Entertainment Profile: Bill Cosby
by Kenney Dennard
Few entertainers have achieved the legendary status of Bill Cosby over the past century. His successes have spanned over five decades as he continue to speak out and be vocal, sometimes using comedy and sometimes just direct, in your face truths about African American society and African American youth.
He was born, William Henry Cosby Jr, in Philadelphia Pennsylvania in July, 1937. Cosby admits that he was a class clown through most of his school life. He was also very athletic, playing almost every sport, football, basketball, baseball and running track. In Junior High, he began acting in plays as well.
After failing the 10th grade, he would leave school and join the Navy. He would eventually finish high school via a correspondence course while still in the military. When Bill was discharged, he enrolled at Temple University with an athletic scholarship and earned academic honors. He had decided to become a Physical Education teacher.
Cosby had always joked around with the people around him and noticed how easy it was to make people laugh. To make extra money on the side, while he was in school, he started working as a bartender. He would make his customers laugh and would get bigger tips. That would lead him eventually to the stage where audiences seemed to love him.
Bill left Temple to pursue a career in comedy though he would return to get his degree in the 70’s. He lined up gigs in Philadelphia and eventually was off to New York City. He received national exposure in 1963 on "The Tonight Show," and then released his first comedy album, "Bill Cosby is a Very Funny Fellow... Right!"
Actor Carl Reiner had caught Cosby's act and enjoyed it. He met with Bill and would eventually introduce him to producer Sheldon Leonard, who would sign him to star in the "I Spy," series. That would make him the first African-American co-star in a dramatic television series.
During the run of the series, Cosby's popularity grew as he released a half-dozen comedy albums. He would go on to win 3 Emmy Awards for "Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series."
Cosby was given his own show in 1969 entitled, "The Bill Cosby Show." It was successful for two years. After the shows run, he went back to school and continued with his comedy. He had created a character in his routine, "Buck Buck," about a childhood friend he called Fat Albert. In 1969, Bill and animator Ken Mundie brought Fat Albert to animation in a one-shot prime time special called "Hey, Hey, Hey, It's Fat Albert," and aired it on NBC. The music for the special was written by jazz pianist/keyboardist Herbie Hancock. NBC refused to put the cartoon on Saturday mornings thinking it was too educational so Cosby took it to CBS, where it ran for 12 seasons.
Also during the 70's, Cosby would join forces with other successful actors, including Sidney Poiter to make successful black films that countered the "blaxploitation" era. Among those films were, "Uptown Saturday Night," and "Let's Do It Again." He was also a regular on public television programs, hosting "Picture Pages," segments that lasted into the early 80's.
In the early 80's two former executives from ABC, Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner approached Cosby about starring in his own sitcom about an upper class family of seven being raised in Brooklyn NY. He used comedy as his tool to show Americans the positive aspects of a black family in that era. Cosby insisted on and received total creative control of the series. That sitcom would become one of his greatest successes. The show lasted 8 seasons and is one of only three American programs that have been #1 in the Nielsen ratings for at least 5 consecutive seasons, along with "All in the Family," and "American Idol." It is also the only program to be ranked # 1 for six consecutive seasons.
After the show Cosby embarked on a number of other projects, including a new show for CBS, "Cosby," alongside Phylicia Rashad, his own screen wife from the "Cosby Show." It would last four seasons but not do near as well in the ratings as "The Cosby Show." In 1999, Bill would find success with the Nickelodeon series for preschoolers, "Little Bill."
Over the last decade, Cosby has been very critical of Blacks and offended many as he has come down on the last generation saying that blacks have forgotten the sacrifices of those in the civil rights movement. He's also been very critical of young black males walking around with their pants sagging.
Bill Cosby is an American Icon who has earned a right to voice his opinion. His works have always brought the positive aspects of the African American Community to the limelight.
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