Bill Cosby and Fat Albert
    by Kevin Shortsleeve

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Hey Hey Hey. It's Fat Albert

And I'm gonna sing a song for you

And Bill's gonna show you a thing or two."

Bill Cosby's longest running television program was not, as you might think, The Cosby Show of the 1980s and 90s, but the cartoon show, Fat Albert, which ran from 1972 to 1984.

In the early 1970s, after his meteoric rise to fame in the 60s with I Spy and numerous best-selling comedy albums, Cosby found himself at a crossroads. And in what was a complete surprise to many, he decided he wanted to become a teacher. He enrolled at the University of Massachusetts, purchased an old farm in Amherst, and began attending classes, on his way to a masters and eventually, a doctorate in Education.

He didn't stop working in show business, however, and eventually found a way to combine both his scholarly and story-telling interests. The result was Fat Albert, a hip and thoughtful program about a gang of city kids faced with the moral and educational dilemmas of growing up. Cosby provided the voice for many of the characters, like Mush Mouth and the ever-rhyming Fat Albert. All the gang, from Weird Harold to super cool Rudy, were based on actual children whom Cosby had grown-up with in the streets of North Philadelphia - and each cartoon was framed with remarks from the "Cos" himself to explain the lesson of the program.

For Cosby, Fat Albert was an educational experiment, and at school - in place of traditional term papers - Cosby was handing in scripts of the Fat Albert show. "His doctoral thesis was titled "An Integration of the Visual Media Via Fat Albert and The Cosby Kids into the Elementary School Curriculum as a Teaching Aid and Vehicle to Achieve Increased Learning."

Cosby was awarded a doctorate for his efforts, and Fat Albert was honored with a number of awards and has become one of the more unique and interesting in Saturday morning cartoon history - one of several successful blows Cosby dealt in his long battle against stereotypes, mindless violence, and what he has termed "junk TV."

Brief sound clip

Copyright 2003 Kevin Shortsleeve

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"Recess!" is a co-production of the University of Florida's Center for Children's Literature and Culture and WUFT-FM, "Classic 89."