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Adventures of Amos 'N' Andy: A Social History of an American Phenomenon 320th Edition

8 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0029095027
ISBN-10: 0029095026
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Editorial Reviews

From Kirkus Reviews

To Ely (African-American Studies & Southern History/Yale), Amos 'n' Andy, the first radio comedy series to portray an all- black world, provides a ``small but clear window which, like all windows, reveals more and more as one draws closer to it.'' Here, Ely looks closely at the changing responses of both blacks and whites to Amos 'n' Andy and examines what they reveal about the evolution of racial attitudes during the decades from the 1920's, when the series first aired, to the 50's, when it was transplanted to network TV. Born too late to experience the phenomenon except through TV reruns in the 1950's and 60's, Ely nevertheless writes knowingly of Amos 'n' Andy, having pored over hundreds of old scripts, newspaper clippings and fan letters. He looks at its roots in the minstrel shows in which its white writers (and radio performers) Charles Correll and Freeman Gosden learned their trade, and he examines how it won the hearts of millions and created dismay and antagonism in the minds of many. Although it had a huge following among both blacks and whites, thoughtful blacks were always divided in their appraisal--some seeing it as harmful to black self-respect and poisonous to whites' perceptions of blacks, and others finding no racism in its humor. Nor were its critics consistent--some who had praised it in the 30's damned it in the 50's, and vice versa. Ely traces the history of the show and its impact on a changing society with diligence, providing an extensive paper trail for future researchers in American social history. An earnest and thoughtful contribution to the growing literature documenting the development of black consciousness in American society. -- Copyright ©1991, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.


Compelling... a stunningly objective look at the history of the program and how it affected, and was affected by, the culture at large.... Remarkable.

(Boston Globe)

Amos 'n' Andy was an instant success, and went on to become both a national institution and a subject of racial controversy; Mr. Ely's sensitive and scholarly work shows us why.

(New Yorker)

Engaging.... [Ely] does a brilliant job of sorting out what is in many ways a hellishly complex story.... With exemplary scholarship and well-reasoned eloquence, he advances us a long way toward understanding, while also vividly revealing some unsettling aspects of our culture that shouldn't be forgotten.

(San Francisco Examiner and Chronicle)

An engrossing, perhaps definitive, account of one of the most fascinating episodes in popular entertainment.

Painfully funny... ironic.

(Maureen Corrigan, "Fresh Air," National Public Radio) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 322 pages
  • Publisher: Free Pr; 320th edition (May 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0029095026
  • ISBN-13: 978-0029095027
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.5 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,421,534 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 13, 2002
Format: Paperback
As the title indicates Ely's work is frankly a work of social history, not a performance biography, and is less interested in exploring "Amos 'n' Andy's" significant impact on the broadcasting medium than in viewing it as window into mid-20th Century American racial attitudes. Analysis of the program's content focuses on that perspective to the exclusion of all others, and detailed examination of the original scripts is confined primarily to the first two years of "Amos 'n' Andy."
Ely therefore fails to discuss in any detail the evolution of the characters and their relationships beyond 1929 -- and this is perhaps the book's greatest flaw, given that the characterizations and the dramatic sophistication of the program evolved substantially between 1929 and the mid-1930s It's unfortunate that Ely shortchanges this period of the program's history, as it in fact coincided with the peak of the program's popularity, and in my view an understanding of the evolution of the characters during the 1929-35 period is essential to an understanding of the series' appeal. (I have, in fact, read all of the scripts for the first decade of the series as part of my own research into "Amos 'n' Andy's" history.)
While Ely occasionally draws conclusions regarding the program's content that are contradicted by a detailed reading of the original 1930s scripts, and sometimes tends to over-interpret in his examination of public reaction to the program, in general his account is balanced and thoughtful, and his research into the African-American response to "Amos 'n' Andy" presents the definitive study of this aspect of the series.
Ely also deserves much praise for avoiding the self-indulgent deconstructionist jargon which tends to dominate current academic studies of popular culture -- his book is a rare example of an academic work which is both scholarly and extremely well-written. I'm very pleased to see the book is back in print.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 17, 2001
Format: Paperback
There are few phrases in the English language as divisive as "Amos 'n' Andy." It is frequently a euphamism for humor at its most racist and simplistic. Yet could a program based on little more than a handful of stereotypes be able to thrive on radio for more than 30 years? This book answers that question by putting "Amos 'n' Andy" into perspective, through the evolution of the program, its roots in the minstrel shows, and its context within its own time. Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll, the white creators of the program, are portrayed quite fairly in this book, and their motives are also presented in a fair way. Their goal was not to offend, though inevitably they did, but rather to entertain. This book shows how the core characters were portrayed in their own circle, the mythical Mystic Knights of the Sea lodge, and how they were portrayed beyond that inner circle, as the characters would intermingle with other blacks, and also whites. Also worth reading is the efforts by the Pittsburgh Courier and a few other black newspapers to boycott the show as early as 1931. More interesting, is how those attempts stalled, only to regain momentum 20 years later, with the advent of the television version. The phenomenon of "Amos 'n' Andy" is more complex than it would seem, as it tells us more about American society and racial relations than perhaps any othe program ever. This book is not just about "Amos 'n' Andy," but rather about ourselves. And for that, it should be a must-read. I was able to finish this book in two days it was so engrossing.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Arnie Tracey on January 25, 2001
Format: Paperback
Writing about race, specifically about the black race, in American entertainment is a dicey business--at best.
Then, not unlike a latter-day Alexis de Tocqueville or even Gunnar Myrdal, along comes Melvin Patrick Ely. Mr. Ely has written a well researched, passionately dispassionate analysis of the origins of the entertainment industry's racial miasma.
He takes us back to minstrelsy; on to the advent of radio before networks; then into the networks' formative years when an iconic show ruled the ether: "Amos'n'Andy". He informs us that even in 1930 blacks vigorously, if ineffectually, protested the show.
Mr. Ely has deconstructed more than a few of the racial myths that even today swirl around the "Amos 'n' Andy" radio program. He has eloquently put into context the television episodes and the NAACP's reaction to them.
He is objective and he is clear. Be forewarned, however, that this is not a coffee table book. It is written at 2nd to 3rd year undergraduate level, ie the book is not unlike a history text book, and all that that implies.
But it is, above all, lucid. And highly recommended.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 9, 1998
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
At a basic level, this book is a detailed, well-researched history of America's longest running (1929-1960 on both radio and television) comedy show. Ely does a fine job of describing the factors that led to the show's great popularity and the successful efforts of its creators, Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll, to maintain that popularity.

At a more sophisticated level, however, the book provides an intimate view of one of the great political events of this century, the American Civil Rights movement. Because Amos `N Andy was the only nationally popular series prior to 1960 featuring black characters, and because its creators and principal actors were both white, the show repeatedly drew both praise and criticism from the press and various organizations seeking to promote their own political agendas.

Ely describes in detail how Gosden and Correll went to great lengths to keep the show from being viewed as racist, yet in the long run they failed. As he points out,! that failure may have caused the major networks to shy away from shows featuring black performers and delay their introduction into television for another 20 years.

Having listened to Amos `N Andy on the radio as a child and subsequently watched it on TV, I like many other white Americans, was dumbfounded when the NAACP decided to attack it for being racist. For me at least, Gosden and Correll succeeded in their objective of establishing their characters as human types, not racial types. Sapphire was the spitting image of my best friend's mother, and Algonquin J. Calhoun came to typify every crooked lawyer (Is that redundant?) I later had the misfortune to meet.

Unfortunately, Ely touches only peripherally on the black sitcoms of the 80s and 90s (e.g.
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