clarification: The Beulah Show, a situational comedy television show actually debuted before Amos ‘n’ Andy. The show, which aired on ABC in 1950, however, featured an “integrated cast” led by actress Ethel Waters who played Beulah, a black maid.
The “all-black” cast of Amos ‘n’ Andy was different. Set in Harlem, New York, Amos ‘n’ Andy focused on the scheming, conniving, and plotting life of George (Kingfish) Stevens (Tim Moore), who had a knack for looking for fast and easy ways to make money. As head of the Mystic Knights of the Sea Lodge, Kingfish was a master schemer whose antics often involved many of his lodge brothers. Needless to say, his plots always backfired.
The victim of many of Stevens’ conniving brainstorms involved his lodge buddy and best friend, Andy Brown (Spencer Williams). Although Andy was the perennial “sitting duck” for Kingfish, the gullible, cigar smoking, derby hat wearing rotund brother of the lodge kept coming back for more, earning him the dubious classic line uttered emphatically by Stevens, “You big dummy!” (remember Fred Sanford’s similar description of Lamont Sanford on the ‘70s sitcom Sanford and Son). Anyway, Kingfish’s self-labeled “brilliant plots” often landed him in hot water, especially with his no-nonsense wife, Sapphire (Ernestine Wade), who was backed by her mother, Romona Smith (Amanda Randolph) who never liked Kingfish in the first place. In an effort to get out of the hot mess he consistently created, Kingfish would emphatically deliver this classic plea to Andy: “Holy mackerel, Andy! We all got to stick together is dis heah thing…remember, we is brothers in that great fraternity called the Mystic Knights of the Sea.”
Another member of this groundbreaking ensemble was Amos Jones (Alvin Childress). Although his character’s name was part of the show’s title, his roles were not significant in many of the show’s plots. He was, however, the voice of reason as he narrated most of the episodes. Amos, a cabdriver, was masterful at balancing the madness created by Kingfish. Rounding out the show’s cast were Lightenin’ (Nick Stewart), the slow talking, even slower moving janitor; Madam Queen (Lillian Randoph), Andy’s girlfriend; Henry Van Porter (Jester Hairston), a black socialite; and who could ever forget Algonquin J. Calhoun (Johnny Lee), the animated and colorful attorney-at-law who had his hands full defending – and sometime joining – the Kingfish’s antics and scores of fizzled schemes.
The first season of Amos ‘n’ Andy was extremely popular, earning an A.C. Nielsen rating that ranked the show No. 13,ahead of such popular television programs as the Goodyear Television Playhouse and The Lone Ranger. A.C. Nielsen, which was founded in 1923 to gauge radio audiences’ listening patterns before gauging television viewership, typically have ranked many of the black sitcoms over the last 25 years near the bottom of its list.
While television audiences of Amos ‘n’ Andy continued to grow in popularity, the show drew the ire of the NAACP and other civil rights groups, who from the program’s inception felt the show’s writers/producers created and fostered false racial stereotypes. With mounting pressures from civil rights advocates, the show was canceled after 78 original episodes, the last of which aired on June 11, 1953.
Reruns, however, continued to air on local CBS television affiliates until 1962 when the network announced that The Amos ‘n’ Andy Television Show had been sold to the African countries of Kenya and Nigeria. Kenya later banned the program from airing in the country.
Soon afterwards, a television station in Chicago announced it would air reruns of Amos ‘n’ Andy, an announcement that again ignited bitter protests from civil right groups. Caving to pressure, the television station reversed its decision.
Never far from controversy, Amos ‘n’ Andy was under fire long before it aired on television, generating immense heat from the opposition as it ruled the radio airwaves of America beginning in the late 1920s. Actually, complaints about the show’s “blackface” forerunner, Sam ‘n’ Henry began pouring into Chicago’s WGN radio station on January 12, 1926 when this program debuted.
Created by Freeman Gosden and Charles Correl, Sam ‘n’ Henry, which was based on the same premise as Amos ‘n’ Andy, was a big hit. However, when the two white men sought to move their radio show to another Chicago station, they were not allowed to retain the rights to the name Sam ‘n’ Henry. Thus, Gosden and Correl created Amos ‘n’ Andy, and amid fierce protests, produced all the radio – and eventually all the television episodes of Amos ‘n’ Andy. The radio production is one of longest running radio programs ever, amassing almost 5,000 episodes.
It is interesting to point out that in 1931, Robert Vann, editor of the Pittsburgh Courier, a leading blacknewspaper, mounted a nationwide petition campaign to drive Amos ‘n’ Andy off the radio citing, “the radio show undermined the self-respect and general advancement of Negroes in the United States.” It was reported that Vann collected more than 700,000 signatures in support of his drive. However, another powerful black newspaper in America reportedly saw things differently. Several historians have reported that the Chicago Defender, considered the premier black newspaper of the era, voiced overwhelming and continuing support of Amos ‘n’ Andy, even inviting Gosden and Correl to one of the newspaper’s annual picnics which was attended by thousands of Negroes.