ADS-L Digest - 16 Feb 2008 to 17 Feb 2008 (#2008-49)

JAMES A. LANDAU Netscape. Just the Net You Need. JJJRLandau at NETSCAPE.COM
Tue Feb 19 00:05:31 UTC 2008

On Sunday, 17 Feb 2008 23:37:26 Zulu – 5, Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM wrote:

Roy Rogers also had Gabby Hayes. The Green Hornet had Kato, originally
Japanese, but later Filipino. Mandrake the Magician had Lothar, a
prince among his own people, but who chose to be a servant among
Mandrake's. The Green Arrow and Captain America both, like Batman, had
boy companions. Then there was the Human Torch and his boy, Toro.
Charlie Chan and Jack Benny. with their "boys," Birmingham and
Rochester. Arnold Stang played Harvey Prinzmetl on "Meet Corliss
Archer" and various other subservient Jewish characters on "Henry
Aldrich," "Our Miss Brooks," and even on the Jack Benny Show, among
others. There was Big Stoop on Terry & the Pirates and The Asp in and
on Little Orphan Annie. There were a million of these "ruddy-duddy
cut-buddies," ranging from Dr. Watson through Arnold Stang to Stepin

Blame it on Aeschylus.  He was the one who discovered that a stage show was much improved if the protagonist had someone else on stage to talk to, and thereby started the two-and-a-half-millenium-old tradition of second bananas, such as Horatio for Hamlet.

One disagreement.  Rochester was not part of this tradition.  Comedically, Jack Benny was unusual in that he often worked as the straight man, setting up one of the other cast members to give the punchline.  Rochester frequently served as the comic to Benny’s straight man, e.g.

Jack to Rochester: Be sure to get back at a reasonable time
Rochester:  Your reasonable or my reasonable?

Artistically, Rochester was actually two characters.  One was the stereotype crap-shooting Negro of the pre-war era, comparable I suppose to Amos and Andy.  The other was as the smart-aleck servant, which was not in the Aeschylus tradition but rather derives from the comedies of Plautus, in which much of the humor resulted from the audience’s wondering just how much the servant could get away with.  Pseudolus in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” is lifted from a Plautus play.

Then in I think 1943 Benny got a new crew of writers who didn’t care for racial stereotype jokes, and so the first Rochester character disappeared, and Rochester was turned into a race-neutral smart-aleck butler.

           James A. Landau
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           Northrop-Grumman Information Technology
           8025 Black Horse Pike, Suite 300
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