Tom, Jerry, & Mammy Two Shoes

I decided to procrastinate procrastination this morning. Or so I thought until I jumped on this blog.  Anyway, I’m reading “English with an Accent,” a book chapter about how stereotypical images find their way into cartoons. Questions of how such images are interpreted by children are also raised. The author focuses on Disney films, analyzing the speech patterns and representations of various groups. Well, me being the easily distracted scholarly reader that I am, as the author mentioned certain cartoons, I began to YouTube each one for visual sake. Let’s just say it’s Saturday morning and I felt a little old school.

As a child, my brother dominated the television dial. There are shows that I hate to this day because of this lack of channel control, however, on my list of favorite cartoons is Tom and Jerry. They never spoke, but instead performed a constant game of—what else—cat and mouse. Many of my favorite episodes featured an obvious black woman, although all we saw was the bottom of her dress, socks, and slippers. All we could hear was that loud southern voice (tell me one thing about it that makes it African American Vernacular English) as she shouted at Tom for various reasons. Similar to when I watch television shows today, even then I was curious about the actions of the black character. Mammy Two Shoes, as I later learned her name to be, kept Tom in check, and back then that’s all I really understood about her. Now, I can associate the mammy image, relating it to a negative/stereotypical portrayl of black women, and I can even point out the cartoon makers refusal to show her face being due to attitudes about black female domestic workers of the time (i.e. pre-civil rights movement). Back then though, it was just Tom, Jerry, and what I assumed to be Tom’s black owner.

In later years, I saw one of my favorite Tom and Jerry episodes. Instead of the loud voice of a black southern woman, a new white voice replaced it. Instantly, my face frowned up. Mammy Two Shoes didn’t sound like that! Why try to be politically correct now? After all these years! Then I had to question whether the Mammy Two Shoes portrayal was really that racist. Of course, I had to check myself for a moment and really examine her character again.

Today, after viewing a few YouTube clips and laughing on occasion (maybe I should be ashamed for doing so, but I have a cat that gets into everything myself), I decided to do a bit of research on Mammy Two Shoes. Here are the clips I viewed and the information I found (via Wikipedia):

Mammy [Two Shoes] first appeared in Puss Gets the Boot, the first Tom and Jerry cartoon (although the cat’s name is “Jasper” in this one). The character went on to make many appearances through 1952’s Push-Button Kitty. From 1954’s Pet Peeve, the owner of the house became a young, white, middle-class couple, and starting with 1955’s The Flying Sorceress, the audience was able to see the heads of the owner(s).

Mammy was originally voiced by well-known black character actress Lillian Randolph. In the 1960s, the MGM animation studio, by then under the supervision of Chuck Jones, created censored versions of the Tom & Jerryrotoscoping techniques to replace Mammy on-screen with a thin white woman, and the voice on the soundtracks was replaced by an Irish-accented voice performed by white actress June Foray.

The original versions of the cartoons were reinstated when Turner Broadcasting acquired ownership of the Tom & Jerry property. In 1995, the cartoons featuring Mammy were edited to replace Lillian Randolph’s voice with that of Thea Vidale, whose dialogue was redone to remove the Mammy character’s use of potentially offensive dialect. These versions of the cartoons are aired to this day on Turner’s Cartoon Network-related cable channels, and have also turned up on DVD as well (on an extra note, many fans of Tom and Jerry prefer the original voice of Mammy). However, some European TV showings of these cartoons retain Randolph’s original voice.

Why change the voice if you’re not going to change the AAVE? Anyway, since it is Black History Month, let’s have a commercial break moment for Lillian Randolph, the original voice of Mammy Two Shoes:

Lillian Randolph (December 14, 1898 – September 12, 1980) was an American actress and singer, a veteran of radio, film, and television. A native of Louisville, Kentucky, she was the younger sister of actress Amanda Randolph. An African American, she worked in entertainment from the 1930s well into the 1970s, appearing in hundreds of radio shows, motion pictures, short subjects, and television shows. Randolph is best known as the maid Birdie Lee Coggins from The Great Gildersleeve radio comedy and subsequent films and television series, and as Madame Queen on the Amos ‘n’ Andy television show from 1951 to 1953. Her best known film role was that of Annie in It’s a Wonderful Life. She appeared in several featured roles on Sanford and Son and The Jeffersons in the 1970s. Her most prolific acting role, however, was her uncredited voiceover part as Mammy Two-Shoes in William Hanna and Joseph Barbera’s Tom and Jerry cartoon short subjects for Metro Goldwyn Mayer during the 1940s and early 1950s. Randolph made a guest appearance on a 1972 episode of the sitcom Sanford and Son as Hazel, a distant relative of the Fred Sanford (Redd Foxx) character who humorously gets a cake thrown in her face, after which Fred replies “Hazel, you never looked sweeter”. Randolph died of cancer in Los Angeles, California on September 12, 1980 at the age of 81.

And she rarely escaped the Mammy Two Shoes role. Just listen to the voice and sound of slippers as seen here:

Happy reading, y’all. Speaking of which, I better get back to it.

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17 thoughts on “Tom, Jerry, & Mammy Two Shoes

  1. I had a class on Sexual revolution of Women last year and the Madam two shoes is a stereotype on black women because they were always thought as Southern Accent speaking, big women who always played a motherly role as you said. If you search movies form the 50’s and 60’s or before black women were only known for that stereotype or they were highly sexualised. A good example is Aunt Jemima brand.

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  2. I know, I know. But should we consider the creators of the Mammy Two Shoes character to be racially insensitive or racist? And what’s the real difference?

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  3. Yes, they were by replacing her, and also I noticed that they censored her we only know she is a black motherly figure. Her face is censored and it only shows her body which is a stereotyped body. Why didn’t they depict Mammy Two shoes as a black petite nanny with a non southern accent? On the other hand maybe they were not being racially insensitive maybe they based Madam two shoes with what the audience could relate too aka what sells.

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  4. Excellent post. Very interesting and informative. It reminded me of Snuffy Smith. I had to draw him in 5th grade for a school open house project. He was poor and we were poor, but I remember thinking – not everyone who is poor is stupid…

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  5. You know I had to look up Snuffy Smith. I had no idea who he was until then.

    I’m ashamed to say that I thought Mammy Two Shoes owned Tom. I didn’t know she was the maid either.

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  6. I wasn’t offended as a kid. It was just a big black women with a southern twang in her voice. Having grown up in the south, I saw plenty of women that looked and talked like that. Hell my grandmother was a healthy southern-accented maid/nanny. Frankly, I feel like it’s a little patronizing (and simple – in an hyperparsed sort of way) that people get offended by it now, but to each their own.

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  7. I’m glad Rashid Z. Muhammad posted that, as it shows everything that’s wrong with EDITING Mammy out, stereotypes exist for a reason, usually because they’re based on FACT.

    What’s so negative about being poor, Southern (U.S.), black & fat etc anyway?….Surely those that support the editing are the racist ones?
    As far as I’m aware, Southern U.S. is poorer than the North, being English does me noticing that make me racist against “hicks”….NO!!!!

    Obviously black people should be banned from working to make money, especially working for someone white, because that’s just racist stereotype 😉

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  8. I’ve been reading all sorts of blogs and such, and apparently not showing her face, and having those slippers (she’s a maid, you’d hardly wear your best shoes) is racist.
    People really have to dig for it.

    Also, I remember an episode where Tom ended up in “Blackface” at the end (by accident), so Mammy chases him off into the horizon, even I understood that one as a little kid.
    Surely that’s an anti racism message?

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  9. Accepting things like “having” to edit Mammy Two Shoes out simply makes things worse, because then it suggests to “anti-racists” thet they’re right; it’s simple psychology, and similar to the appeasement of Hitler before the breakout of WWII.

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  10. Mammy was warm, smart and funny character, and I never perceived her to be a maid as a child, I still think the house is hers: “A party? At MY HOUSE?”. Why are people reading into it that just because she is black, she is a maid and she doesn’t own a house? Is that not racist in itself?
    As for her head, aren’t people reading in to it too much? Surely it is just to show that the animals have a different perspective, because they are shorter than her? Other shows with animal protaganists and human owners play to this, such as Cow and Chicken.

    I find it more offensive that because she was black, she had to be replaced by a more “acceptable” white couple. Surely they are horrible white stereotypes portraying white couples as bland, boring and materialistic? Surely it’s better to show different types of people rather than just a white nuclear, middle class family?

    What I’m trying to say is that most cartoons employ stereotypes – that’s the point of a cartoon. We can read a million things into them, but essentially a cartoon is like a caricature – it exaggerates reality.

    Maybe what the politically correct brigade should do instead is ban any sort of diversity on cartoons to prevent any type of offence being caused to anyone, and all we can watch middle class, materialistic, white heterosexual couples. Because that’s not offensive or discriminative, is it?

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  11. What bugs me to no end is that people get weirded out by the loveably boisterous Mammy Two-Shoes or the warm, kindly, simple but wise Uncle Remus (and those delightfully adorable Brer Rabbit toon vingiettes) yet we’re a-okay with the violent, misogynous, big female butt-obsessed stupidiy of Gangsta Rappers, Ghetto trashy Pimps & Pushers & glamorization of Thuggishness. THAT is the worst bit of “Minstrel Show” I’ve ever seen. We censor the mild, ambiguous black stereotypes but were fine with the Ghetto/Jive-Talking/Foul-Mouthed/Crack-Smoking/Thug-Losers. It’s nuts! You can still have a strong black character who’s a good person & not a moral barfbag! Perhaps the “Blackface Jokes” & stuff are objectionable, but an overweight Southern African American woman & her goofy Cat & Mouse means nothing to me.

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  12. The Tom and Jerry cartoons have been issued by Warner Home Video in three sets—Tom and Jerry Spotlight Collection Vols 1, 2, and 3.

    Set 1 only contains a single Mammy cartoon, as they were afraid to show much of her at the start.

    Set 2, when first released, contained a few redubbed Mammy cartoons by accident (others were original). More recent pressings were fixed to include the original versions.

    Set 3 is missing two cartoons that were deemed too offensive for issue, though edited versions do appear on TV—MOUSE CLEANING and CASANOVA CAT. MOUSE CLEANING in particular was suppressed specifically for the scene Kurt cites in the comment above (Mammy offended by the sight of Tom in blackface).

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