Comedian Bill Dana died recently and with him went comedic racial stereotypes as popular TV fare. Dana is likely to join a long list of forgotten performers in the pantheon of 20th century comics who created exaggerated and widely successful ethnic characterizations.
Example: Stepen Fetchit, whose real name was Lincoln Perry, played a slow-witted negro who billed himself as The Laziest Man in the World.
Bill Dana, born William Szathmary, appeared on countless variety shows, creating a Mexican dodo-head whose My name ….Jose….Jimenez,” became a national catchphrase.
As the 1950s came to a close, both actors were seen as harmful anachronisms, perpetuating negative stereotypes. Their acting careers crashed.
Fetchit did a few made-for-TV cameos later, but a stroke ended his career in 1976. Despite his negative stereotype, NAACP Hollywood chapter honored him with a special Image Award. Is that like the GOP honoring Donald Trump with their presidential nomination?
Bill Dana continued to work as a successful comedy writer. He created the classic All in the Family episode when Sammy Davis kisses the bigoted Archie Bunker on the cheek.
Dana may be an instructive example for actors when work becomes uncertain. Develop a Plan B that utilizes showmanship experience and skills like teaching, coaching, directing or producing. It doesn’t have to be in entertainment. These skills apply to any business or enterprise. The nub is attitude towards thriving on a different stage.