This is the twenty-fifth in a series of examinations of legends about television and the people involved in TV and whether they are true or false.
Click here to view an archive of the previous TV urban legends.
TV LEGEND: Bill Cosby tried to purchase the rights to the Amos and Andy TV series to keep it off the air.
A very popular urban legend is that entertainer Bill Cosby bought the rights to the Little Rascals so that they would no longer be aired, because Cosby found the show offensive due to its jokes involving the African-American character, Buckwheat.
That story is false (here’s Snopes on the subject).
However, a similar story has also popped up involving the TV series Amos and Andy (here’s someone asking about it on answers.com and here is an article from a few years back saying “A rumor, which might be nothing more than an Urban Legend, claims that it is entertainer Bill Cosby who bought the rights to the television sitcom and is responsible for keeping it off the air.”), and in this case, there actually is a little more to it than the Little Rascals story, which seems to have just been made up from whole cloth.
It is not true that Bill Cosby purchased the rights to the Amos and Andy television series (CBS currently owns the rights).
It is also not true that Cosby ever TRIED to purchase the rights to the program in the interest of keeping the program off of the air.
However, Cosby DID play a (slight) role in the series NOT being on the air.
The Amos and Andy television series spun out of the popular Amos and Andy radio show in 1951.
Unlike the radio show, the TV series actually (out of necessity) had African-American actors play the characters in the series.
The radio show had seen its share of protests, but nothing like the protests reserved for the television program, which was denounced right from the start for its portrayals of African-Americans.
Due to protests (and some boycotting), the main sponsor for the show, Bratz Beer, pulled out of sponsoring the show in 1953, and the show ended soon after.
However, it continued to be a popular show in syndication well after its cancellation.
It was here that people like Bill Cosby got involved. During the late 1960s, the NAACP began to put increasing pressure on CBS to pull the show from syndication, and the growing civil rights movement made it a much larger issue than it had been in the past.
By this point in time, Cosby (who was already a noted comedian) became famous as the co-lead on the hit series, I Spy…
A petition was sent out signed by a number of notable entertainers, all asking for the show to be removed from syndication. Cosby was a prominent supporter of the petition.
In 1969, Cosby was interviewed in Playboy magazine, and he made his thoughts on Amos and Andy quite clear…
PLAYBOY: To a very real extent, your role in I Spy helped open up the television industry to black performers. Do you think the representation of Negroes on TV has improved enough since you began the series in 1965?
COSBY: Well, we’ve certainly come a long way from black cats who were bug-eyed, afraid of ghosts and always saying things like “Feet, don’t leave me now.” Guys like Mantan Moreland, Stepin Fetchit and Willie Best never hit anybody, never fought back and were always scared white. And we don’t see the mass stupidity of Amos ‘n’ Andy anymore. That show still gets to me, man. Each time I name an Amos ‘n’ Andy character, try to imagine these guys as white, and you won’t be able to: You had Lightnin’, who was slow in every possible way; Calhoun, the lawyer who never got anybody out of trouble and never went into court prepared; Kingfish, the conniver, who was always saying, “Yeah, but brother Andy…”; and Andy himself, who wasn’t too bright, either. Like, nobody on that show was bright except Amos, the cab driver, who we hardly ever heard from. And then there was Kingfish’s wife, Sapphire; every time he came through that door, she’d be chewing him out for something. Now, audiences weren’t supposed to laugh with these people; they were supposed to laugh at them, because they were so dumb. And while that show was on, there was nothing else on the air to counterbalance these stereotypes. It was almost as if Poles were exclusively presented as characters in Polish jokes. Well, you’re just not going to believe that all Polish people are really dumb; but if that’s all you got to see about ‘em, you might start to believe it. And they’d understandably resent it. Or the same thing about Jewish people hoarding money. You have to show things besides stereotypes.
And by the end of the decade, CBS had officially pulled the show from syndication, and it has never returned, nor has CBS pursued an official DVD release. They seem content with letting the series fade into obscurity (while also defending their rights from those who try to sell bootleg copies of the series through mail order).
As an amusing aside, later in that interview, Cosby had this to say about depicting racial issues in television…
PLAYBOY: Do you think that a series with a nonstereotyped all-black cast could be successful on TV today?
COSBY: Probably not. The kind of show you mean would have to be about the life of a black family, with all its struggles. But if you’re really going to do a series about a black family, you’re going to have to bring out the heavy; and who is the heavy but the white bigot? This would be very painful for most whites to see, a show that talks about the white man and puts him down. It would strike indifferent whites as dangerous; it would be called controversial and they probably wouldn’t want to tune in. But when there’s a right and a wrong, where’s the controversy? The white bigot is wrong. The indifferent person sitting on the fence is wrong. Instead of having occasional shows that present the black viewpoint on educational channels, the networks should be in there pitching now.
I just found that so fascinating, as Cosby is BASICALLY describing All in the Family in a way, isn’t he?
I can only imagine how surprised he was to see just two short years later a white bigot appear on TV and shown to be just as ridiculous as Cosby felt such a character should be treated!
Anyhow, thanks to Bill Cosby and Playboy magazine for the neat quotes!
TV LEGEND: Penelope Pitstop had a vibrator among the various gadgets in her Compact Pussycat
Reader Kerry wrote in to ask:
Remember Penelope Pitstop from Wacky Races? A friend of mine says that in one of the episodes, Penelope uses a device called a vibrator! That can’t really be true, can it?
To quickly answer your questions, Kerry – yes and yes!
But let’s give some more detail…
Penelope Pitstop was one of the many stars of Hanna-Barbera’s short-lived animated series, Wacky Races.
Wacky Races came out in 1968, and was most likely based on the 1965 film, The Great Race…
The show had a very large cast of colorful characters, who would, well, race.
Each individual/group would have his/her/their own unique vehicle.
Penelope Pitstop was one of the most popular characters on the show.
Her vehicle was the Compact Pussycat, which was basically a beauty shop on wheels.
She would have various little devices in her car that would help her, like she could click on “blow dry” and a giant blow dryer would come out and stop a bad guy from trying to mess with her car. Stuff like that.
So the $64,000 question – was one of those devices a vibrator?
Yes, one of them was a vibrator!
Here is a picture of the dashboard (courtesy of Alana-isms) featuring the vibrator!
What it did was that when activated an extra seat-belt strap would come out around Penelope to keep her secure, and then the car would, well, vibrate.
Presumably this kept the other cars from getting close to her while she drove?
Now the question we leave to YOU folks is, do you think it was an intentional joke or not?
Penelope was popular enough that after Wacky Races ended, she received her own short-lived spin-off series, The Perils of Penelope Pitstop!
Thanks to Kerry for the question and thanks to Alana for the photographic evidence!
TV LEGEND: Masi Oka appeared on the cover of Time Magazine as a kid!
Heroes is a television series about a group of superpowered people and seeing what they all do with their powers (become heroes, villains, etc.).
Actor Masi Oka plays Hiro Nakamura, an idealistic Japanese office worker who discovers he has superpowers. As the series has gone on, Hiro has grown as a person and as a hero.
Oka has been appearing in various TV series for years before getting his big break on Heroes (he also worked in the digital effects field up to AND including his tenure on Heroes).
But amusingly enough, Oka had an earlier brush with fame when he was 12 years old.
Oka appeared on the cover of Time Magazine for August 1987, for a feature on “Asian-American Whiz Kids”…
Oka is the boy on the far left with the blue shirt and the knapsack.
He was not actually one of the children featured in the article (which was about the academic prowess and drive for academic success among Asian-American children in the United States), but the photographer was a friend of his family, so he knew they were looking for Asian-American children for the cover shoot.
I wonder if George Takei has ever been on the cover of Time magazine?
Could Oka be the only Heroes actor to ever appear on the cover of Time?
Neat feat, if true!
It’s a neat story either way, though.
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is email@example.com