Saturday, February 4, 2017

African Americans on Old Time Radio: Lillian Randolph on The Great Gildersleeve (1945)

In my third entry in my African Americans on Old Time Radio, I would like to celebrate Lillian Randolph, a great actress of both radio and the silver screen.  She is fondly remembered by many as Annie, the family maid in Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life (1946).  Around the same time, she was also working as Birdie on The Great Gildersleeve, program over the NBC Network (starring Harold Peary).  All told, she was an actress in over 650 radio programs according to the RadioGOLDINdex. Lillian was the sister of actress Amanda Randolph.

This year to celebrate National African American History Month in February, I am going highlight a new series on my blog.  This year, I will feature African Americans during the Golden Age of Radio - or Old Time Radio - during the 1930s through the 1950s.  I wanted to start this blog last year, but alas...better late than never.  I hope to have a great assortment of programs that showcase the great contributions of African Americans in mainstream radio when Jim Crow laws, segregation and discrimination were regular obstacles facing artists of color.

Visit to Old U.S. Mint (New Orleans, Louisisana)

Visit to Old U.S. Mint (New Orleans, Louisiana) - 2013 - There is a drummer in this story...honest!

The Great Gildersleeve is not only a great radio comedy, it has two aspects that really makes it a series way ahead of their time.  First, it was a spin-off program, having had its main character originally on a different series.  In this instance, the main character of Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve was originally on the Fibber McGee and Molly show. According to the Wikipedia entry (please see the link below), the character was introduced on October 3, 1939 (my birthday - not year!).  The Great Gildersleeve debuted on the NBC Network on August 31, 1941.  Second, the actor to play Gildersleeve (or Gildy) was replaced after a contract dispute.  Harold Peary originated the role and played Gildy until a contract dispute moved him off the show.  He was replaced by Willard Waterman in September 1950. Harold Peary would star in the The Harold Peary Show, often known as Honest Harold.

The Great Gildersleeve is the story of Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve - played by Harold Peary.  Gildy is the self-important Water Commissioner in their town of Summerfield.  A bachelor who was constantly on the look for that someone special, he lived in a house with his niece, Marjorie (played by radio great Lurene Tuttle) and nephew, Leroy (played by child voice star Walter Tetley).  They are joined by Birdie (played by Lillian Randolph) as housekeeper and cook at the home.  One of Gildy's great nemeses is Judge Hooker, who plays a nearly constant foil for whatever they are trying to do.  I have gone hot and cold on Gildersleeve over the years, but the more I listen to these episodes, the more I like them.  I love hearing the Kraft ads (from the early years) and I am trying to listen to more of them.

Lillian Randolph was one of the more prominent African-American voice actors from these days of radio programming. One of the big issues that many writers in the African American Media were concerned about was when actresses needed to learn a special dialect to play these roles.  Lillian Randolph was written up in a small article in the Chicago Defender  in 1950.


Lillian Had To Learn Dialect For Radio JobChicago Defender, December 2, 1950 - page 21
In order to get her first radio job, Lillian Randolph, who this year begins her 10th year as "Birdie," the cook for "The Great Gildersleeve," had to be taught dialect.
Lillian was born in Cleveland where she attended school and sang in St. John's Church choir.  Daughter of a minister and a school teacher, she left school at 17 for the stage and joined "Lucky Sambo's Show" in New York.  
In 1930, Lillian went to Detroit where she worked for George Trendle, originator of "The Lone Ranger."  It was here she learned dialect.
In 1935 she came to Hollywood for her first picture, "Singing Kid," starring Al Jolson.  Among her many motion picture credits since are "Little Men," "It's a Wonderful Life," "Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer," "Once More My Darling," and "Dear Brat."
When not working in motion pictures and rehearsing for "The Great Gildersleeve," Lillian makes night club appearances as a singer of novelties, blues, ballads, and classical selections.  She is president of "Les Dames," Los Angeles business and professional women's club which does philanthropic work for delinquent children and needy families.

In this episode, Judge Hooker is over for a family dinner - and Birdie is being complemented by her excellent cooking (along with her great housekeeping skills).  Leroy wants to the theater next week to see Famous Jones.  He is a "famous colored drummer".  Lillian shared with Leroy that she went to school with Famous Jones, who had that name long before anyone thought that name was appropriate.  Meanwhile, Marjorie wants to head off to study dance, but Gildy thinks she needs a more practical education. She needs to learn about house-keeping to attract a husband.  So he arranges for Birdie to teach Marjorie how to cook.  In the end, and for everyone's benefit, Birdie takes over the meal prep and once again saves the day.  This show was written by John Whedon, who is the grandfather of director and writer Joss Whedon and his screenwriter brothers Jed Whedon and Zack Whedon.

Teaching Marjorie Homemaking (The Great Gildersleeve - November 11, 1945)



Here are some links to programs relating to Old Time Radio and The Great Gildersleve:
African Americans on Old Time Radio:

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