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Racially Tense 2012 Spawns Memories of Four Unsung Heroes from Segregation Days
Racial tensions are at high pitch as we near the middle of 2012. Despite huge gains in harmony and equality, one horrible incident such as George Zimmerman's fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin always opens old wounds and hatreds.
The media feasts on the controversy and fuels the story past the melting point of steel. In times like these you rarely see an item that might help to bring the boil down to a simmer.
In this spirit, I offer the following, as told by Mary Livingstone in a book she wrote with her brother Hilliard (Hickey) Marks. Mary Livingstone, for the benefit of those who did not hear the radio in the 1950s or watch television in the 60's, was Mrs. Jack Benny.
She wrote about her husband's hiring of the great black comedian, Eddie (Rochester) Anderson.
On radio and tv for several decades, Rochester played the part of Benny's butler. He was flip, witty, funny, and always bested his 'stingy' boss. He had a major role in Jack's films, radio, and tv shows. So important was Rochester, that when Jack made the film 'Buck Benny Rides Again', the premiere was held in Harlem. It was the biggest thing in Harlem since Joe Louis became heavyweight champ of the world.
In the star studded show before the movie, Ella Fitgerald sang. There was a great stage show with Benny Carter's orchestra.
The 'Mayor of Harlem', Bill 'Mr. Bojangles' Robinson walked nimbly to the footlights to introduce Rochester. In a brief speech, the world's most beloved dancer said, he knew of only three people to whom color meant nothing: Irving Berlin, who gave Ethel Waters her first big break in a musical show; Shirley Temple's Mother, who gave him a chance in movies, insisting that he appear on screen with shirley; and Jack Benny, who gave Rochester the radio lines which had made him so famous.
Rochester came on stage and tried to play it for gags, but was emotionally overcome by the mammoth reception he got from the capacity crowd. When he gathered his thoughts, he spoke with the people and then introduced Jack Benny. The pair traded quips for a few moments until Jack got serious. He noted a glowing column Hedda Hopper (Top gossip columnist of the 1930s to 60s) had written about him. She praised him for allowing his supporting cast, especially Rochester, to have the best and funniest lines.
"As for giving me credit for tossing so many lines Rochester's way,", Jack said, "if Eddie (Rochester) Anderson hadn't been such a fine comedian, there's nothing I could have done for him......."
To the list of three from Mary Livingstone, I would add the name of another who came later, but also was truly color blind: Frank Sinatra.
Legend tells many tales of Frank sticking up for his great pal Sammy Davis Jr. The Multi talented Sam, was often barred from the 'white' hotels, casinos, clubs, and restaurants. On more than one occasion Sinatra pulled his whole entourage from places that would not accept his buddy. Frank simply told them, "If Sam can't stay here, I won't."
In conclusion, I believe it is important to remember that the vast majority of people in this great union of States and Commonwealths, support racial harmony and are willing to judge people by what they are one the inside, and not by their outer appearance.
Sammy Davis was loved in Boston, especially by the house band at the 2000 seat, Blinstrub's Club, read why.....