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.