How Two Ofays Called "Amos 'n' Andy" Helped to Save the
One day, in 1965, I was at the unemployment office on McCadden Street in Hollywood
reopening my claim, when I noticed a pretty little lady of about 70 who looked familiar. I
approached her and said, "Miss Randolph?"
She looked up and smiled at me and said, "yes."
I asked, "are you Lillian or Amanda?" And she answered, "I'm Amanda."
I blurted out, "you're the funniest woman that ever lived. I mean, I don't mean. . ."
She smiled and said, "I know what you mean. Thank you."
We started to talk about her work and I mentioned that I was in a play directed by James
Edwards at the Ebony Showcase Theater and that I hoped she might come see it.
Miss Randolph said she would try and added that she had worked with Jimmy Edwards. I
asked her what they had done together and she answered, "Amos and Andy."
I said, "Jimmy was on Amos 'n' Andy?" And she answered, "On the radio show."
I said, "I thought the radio cast of Amos 'an' Andy was white." And Amanda explained to
me that Charles Correll as Andy and Freeman Gosden as Amos and the Kingfish were
white actors playing black people, but, the supporting cast was mostly black.
I loved the Amos 'n' Andy television show. I still think Amanda Randolph is the funniest
woman I ever saw and, I want to stress, that when she wasn't playing somebody funny
like Sapphire's Mama, she was a pretty little lady.
When I saw James Edwards at rehearsal that night, I said, "you were on Amos and
He said, "I guest-starred on the radio show."
He explained how there were two Amos and Andy shows. One was a daytime comedy
soap opera. That show followed the lives of the characters through marriage and
children and building a business (in the case of Amos) to trying to find love (as Andy
always was) to trying to make a score like the Kingfish. The other Amos and Andy radio
show was a weekly variety show with popular entertainers including black entertainers
and celebrities, and comedy sketches which often featured Andy and Kingfish.
I discovered that James Edwards loved the Amos and Andy radio show. It was part of his
life growing up. He did Amos and Andy radio dialogue for me. Henry Van Porter gags.
He told me that back in the old days Henry Van Porter had a bigger part than the
I didn't know it then, but, I had already worked with one of the actors who played Henry
Van Porter. His name was Jester Hairston. Another actor who played Mr. Van Porter was
James Baskette, who was awarded a special Oscar by the Academy for his role of uncle
Remus in Walt Disney's "Song of the South."
I don't know whether or not Gosden and Correll used black actors on the radio show
when it was based in Chicago, but, from the time the company moved to Los Angeles in
1939, they began to hire wonderful black actors and comedians. A typical show would
begin with, "the Amos 'n' Andy show starring Ernestine Wade, Johnny Lee, Jester
Hairston, Amanda Randolph, and Roy Glenn." The supporting cast would change and
almost all of the actors played multiple roles. Lillian Randolph played many roles on the
radio show, her most famous one being "Madame Queen." Ruby Dandridge, Dorothy
Dandridge's mother, played multiple roles.
When Amos and Andy went to television, many of the radio players moved into the TV
production. The actors who gave flesh and blood to the voices Gosden and Correll had
created were some of the finest talents we have had in America. Tim Moore, Spencer
Williams, and Alvin Childress were absolute magic in the roles of the Kingfish, Andy and
Tim Moore, in his time, had been a great star on Broadway, in Paris and all through
black vaudeville, but, the venues where he had starred were gone and he was quietly
working nights in a plant that made galoshes in his hometown of Rock Island, Illinois
when Flournoy Miller tracked him down and connected him with Correll and Gosden for
the role of his life and the stardom he so richly deserved.
Spencer Williams was a pioneer black filmmaker, who directed, wrote, produced, and
acted in black produced feature films. In his later years, he taught a college class in
filmmaking. Now, one of his films, "Blood of Jesus," has been included in the national
film Registry. Leaving all that aside, he was a master comedian, a great comic actor. As
Andy, he was as sincere and believable as any actor on TV. He listened, he heard what
another actor said to him, he reacted in the most human ways. Brilliant!
Alvin Childress was a working New York actor. He'd been on Broadway. When the call
went out for an Andy, he went to the New York audition and won the role from a large
field of actors by doing a perfect impersonation of Freeman Gosden. I saw Mr. Childress
twice in the James Baldwin play "The Amen Corner" in 1965. Terrific actor.
I must mention Nick Stewart who played Lightnin'. The Amos 'an' Andy series took a lot
of heat over the years and much of it was directed at this fine actor. Nick Stewart did
more to give actors a stage on which to work in Los Angeles than anyone else I can
think of. His Ebony Showcase Theater gave many black actors and white ones too -- I
know, I was one of them -- a place to work and learn and be seen. His characterization
of Lightnin' was a thoughtful study of a sweet, retarded, hard-working man.
I worked for Nick Stewart, and I saw him act onstage in "the Odd Couple," "the Sunshine
Boys," and "Norman Is That You?". I also saw him act in countless television shows,
movies, a soundie with Louis Armstrong you wouldn't believe, lot of things. Wonderful
actor, an old-fashioned funnyman, and a man who was absolutely dedicated to the
furthering of talent.
Only one of the actors from the television version of Amos and Andy has received a star
on the walk of fame. That was Jester Hairston. He was nearly 100 years old at the time.
His main character on the radio show, Henry Van Porter, didn't survive the transition to
television. Van Porter was written out fairly early in the series, but, Jester Hairston
remained part of the stock company that surrounded the core cast in the TV shows and
on radio. He had a long and glorious career as an actor, singer, comedian, and
Oh, I just remembered that the white originators, Gosden and Correll, did get stars on
the Walk of Fame in Hollywood. The great stars that they gave to us: Tim Moore,
Spencer Williams, Alvin Childress, Ernestine Wade, Johnny Lee, Amanda Randolph, et
al, are not represented on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. These were great stars of
theater, film, radio, and especially television. It is most sad that these performers do not
Frankly, as long as Hollywood continues to ignore this cast, it will still be representing
Jim Crow all the way into the 21st century.