Friday, September 23, 2016

EDDIE GREEN: Pioneering Black Filmmaker, Movie Star, Old-Time Radio Icon

In an era when African American entertainers struggled to gain a foothold in show business, Eddie Green rivaled Oscar Micheaux for honors as a pioneering Black filmmaker. Audiences from the Apollo to Broadway propelled Eddie Green into two of America's most popular long-running radio programs, Amos and Andy and Duffy's Tavern. His films have fallen into obscurity, fallen into orphan status as a result of the low-budget independent studios, mere curios on YouTube only if you are seeking out those specific titles. Recordings of his appearances behind the radio microphone circulate among fans of old-time radio, where Eddie Green's talents remain preserved in digital format.

Today, Eddie Green is best known for playing Eddie, the waiter, on the long-running radio comedy, Duffy's Tavern. Ed Gardner and his Duffy's program received more than one award and citation for depicting Eddie Green in a positive life; from an Honor Roll of Race Relations to Variety magazine citing the program as "improving race relations." Much like Eddie "Rochester" Anderson on The Jack Benny Program, Eddie was never the foil -- always the gag man.

ARCHIE: Ransom Sherman has a new radio show, and there is a highly remote possibility that he might hire me.

EDDIE: Yea, but, you ain't no radio actor.

ARCHIE: There are two schools of thought on that, Eddie.

EDDIE: But you never went to either one of them schools... What kind of radio program is this, anyhow?

ARCHIE: Why, it is called, The Nitwit Court.

EDDIE: Oh. You've got that one.

Thankfully, a new book has been published that reveals his contributions beyond radio. Within 190 pages his career is documented through multiple Vitaphone film shorts, a Warner Brothers movie, a vaudeville career, and brief television career. On July 7, 1936, Eddie Green was one of two comedians who were chosen to lend their bit to the first television broadcast by RCA/NBC. Not only did he star in The Hot Mikado on stage in 1939, but reprised his stage role for the same play at the 1939 New York's World's Fair.

Who better to write a book about Eddie Green than his daughter, Elva Diane Green, who spent more than a decade digging into archives, questioning people who worked with her father, and researching old newspapers and magazines. As Elva explains in the introduction, the book is meant to bring her father's name back to the fore of the public's memory, both as a way to honor his vast amount of work, and as a way to provide an example of what a person can accomplish in life regardless of certain obstacles. For one major reason, the most difficult book to write is a biography: unless the author knew the subject personally and intimately, it is extremely difficult to report what they were thinking or feeling. I find most biographies today are padded with plot summaries of stage plays and motion-pictures, lacking trivia about the actor's involvement behind the scenes. Assumptions tend to creep up like facts and authors tend to "assume" how an actor felt without consulting personal letters to verify this. Thankfully, Elva's mother lent a guiding hand in the early stages of this book. And what better way to capture a family tree and preserve an actor's legacy than from his daughter?

Eddie Green: The Rise of an Early 1900s Black American Entertainment Pioneer was published by Bear Manor Media this summer and comes with my recommendation. The sands of time may have buried his name, but Eddie Green's laughter still echoes around the world. Thanks to this first-ever biography, a good man is no longer hard to find.

You can buy a copy of the book here:

Elva's website devoted to her father can be found here:

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