Eddie Rochester Anderson
Edmund Lincoln Anderson, often known as Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, was an American comic actor who became famous playing “Rochester van Jones”, the valet to Jack Benny’s eponymous title character on the long-running radio and television series The Jack Benny Program. Anderson also owned Burnt Cork, a Thoroughbred racehorse that ran in the 1943 Kentucky Derby.
He was born in Oakland, California into a family of performers. Anderson began his show business career at age 14 in a song-and-dance act with his brother Cornelius and another performer. They billed themselves as the Three Black Aces. At a young age, Anderson permanently damaged his vocal cords, leading to his trademark “raspy” voice.
Anderson’s first appearance on The Jack Benny Program was on March 28, 1937. In this episode, Benny and his cast were traveling by train from Chicago back to California and Anderson was cast as a redcap. Anderson’s first interaction with Benny was at the station in Chicago while they were boarding the train. On one of their two jokes, Benny said, “Here you are, redcap, here’s fifty cents.” Anderson replied, “This is a dime!” and Benny replied, “Look at your script, not the coin!” Benny later had an interaction with a different actor on the train, who laughed when Jack asked about when they would arrive in Albuquerque. In later years, Benny and Anderson referenced this conversation as having been between the two of them, and Anderson quipped, “Now if you’ll give me my tip, I’ll go home to my family.”
Anderson appeared acting as Benny’s valet on the June 20, 1937, show and, from that point onward, he appeared intermittently in that role; however, it would be several years before he would be mentioned at the start of the program as part of the cast. As was frequently the case in the The Jack Benny Program actor and the character were conflated, and Eddie Anderson was credited as Rochester.