Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Eddie Anderson: Beyond Rochester

Playing the role of "Rochester" on The Jack Benny Show (both radio and television) made Eddie Anderson one of the most popular (and highest paid) comedians of the 1940's, 50's, and 60's.  

We're all familiar with Jack Benny's gravelly-voice valet and friend, but let's get a look at Eddie Anderson beyond "Rochester"...

Edmund Lincoln Anderson was born on September 18, 1905 in Oakland, California and was practically destined to be an entertainer. His father, "Big Ed", was a minstrel performer and his mother, Ella Mae, was a tightrope walker. 

When Eddie was young, he worked as a newspaper boy. He and his competitors believed that the louder you shouted, the more newspapers you sold. This little competition would cause damage to Anderson's vocal chords--permanent damage that he clearly worked to his advantage.

Eddie Anderson in Thanks for the Memory (1938)

In his early teens (about thirteen or fourteen), Eddie formed "The Three Black Aces" with his brother Cornelius and a friend. They sang and danced in hotel lobbies, then became a successful vaudeville act and performed in famous theaters and nightclubs all across the country--including the Apollo in Harlem. Eddie would begin incorporating more comedy into his act (not certain when he went "solo")--using his famous voice to his advantage, thus nabbing small film roles.

Left to Right: Jack Benny, Mary Livingstone, and Eddie Anderson

His big break came in 1937 when he was hired for what was supposed to be a one-time role as a Pullman Porter on The Jack Benny Program. His performance was well-received by audiences and over the course of a month or so, he was called in two more times to play two different roles. Soon enough, Eddie was permanently cast as Jack Benny's valet "Rochester Van Jones" and played the role until the show ended in 1965. 


The Life, Loves, and Work of Eddie Anderson

Family Life

Eddie Anderson married Mamie Wiggins Nelson in 1932. He also adopted her son, Billy--a young man who would go on to play for the Chicago Bears.

After 22 years of marriage, Mamie Anderson passed away on August 5, 1954, after a two-year battle with cancer. She was only 43 years old. 

Anderson married Evangela "Eva" Simon in February 1956 and they had three children: daughters Stephanie and Evangela Jr. ("Eva") and son Edmund Jr. Unfortunately, Eddie and Eva would divorce in 1973.

Hobbies and Home

Above is a postcard of Mr. Anderson's home in the West Adams district of Los Angeles:

Like many of the African-Americans in the entertainment industry, Anderson made his home in the West Adams district of Los Angeles. In previous times, the district had been home to doctors, lawyers, and railroad barons. In the Depression era, the area had fallen into hard times, with many residents needing to either sell their homes or rent out rooms in them. By the 1940s, the African-American entertainment community began purchasing homes in the district, nicknaming it "Sugar Hill". Some property owners reacted to their new neighbors by adding restrictive covenants to their deeds. The covenants either prohibited African-Americans from purchasing a property or inhabiting it once purchased. The practice was declared illegal by the US Supreme Court in 1948.
Since Anderson wanted to build a home designed by Paul Williams, he was limited in his choice of a site for it by these restrictive covenants. As a result, his large and luxurious home with a swimming pool where the neighborhood children were always welcome, stands in an area of smaller, bungalow-style homes. The street was renamed because 'Rochester' lived on it. [Wikipedia]


Mr. Anderson enjoyed building model airplanes and race cars--plus, he designed a life-size race car for himself.  He was also the skipper of his own cabin cruiser and owned racehorses. 

Eddie Anderson informed his loved ones that after his death, he wanted his home to be used as a living residence for at-risk and homeless substance abusers. Eddie "Rochester" Anderson died on February 28, 1977 of heart disease and in 1989, "The Rochester House" opened its doors. His son, Eddie, Jr. would later establish The Eddie "Rochester" Anderson Foundation.

Eddie "Rochester" Anderson Online:


What Price Hollywood? (1932) (Film Debut)
Eddie Anderson plays "James, Max's Butler"

(Part 1 of) The Green Pastures (1936) 
Eddie Anderson plays "Noah"

Eddie Anderson plays "Chauffeur"

Eddie Anderson plays "Chauffeur" 

Of course, you can rent, borrow, or purchase other movies starring/featuring Eddie Anderson--movies like: Gone With the Wind (1939), Buck Benny Rides Again (1940), Cabin in the Sky (1943), and It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963). 



Wikipedia (and sources within)


I do not own any of the photos in this post. In order to credit the sources in which I obtained the above photos, I added custom watermarks with their URL's/site names. Photos without watermarks were obtained from Wikipedia. If the rightful owner(s) of any of these images wants them removed, please contact me and I will do so as soon as possible.--Adrienne 

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