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Eddie Anderson 1905-1977
 


Country : Oakland, CA
Profession : Actor
Date of birth : 1905-09-18
Date of death : 1977-02-28
Cause of Death : Heart Failure

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rochester

Edmund Lincoln Anderson (September 18, 1905 – February 28, 1977), often known as Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, was an American comic actor who became famous playing "Rochester van Jones" (usually known simply as "Rochester"), the valet to Jack Benny's eponymous title character on the long-running radio and television series The Jack Benny Program. Anderson also owned Burnt Cork, a Thoroughbred racehorse that ran in the 1943 Kentucky Derby.

 

Birth and early career

He was born in Oakland, California, USA on September 18, 1905 into a family of performers, Anderson began his show business career at age 14 in a song-and-dance act with his brother Cornelius and another performer. They billed themselves as the Three Black Aces. At a young age, Anderson permanently damaged his vocal cords (he had to yell loudly for his job selling newspapers), leading to his trademark "raspy" voice.

Benny's ordering of his "valet" and Anderson's responses (sometimes a resigned "Yes, Boss", but just as often a snappy joke at Benny's expense) were among the weekly highlights of the long-running show.

Anderson's role as a servant was common for Black leads in the popular media of that era, such as Ethel Waters in Beulah. The stereotyping of Blacks (or any ethnic group) had been standard practice in the entertainment business for generations. The relationship between Anderson and Benny became more complex and intimate as the years went by, with Rochester's role becoming both less stereotypical (in early episodes he carried a switchblade and shot craps) and less subservient (though he remained a valet), reflecting changing social attitudes toward Blacks. According to Jack Benny's posthumous autobiography, Sunday Nights at Seven, the tone of racial humor surrounding Rochester declined as a conscious decision between Benny and the writing staff during World War II, once the enormity of the Holocaust was revealed. In short, Benny didn't find such humor funny anymore, and he made an effort to erase it from the character of Rochester. The high esteem in which the two actors held each other was evident upon Benny's death in 1974, in which a tearful Anderson, interviewed for television, spoke of Benny with admiration and respect.

Benny was often protective of Anderson, and this led to conflict. For instance, in World War II, Benny toured with his show, but Rochester did not, because discrimination in the armed forces would have required separate living quarters. Interestingly, though, during performances of the radio program staged before armed forces audiences at bases and military hospitals, the appearance of Rochester routinely drew enthusiastic applause that arguably often outstripped that received by other members of the cast. Stateside, a similar incident was defused by Benny when, according to reporter Fredric W. Slater, Rochester was denied a room at the hotel that Benny and his staff were planning to staying in Saint Joseph, Missouri. When it was announced that Anderson could not stay there, Benny replied "If he doesn't stay here, neither do I." The hotel eventually allowed Anderson to remain as a guest.

Even though some of the humor was stereotypical, it was always done so that the racial element of the joke came from Anderson and no one else. For instance, when Jack takes a vacation, he takes Rochester along; but as a guest, not a servant, because Jack drives just as often as Rochester does. When they get to Yosemite to go skiing, Jack says "Don't wander off now, you're not used to being in the woods, you'll get lost in all the snow." Rochester replies "Who me?" Thus the race element of the joke was provided by Anderson.

Among the most highly-paid performers of his time, Anderson invested wisely and became extremely wealthy. Despite this, he was so strongly identified with the "Rochester" role that many listeners of the radio program mistakenly persisted in the belief that he was Benny's actual valet. One such listener drove Benny to distraction when he sent a scolding letter to Benny concerning Rochester's alleged pay, and then sent another letter to Anderson, which urged him to sue Benny. A similar letter came from a correspondent in the South who was angered that on an episode of the radio show where Benny was sparring with Anderson, that Benny allowed himself to be struck by Anderson. Benny retorted in a letter that it would not have been humorous the other way around.

How Rochester became Jack Benny's valet

Anderson's first appearance on the Jack Benny Show was on March 28, 1937. In this episode, Benny and his cast were traveling by train from Chicago back to California, and Anderson (unnamed) was cast as a redcap. Anderson's first interaction with Benny was at the station in Chicago while they were boarding the train. On one of their two jokes, Benny said, "Here you are, redcap, here's fifty cents." Anderson replied, "This is a dime!" and Benny replied, "Look at your script, not the coin!" Benny later had an interaction with a different actor on the train, who laughed when Jack asked about when they would arrive in Albuquerque (indicating he had never heard of the place). In later years, Benny and Anderson referenced this conversation as having been between the two of them, and Anderson quipped, "Now if you'll give me my tip, I'll go home to my family."

Anderson appeared acting as Benny's valet on the June 20, 1937 show, and from that point onward, he appeared intermittently in that role. However, it would be several years before he would be mentioned at the start of the program as part of the cast.

Movies

In addition to his role with Benny, Anderson appeared in over sixty motion pictures, including Uncle Peter in Gone with the Wind, Cabin in the Sky, and as one of the taxi drivers in Stanley Kramer's It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. He reprises his Rochester role in Topper Returns, this time as Cosmo Topper's valet (though he jokes about 'Mr. Benny' in the film).

Anderson, Benny, and the remaining cast members of The Jack Benny Show (Mary Livingstone, Don Wilson and Mel Blanc) also provided their voices to the 1959 Warner Bros. cartoon The Mouse that Jack Built, directed by Robert McKimson. This cartoon portrays rodent versions of the show's characters. The real Jack Benny appears as himself at the end.

Death and legacy

Anderson died in 1977 due to heart disease at the Motion Picture Country House and Hospital in Los Angeles, California. He was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 2001.

 

FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR

It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (7-Nov-1963)
Brewster's Millions (7-Apr-1945)
Broadway Rhythm (19-Jan-1944)
Cabin in the Sky (9-Apr-1943)
The Meanest Man in the World (1943)
Star Spangled Rhythm (18-Dec-1942) Himself
Tales of Manhattan (5-Aug-1942)
Birth of the Blues (31-Oct-1941)
Topper Returns (21-Mar-1941)
Gone with the Wind (15-Dec-1939)
You Can't Cheat an Honest Man (17-Feb-1939)
Honolulu (3-Feb-1939)
Kentucky (24-Dec-1938)
You Can't Take It with You (23-Aug-1938)
Jezebel (10-Mar-1938)
The Green Pastures (16-Jul-1936)

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