Bill Cosby's longest running television program was not, as you might think, The Cosby Show of the 80s and 90s, but the cartoon show, Fat Albert, which ran from 1972 to 1984.
In the early 70s, 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 run battle against stereotypes, mindless violence, and what he has termed "junk TV".
Cosby, The Life of a Comedy Legend, by Ronald L. Smith, Prometheus
Books, Amherst NY, 1997.
For satellite feeds of Fat Albert via the Kentucky Network, go to: http://www.ket.org
Copyright 2004 © Kevin Shortsleeve
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