Eddie “Rochester” Anderson (1905-1977)

Eddie Anderson, The Jack Benny Show publicity show, ca. 1947
Photo by NBC Radio, public domain

Born September 18, 1905 in Oakland, California, Eddie Anderson’s career as an entertainer began at the age of 14 when he teamed up with his brother Cornelius in a song-and-dance act.  Anderson’s career continued onto the silver screen where he had parts in movies such as What Price Hollywood? (1932) and Green Pastures (1936), although it was not until 1937 when he appeared as a railway porter on The Jack Benny Program that Anderson truly got his big break. Though he was initially slated as only having a one-shot role, Anderson was so well received that he was offered the part of “Rochester Van Jones,” Jack’s valet.

“Rochester” turned out to be Anderson’s most popular role by far, and he continued with it until 1965 when The Jack Benny Program was taken off the air.  “Rochester” was not Anderson’s only role during this time; he also kept on in movies and can be found in such films as Gone with the Wind (1939), Cabin in the Sky (1943), and It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963).

Although Anderson was working at a time when most African Americans were struggling greatly in their attempts to break into show business, he was able to find great success.  Despite his stardom, Anderson was not able to avoid some of the more discriminatory practices of the day.  A large number of his roles continued to be subservient in nature, and even “Rochester” was portrayed as a somewhat stereotypical character.  Yet, despite some limitations, Anderson was able to break the mold in many ways.  Though technically subservient to his white boss, “Rochester” was at the same time witty, sarcastic, and often portrayed as more intelligent than Jack Benny himself.  Also, as the program continued, and Anderson became more important to the show, his role became less stereotypical.  Eddie “Rochester” Anderson died February 28, 1977.  In 2001 he was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame.