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*On this date, Eddie (Rochester) Anderson was born in 1905. He was a Black actor best known for his comic portrayal of the character "Rochester" on the Jack Benny radio show.
From Oakland, Calif., Anderson's parents performed in vaudeville and he began acting when he was eight. His formal show business career began in 1919 when he appeared in a Negro Revue and continued when he and his older brother, Cornelius, toured as a two-man music and dance team. After appearing in his first film, Green Pastures (1936), Anderson was invited to play the role of Rochester, a Pullman Porter on the Jack Benny radio show. Though it was only intended to be a one-show deal, Anderson struck such a chord with audiences that he was offered a permanent spot on the cast.
In addition to teaming up with Benny in the classic films Man About Town 1939, Buck Benny Rides Again 1940, and Love Thy Neighbor 1940, Anderson also acted in numerous films without Benny, including Jezebel 1938, Gone With the Wind 1939, Birth of the Blues 1941, and the "race" films Stormy Weather, and Cabin in the Sky both 1943; films now recognized as Black "classics." In the 1950s and 1960s, Anderson appeared regularly on television, with Benny at times and in many other small roles.
The humor and energy between Jack Benny and Eddie Anderson led to the development of a 20-year collaboration that delighted radio, television, and film audiences. The relationship between Anderson and Benny, for all of its sarcasm, wit, and camaraderie, was typical of the "Uncle Tomism" of the era (Anderson's trademark line to Benny became "What's that, Boss?"), yet Blacks not only appreciated the comedy but were also pleased that the character was played by a Black actor instead of a white actor attempting to imitate Black expression. Eddie Anderson died on February 28th, 1977 in Los Angeles, Calif.
The Encyclopedia of African American Heritage
by Susan Altman
Copyright 1997, Facts on File, Inc. New York