Coincidentally, Hattie McDaniel and Louise Beavers, who both played the title character on the series, died exactly ten years apart: McDaniel on October 26, 1952, and Beavers on October 26, 1962. See more »
Some TV watchers get extremely annoyed by the phenomenon which they call 'same character, different actor'. I've never understood why they go into high moral outrages about this. I quite agree that Dick York was a better Darren Stephens (on 'Bewitched') than Dick Sargent, but I also feel that an episode of 'Bewitched' with 'the wrong Darren' is still better than no 'Bewitched' at all. Maybe some TV-watchers object to 'same character, different actor' because it forces them to confront the fact that TV isn't actually real life.
The vintage TV sitcom 'Beulah' must infuriate such people: during the run of this TV series, the lead role was played by four different actresses ... and every other recurring role in 'Beulah' was recast at least once during the sitcom's four-year run. Even more bizarrely, the title character - an African-American woman - had originally been played (on radio) by a white male!
'Beulah' was a spinoff from the popular radio sitcom 'Fibber McGee and Molly'. The homespun McGees, of Wistful Vista, employed a sassy black maidservant named Beulah. This being radio, Beulah was voiced by a white male actor named Marlin Hurt, who dressed normally (no blackface, no drag) and began each live-studio radio transmission standing with his back to the microphone. Eventually, actor Jim Jordan (Fibber McGee) would summon the maid by calling: 'Oh, Beulah!' This was Hurt's cue to spin round and shout directly into the mike his high-pitched catchphrase: 'Who dat bawlin' fo' Beulah?' The studio audience, astonished to hear this ostensibly Negress voice emerging from a white man, would always react in surprised laughter. At the end of each episode of 'Fibber McGee', the radio announcer would always read off the cast credits - including Marlin Hurt as Beulah - yet audiences were continually surprised that this recurring character was played by a white male.
Eventually, actor Hurt received his own spinoff radio sitcom, 'Beulah', in which the McGees' black servant went to work for the wholesome Henderson family. Like many other popular radio programmes of the late 1940s, this sitcom was eventually adapted for television. But 'Beulah' - like "Amos 'n' Andy", for the same reason - required racially authentic casting for its transition to video.
The tv series 'Beulah' originally starred Ethel Waters, in Hurt's original part as the Hendersons' maid/cook: this demeaning role was the only steady employment the talented Waters could get at this time. Waters eventually left in disgust, to be replaced by Hattie McDaniels: one of the first Oscar winners to star in series tv, McDaniels was ill and needed the money. After starring in only six episodes of 'Beulah', McDaniels died and was replaced by Louise Beavers, a much less talented performer than Waters or McDaniels. Eventually, Beavers also got tired of the 'yassuh!' dialogue, and she was replaced by Amanda Randolph (who?).
What's really offensive about 'Beulah' isn't the minstrel-show repartee or Beulah's subservience to her white employers the Hendersons, but the fact that the scripts continually had the well-meaning but stupid Beulah causing problems which were invariably solved by her wise caucasian employers. (Beulah's white massah was a respectable suburban lawyer named Harry Henderson, no relation to the title character in 'Harry and the Hendersons'.) In a typical episode, son Donnie Henderson thinks he'll be more popular with girls if he learns how to dance ... so Beulah and her boyfriend (handyman Bill Jackson) taught Donnie to dance. Unfortunately, being stereotyped Negroes in a 1950s sitcom, Bill and Beulah give Donnie lessons in boogie-woogie and jive. Donnie's parents, being respectable white folks in a 1950s sitcom, are scandalised. Beulah moans: 'I put my big foot into it again.' (All of the actresses who played Beulah were hefty, and much of the sitcom's alleged humour was derived from this.)
The role of Bill, slightly less yassuhfied than Beulah, was originally played by Ernest Whitman but was recast with Dooley Wilson, the immortal piano-playing Sam of 'Casablanca'. Wilson did his own singing, but he was in fact unable to play piano: in 'Beulah' and in 'Casablanca', his piano-playing was dubbed.
The family next-door over to the Hendersons also employ a black maid, named Oriole. (Is that meant to be funny?) Oriole was originally played by Butterfly McQueen, the most annoying black performer I've ever seen. Why is she named Butterfly, when she has the voice and cheeks of a chipmunk? The role of Oriole was later recast with Ruby Dandridge, somewhat less annoying. The resident director for this series was Jean Yarbrough, a prolific but untalented hack who worked with some of Hollywood's major comedians yet who ruined everything he touched. Many of the performers in 'Beulah', black and white, did splendid work elsewhere ... but none of them are worth watching here. I'm tempted to rate 'Beulah' zero points out of 10, but I have a deep passion for the artefacts of early television, so I'll rate this racist rubbish one point in 10.
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