Beulah: 1950 – 1953, ABC’s First Hit Sitcom

Written By: Greg Howell - Jan• 26•20

Beulah, the long-running radio show starring Hattie McDaniel, moved to TV in 1950. While Hattie continued on radio, legendary entertainer and Oscar-nominated actress Ethel Waters originated the role on ABC-TV. According to press releases of the day, she was “the queen of the kitchen and manager of the house.” Butterfly McQueen was her co-star and sidekick on the sitcom.

Ethel Waters and Butterfly McQueen

The sitcom represented a number of important firsts in TV: Beulah was television’s first sitcom starring AND featuring black actors; and, Beulah was ABC’s first hit sitcom, giving the troubled network a much needed boost;

Most episodes dealt with Beulah scheming to get her white bosses out of some trouble they had landed. Other sitcom devices of the day filled out other episodes, such as misunderstandings between the household members.

Beulah quickly caught the ire of the NAACP for the use of negative stereotypes, most often the antiquated speech and diction of characters in the show. And, of course, the portrayal of a black character as a mammy stereotype.

Ad for “Beulah” for syndicated run.
BEULAH, Hattie McDaniel, 1952.

Ethel Waters and Butterfly McQueen left the show at end of season one when the show moved from the Bronx to Hollywood. Miss Waters was starring on Broadway and had no desire to move to California. Hattie McDaniel took over the role, but fell ill after 6 episodes. Louise Beavers accepted the role until the show was cancelled in 1953. Though the ratings were still high, pressure from the NAACP put this show and Amos ‘n Andy out of production only months apart in 1953. Both TV shows enjoyed long syndicated reruns until the early 1960s.

Louise Beavers, 1952-53

The radio show ran until 1954, with Lillian and Amanda Randolph in the roles. In all, on radio and TV, 5 actresses portrayed Beulah from 1947 – 1954. Prior to 1947, the character of Beulah was portrayed by a white man, including on the character’s run on the popular radio show, “Fibber McGee and Molly.”

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