Eddie Anderson (September 18, 1905 - February 28, 1977), often known as Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, was a black American comic actor who became famous playing "Rochester van Jones" (usually known simply as "Rochester"), the valet to Jack Benny's eponymous title character on the long-running radio and television series The Jack Benny Program.
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. At a young age, Anderson permanently damaged his vocal cords, leading to his trademark "raspy" voice.
Benny's call of "Rochester!" and Anderson's answers (often a resigned "Yes, Boss," but just as often a snappy joke at Benny's expense) were among the weekly highlights of the long-running show. "Rochester" became virtually as popular and well-known as Jack Benny himself: his popularity was so great that some newspapers reportedly listed the Benny program as The Eddie Anderson Show.
Anderson's role as a servant was common for Black leads in the popular media of that era, such as Ethel Waters in Beulah. The relationship between Anderson and Benny became more complex and intimate as the years went by, with Rochester's role becoming both less stereotypical (in early episodes he carried a switchblade and shot craps) and less subservient (though he remained a valet), reflecting changing social attitudes toward Blacks. According to Jack Benny's posthumous autobiography, "Sunday Nights at Seven," the tone of racial humor surrounding Rochester declined as a conscious decision between Benny and the writing staff during World War Two, once the enormity of the Holocaust was revealed. In short, Benny didn't find such humor funny anymore, and he made an effort to erase it from the character of Rochester.
Among the most highly paid Black performers of his time, Anderson invested wisely and became extremely wealthy. Despite this, he was so strongly identified with the "Rochester" role that many listeners of the radio program mistakenly persisted in the belief that he was Benny's actual valet. One such listener drove Benny to distraction when he sent a scolding letter to Benny concerning Rochester's alleged pay, and then sent another letter to Anderson, which urged him to sue Benny.
In addition to his famous role with Benny, Anderson appeared in over sixty motion pictures, including the 1943 musical Cabin in the Sky and the comedy It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.
Anderson was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 2001.