Fibber McGee and Molly’s Beulah: A Female African American Role on Radio played by a White Man

Beulah first appears at 79 Wistful Vista on Jan 25, 1944. At her first utterances there are peals of laughter from the studio audience, almost before she has said anything funny. Fibber McGee and Molly hire Beulah for one day a week. On Tuesdays Beulah will cook, clean, wash, and respond to Fibber’s wise cracks. The McGee’s are so pleased with Beulah’s services that they intend to do more entertaining on Tuesdays. Tuesday is of course the night that they are on the air.

The new domestic help is in her 30s, perhaps a little over fond of her own cooking, a little bit man crazy, and tends towards short skirts and high heels. When she speaks for the first time during an episode, she gets more than her share of laughs. When she is called she replies with “Somebody bawl fo’ Beulah?” and answers McGee’s witticisms with “Love that Man!”

Beulah deserves most of the laughter for her comic lines and delivery. Many of the laughs are the studio audience’s surprise at seeing Beulah in the flesh for the first time. This black lady is played by a white male actor, Marlin Hurt.

Beulah became popular enough to be spun off to her own program, The Marlin Hurt and Beulah Show in 1945. Hattie McDaniel was the first black actress to play the part on the renamed Beulah Show beginning Nov 24, 1947. The NAACP praised the selection of McDaniel. When McDaniel became ill in 1952 she was replaced by Lillian Randolph, who would in turn be replaced the next season by her sister, Amanda Randolph.

Beulah was adapted for TV in 1950 for three seasons. Along with the TV version of Amos ‘n’ Andy, the program was criticized for perpetuating stereotypical black characters. Actress Lillian Randolph, who along with Beulah played Birdie Lee Coggins, the cook for The Great Gildersleeve, replied to the criticism in the pages of Ebony magazine. It was Randolph’s contention that the roles were not harmful to the image or opportunities of African Americans; the roles themselves would not go away, but the ethnicity of those in them would eventually change.

Enjoy this episode of the first appearance of Beulah on Fibber McGee and Molly:

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