This story was published in Radio Recall, the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old-Time Radio Club, published six times per year.
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Eddie Green: The Rise of an Early 1900s Black Entertainment Pioneer
by Elva Diane Green (Bear Manor Media, 2016) 204 pages, many illustrations
Reviewed by Edgar Farr Russell, III © 2016
(From Radio Recall,October 2016)
Sometimes a tragedy in life may ultimately result in a wonderful journey of discovery-- and we the readers are privileged to accompany a lady in search of a father who died when she was only three! This is the case with the first comprehensive biography of a writer, director, producer, songwriter, dancer, vaudeville comedian, and film mogul, not to mention a radio, movie, and television performer. He even ran a music business and served as a successful restaurateur! All of this is recounted in this book written by his daughter, Elva Diane Green.
In thinking about the tone of Ms. Green's writing, I'm reminded of a spiritual pilgrim in search of historical knowledge which will not only document her father's many accomplishments, but also provide a fuller understanding of his motivation to achieve success and his desire to help other performers succeed. In addition, the author offers the reader brief, but significant introductions to many who shared in Eddie Green's life and career. Ms. Green's enthusiasm for her father's movies also encourages us to attempt to find copies of many lost Eddie Green self-produced short films!
This book will help you to understand how Green's own personal voyage brought him from the dismal surroundings of the poorest part of East Baltimore, Maryland to the career heights he enjoyed in New York and Los Angeles. Eddie, born in 1891, began as a magician at sixteen. He was advised to drop the magic and concentrate on comedy.
In 1917 he wrote his first song "A Good Man is Hard to Find" which was recorded by such diverse artists as Sophie Tucker, "Fats" Waller, Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Louis Prima, Rosemary Clooney, Brenda Lee, Nancy Wilson, Carol Channing, and Frank Sinatra-just to name a few!
He was a part of many legendary theatrical productions including Mike Todd's "Hot Mikado" in which he co-starred with Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. He appeared on the first public demonstration of television which NBC broadcast in 1936. He was even working at Billy Minsky's Theater the very evening that was later immortalized in the film "The Night They Raided Minsky's"!
Perhaps you, too, will be struck by the numerous legendary stars who formed close knit professional and personal relationships with Green and who continued to influence the course of theater, film, and television long after his untimely death in 1950. Hattie McDaniel (Academy award winner for "Gone with The Wind"), James Basquette (Star of the Disney film "Song of the South", Tim Moore (immortalized as The Kingfish on the "Amos and Andy'' television show); as well as fellow comedian Jackie "Moms" Mabley and actor Eddie "Rochester" Anderson (of Jack Benny fame). The quiet dignity. and pride with which Ms. Green tells her father's story are also quite remarkable and refreshing.
If you're like me, you probably only knew Green as Eddie, the Waiter on the Golden Age radio program "Duffy's Tavern". I learned that Green appeared on many radio shows including Raymond Knight's early comedy hit 'The Cuckoo Hour", Jack Benny's "The Jell-0 Program", and such prestigious experimental productions as "The Columbia Workshop".
As you read the book, you'll learn that Green mastered all the phases of show business, balanced multiple careers at a breakneck pace of work, and still found time to treat his colleagues, friends, and family with kindness, and fairness. In a business sometimes marked by envy and bitterness-and in a life which was much too short-- Eddie Green appears to have been beloved by everyone who knew him. Perhaps that may be his greatest achievement.
Through her in-depth research and accompanying photographs, Ms. Green has presented to her own family, and to her readers, a biography which restores to Eddie Green his rightful, distinguished place in the performing arts. That may be her greatest achievement! Book has a color cover illustration of Eddie Green by M. Bennett; Hardcover $31 .95, Soft cover $21 .95; www.bearmanormedia.com
Edgar Farr Russell, Ill is an award-winning writer and director whose work has appeared on National Public Radio, television, and the stage.