Yesterday, several commenters said Eddie Anderson’s character of “Rochester” on the Jack Benny Show was a racist black stereotype.
Not true. Rochester was smart, literate, hard-working and very funny, the opposite of the standard 30’s racist stereotype of dumb, lazy, illiterate (like “Amos ’n Andy”), orfawningly obedient.
The very first sit-com, the Jack Benny Show’s premise was that Jack was a famous radio star who was the ultimate cheapskate, and Rochester was his only servant, a combination of valet, chauffeur, cook, etc.
Despite that, their relationship was more as equals; Rochester always swapped lines with Jack, ridiculing his boss’s cheapness, and he always got the better of his boss. (Benny wasn’t afraid to let other cast members get big laughs).
Rochester was one of the earliest (to my knowledge) of what is now standard, the back-talking servant, only the relationship between Rochester and Benny was friendly, and not as antagonistic as on shows like “The Jeffersons.”
(How cheap was Jack? The show’s most famous gag: A robber pulls a gun on Benny, and demands, “Your money or your life.” A long pause follows, and the robber repeats his threat. Benny’s exasperated response: “I’m thinking it over!”)