Wednesday, February 27, 2008

American Mammy

Q: What was the first situation comedy on radio to have an African-American star in the lead role?

A: “Beulah”... about a loyal Negro maid and her white employers.

The Beulah character was created by Marlin Hurt, a white actor, in 1939. He voiced the role on various radio programs, including the hugely popular “Fibber McGee and Molly.”

Beulah got “her” own sitcom in 1945, with Mr. Hurt still voicing the part. Two years later, an actual black woman took over the role: Academy Award winner Hattie McDaniel.

“Beulah” was so popular, it became a television series in 1950, starring Ethel Waters. Radio and TV versions of “Beulah” ran throughout the early ’50s, with various black actresses in the role.

I’m streaming a 7-minute clip from a 1953 radio episode. At this point, Beulah was played by Broadway and movie veteran Amanda Randolph, who would later play the loyal Negro maid on “The Danny Thomas Show.”

Click here to listen. (The role of “Oriole” was played by Ruby Dandridge, Dorothy Dandridge’s mother.)

You can find episodes of “Beulah” for sale at the Old Time Radio Show Catalog. This particular episode, “Honorary Santa,” is downloadable for free.


Dougfp said...

Believe it or not, I remember "Beulah". Can't remember who the actress was in the version I saw...I'm guessing Amanda Randolph. I used to watch it as a child, but it was a little tame compared to "Amos & Andy", whose importance to my racial understanding I've already shamefully divulged.

Wasn't Amanda Randolph also in "It's A Wonderful Life"? She has a funny line about donating to George Bailey the money she was going to use to divorce the husband she doesn't have.

Bklyn6 said...

What's weird is that just five seconds ago I wanted to customize a folder on my PC's desktop. I looked in my "my pictures" folder and for some reason decided to use a picture of Tom (cartoon cat from Tom & Jerry) being scolded by a black mammy figure.

As I searched the net for a direct link to this picture I found Hattie McDaniel's website instead and read this: "The human 'Mammy' character in the cartoons Tom and Jerry is based on her."

Anyway, sorry for going off course.

Undercover Black Man said...

Doug: Actually that was Amanda's younger sister, Lillian Randolph, in "It's a Wonderful Life."

Lillian preceded Amanda as the radio "Beulah."

Deeper still, Lillian Randolph was the voice of that "Mammy Two Shoes" character from Tom & Jerry that Bklyn6 mentioned.

I've been sucked into the Mammy Vortex... where all lines meet!

Bklyn6 said...

Lillian Randolph was the voice of that "Mammy Two Shoes" character from Tom & Jerry

Nice recovery, UBM!

tAnYeTTa said...

what does this mean:Beulah got “her” own sitcom in 1945, with Mr. Hurt still voicing the part

Mr. Hurt still voicing the part????????

Undercover Black Man said...

^ I want to get hold of some audio of Mr. Hurt performing as Beulah. If I find it, I'll share it, Tanyetta.

I got a feeling it won't be pretty.