This clipping was going around the Jack Benny Fan Club Facebook page this past weekend:
It surely is a measure of something that Mr. Anderson, who had started playing Rochester on the Jack Benny program only two years before, was so totally identified with that role, despite having appeared in at least two dozen films by 1939. (Then again, he was uncredited in most of them.)
And if “Negro comic” doesn’t make your eyes roll, consider the term “sepians.”
Many years later, “Rochester” was apparently still widely believed to be a real person:
Among the most highly paid performers of his time, Anderson invested wisely and became extremely wealthy. Until the 1950s, Anderson was the highest paid African-American actor, receiving an annual salary of $100,000. In 1962, Anderson was on Ebony magazine’s list of the 100 wealthiest African-Americans. Despite this, he was so strongly identified with the “Rochester” role that many listeners of the radio program mistakenly persisted in the belief that he was Benny’s actual valet. One such listener drove Benny to distraction when he sent him a scolding letter concerning Rochester’s alleged pay, and then sent another letter to Anderson, which urged him to sue Benny. In reality, Anderson did well enough to have his own valet.
Jack Benny, for what it’s worth, was never a cheapskate; that was just part of the character he played.