Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson
African American comic actor Eddie Anderson was born into a show-business family: his father was a minstrel performer, and his mother a circus tightrope walker. Anderson entered show business at 14, teaming with his brother Cornelius in a song-and-dance act. His movie career began with a lengthy uncredited part as Lowell Sherman's valet in 1932's What Price Hollywood? The best of his earliest film assignments was the part of Noah in the 1936 cinemazation of Marc Connelly's all-black Broadway production The Green Pastures. On Easter Day of 1937, Anderson was engaged to play a one-shot role as a railway porter nicknamed Rochester on radio's The Jack Benny Program. Response was so overwhelmingly positive to Anderson's sandpaper voice and razor-sharp comic timing that the actor was hired as a regular on Benny's program, cast as Jack's know-it-all butler; it was an association which would last until Benny's death in 1974. In addition to his weekly radio duties, Anderson was co-starred with Benny in such films as Man About Town (1939), Buck Benny Rides Again (1940) Love Thy Neighbor (1941) and The Meanest Man in the World (1942); he also continued in the Rochester role on Benny's TV series, which ran until 1965. Outside of his work with Benny, Anderson played various tremulous chauffeurs and handymen in many other films, sometimes in a stereotypical fashion, but nearly always on equal footing with his white co-stars; indeed, his relationship with his screen "boss" Dennis O'Keefe in 1945's Brewster's Millions was so casual that the film was banned in lily-white Mississippi. In 1943, Anderson was afforded top billing in the MGM musical Cabin in the Sky, sharing screen time with such stellar black talent as Lena Horne, Ethel Waters, Rex Ingram and Louis Armstrong. One of the wealthiest black entertainers in the business, Anderson enhanced his film, radio and TV earnings with shrewd real estate investment. He suffered a stroke in the early 1960s which forced him to cut down his activities, though he was always available to work with Jack Benny in the latter's television specials. A prized "social awareness" moment occurred on a Benny special of the late 1960s when Jack invited "Rochester" to portray his servant once more. "But, boss," Eddie Anderson raspily responded, "we don't do that any more!"