This is an online encyclopedia of personalities of Old Time Radio. It is designed for educational and entertainment purposes.

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Sunday, March 09, 2008

Eddie Anderson (1905-77)

Edmund Lincoln Anderson was born September 18, 1905, in Oakland, California, into a poor show business family. As a child, Eddie sold newspapers to help meat family expenses. He yelled so much to sell the newspapers that it permanently damaged his vocal chords. His raspy voice became his trademark.

He joined the vaudeville circuit at the age of 14 with his brother and a friend. They were known as the Three Black Aces. They had long standing contracts in New York (at the Roxy and Apollo Theaters) and the Cotton Club on Central Avenue in Los Angeles.

Eddie was always plagued with health problems. When Hollywood called, he was able to get a motion picture studio contract with Metro Goldwyn Mayer. Even after he began working on the Jack Benny Program, he would continue with films through 1945, and a few cameo appearances after that.

The character, Rochester, originally appeared on the Jack Benny Program as a Pullman porter. The story was changed a few times. As the writers thought it over, they decided that Rochester was a cabby for the Sunshine Taxi Company. Jack then ended up hiring Rochester for the position of personal valet.

At first the humor involved with Rochester was racially motivated but, during World War II, when the Jews were tortured during the Holocaust, Jack, a nonpracticing Jew, decided that racial humor was not funny. Any jokes resulting from Rochester's ethnicity would have to come from Rochester himself.

Eddie Anderson was one of the highest paid performers in radio, regardless of race. Not being one to squander his money, he invested his money well, including a thoroughbred race horse named "Burnt Cork."

In his personal life, Eddie was very private. He was happily married to Mamie, a fellow entertainer at the Cotton Club in Los Angeles. His adopted son, William (called either Billy or Willie), almost made the 1948 U.S. Olympic team. He played for the Chicago Bears, but was arrested on a drug charge and spent five years in prison. Mamie died of cancer in 1954.

It's not too often remembered that Eddie had quite a successful motion picture career, having taken part in over sixty films. That was his reason for being in Hollywood in the first place. He is best remembered for Cabin in the Sky, but he also appeared in Gone with the Wind, Topper, and It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

Jack Benny and Eddie maintained a close relationship until Jack's death. Three years later, Eddie died. His pain wracked body finally gave up. He died on February 28, 1977, at his house in Los Angeles.

Eddie Anderson was one of the best entertainers of all time.


LoyalTubist said...

Eddie Anderson's death certificate lists his name as EDDIE ROCHESTER ANDERSON.

So does his grave...

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