I'd like to end the month of February with an unforgettable Christmas story--and one of the earliest Christmas episodes from a scripted TV comedy series. If you've heard of The Amos 'n' Andy Show, then you've also probably heard about its controversy. The TV comedy was based on the extremely popular radio program of the same name. Though the TV series featured an African-American cast, its humor was derived from racial stereotypes that many viewers found very offensive. The TV series only lasted two years but it has cast a long shadow in the history of the depiction of African-Americans on television. For a more complete history of this controversial series, please check out Donald Bogle's seminal book Primetime Blues--a must-have reference about the history of television.
One of the reasons Amos 'n' Andy was so controversial is that it had defenders who pointed out the series' positive aspects. This was a TV series in the early 1950s that featured a mostly all-black cast of characters that lived and worked in an all-African-American community. Though some characters were shiftless, lazy, and conniving, the series also included positive characters such as Amos Jones who was hard working and dedicated to his family. The outstanding Christmas show is an exceptional episode and one of the more positive episodes in the series.
The 1952 episode "The Christmas Show" can also be found listed as “Andy Plays Santa Claus.” This episode has a very simple storyline: Andy Brown take a job as a department store Santa Claus in order to earn enough money to buy a special doll for his goddaughter, Amos’s young daughter Arbadella.
|This episode's story moves at a much slower pace than contemporary TV audiences may be accustomed. We see Andy, working as Santa Claus, talking with several children about their Christmas wishes--and doing his best to avoid troublesome conflicts.|
However, the highlight of the episode arrives during the story's second half when Amos instructs his daughter on the spiritual meaning of “The Lord’s Prayer.” This lengthy spiritual segment had been taken straight from the Christmas radio program of The Amos 'n' Andy Show aired during the previous decade. During the earliest days of television, many successful radio programs that transitioned to the new medium repeated elements from their popular Christmas radio shows in their TV Christmas episodes. Not only was this a way of giving audiences what they wanted--repeating their favorite Christmas stories with their favorite radio characters--but it also helped to "sell" television to audiences curious to see what their favorite radio characters looked like in the new medium of television.
Not only did the TV series for The Amos 'n' Andy Show "borrow" elements from their previous Christmas radio programs for their Christmas TV show but so did Father Knows Best, Our Miss Brooks, and Burns and Allen, among others. Dragnet even created one Christmas program that it released on both radio and TV in the same year! Many of these old time radio programs have become easily accessible on the internet--go have a listen, if you're curious.
|This Christmas scene with Amos expounding the spiritual message in "The Lord's Prayer" to Arbadella was one repeated many times in previous years on the popular Amos 'n' Andy radio program.|
In this popular scene, Amos sits with young Arbadella on her bed as they listen to a choir sing "The Lord's Prayer" on the radio, late on Christmas Eve. Amos explains, line-by-line, the meaning of the biblical passage as young Arbadella listens.
Above is a video clip containing the scene of "the Lord's Prayer" from the 1952 Christmas episode. How important is it to you that Christmas TV entertainment contain a spiritual or religious message?
|George and Louise Jefferson confronted by the hilarious wino (Childress) in the 1977 Christmas episode of The Jeffersons.|
TV junkies, like myself, may get a kick out of knowing that actor Alvin Childress--who played Amos Jones--made a guest appearance in another outstanding Christmas episode. He plays the unforgettable wino in the hallway outside of George's childhood residence in the 1977 holiday episode of The Jeffersons entitled "984 W. 124th Street, Apt. 5C." I wrote about that classic episode--which is also one of my personal favorites--last year during Black History Month. Click HERE to return to that post.