Tim Moore (December 9, 1887 – December 13, 1958) was a celebrated African-American vaudevillian and comic actor of the 1910s-1950s period. He achieved his greatest popularity in the starring role of George "Kingfish" Stevens in the CBS television series, Amos 'n' Andy.
He was born Harry Roscoe Moore in Rock Island, Illinois, one of 13 children of Harry and Cynthia Moore. The elder Moore was a night watchman at a brewery. Tim dropped out of school to work at various odd jobs in town and also danced for pennies in the streets with his friend, Romeo Washburn.
In 1900, the two went into vaudeville with Miss Cora Miskel in an act called "Cora Miskel and Her Gold Dust Twins." The act found favor with booking agents and travelled through the Midwest and the Northeast, and the British Isles. As the boys grew older, the act became less effective and Miss Miskel returned them to their parents in Rock Island (c. 1902). Shortly after this, Tim joined a medicine show headed by Doctor Mick, a charlatan who sold a quack remedy called "Puritia." The show travelled throughout the Midwestern states and included songs and dances provided by Tim and four Kickapoo Indians.
Tim left Doctor Mick and became a stableboy and then a jockey in Iowa. This was followed by a stint as a prizefighter. Around 1906, he returned to show business, this time with a troupe of minstrels known as "The Rabbit's Foot Company." By 1908, he had returned to vaudeville and met and married his first wife, Hester. They performed as a team for several years, appearing in the United States and several foreign countries. They performed together in "Tim Moore's Georgia Sunflowers," a minstrel show featured in southern vaudeville circuits. Their marriage ended around 1915 and he married another vaudeville actress named Gertrude. Tim returned to pugilism under the name of Young Klondike and trained in New Zealand. He had bouts in that country as well as in Australia, England and Scotland.
With the money he had earned, he and his wife went back into vaudeville. Moore formed his Chicago Follies troupe and gained considerable popularity as a favorite on the Theater Owners Bookers Association (or T.O.B.A.), vaudeville circuit throughout the Roaring Twenties. In 1923, Tim and Gertie co-starred with Sandy Burns in the silent film comedy, His Great Chance (North State Films). Next year, in vaudeville, they toured in "Aces and Queens," which proved a lucrative venture. On the strength of this, in June 1925, Tim Moore made his Broadway debut as the star of Lucky Sambo (based on "Aces and Queens'); however it came a cropper after a few performances. 1926 brought the Moores success on burlesque's Columbia Wheel with the hit show Rarin' to Go and next year on the T.O.B.A. circuit with The Southland Revue.
In 1928, Moore left vaudeville altogether for another fling at Broadway. This time he met with enormous success as the star comedian of Lew Leslie's hit musical comedy revue, the Blackbirds of 1928. Moore's co-stars were singers Adelaide Hall and Aida Ward and renowned tap dancer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. The hit musical scored high in Paris and London as well as on the road throughout the states. After a disagreement with Lew Leslie, Moore starred in a few unsuccessful Broadway revues, Fast and Furious (1931), and The Blackberries of 1932. In the former production, Moore wrote some of the skits along with his friend and co-star Zora Neale Hurston. But, needing each other, he and Leslie patched up their differences and Moore resumed his position as star comedian in the Blackbirds revues of 1934, 1935, 1936, 1937 and 1939. In this last edition, the principal singing star of the show was Lena Horne. Moore's last Broadway show was Harlem Scandals (1942), produced by Ed Sullivan and Noble Sissle. During the period, ca. 1938-1946, Tim Moore was one of the top comedians headlining at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. Gertrude Moore died sometime after 1930; Moore was certainly a widower by 1935.
In 1946, he starred as Bumpsie in the musical comedy race film, Boy! What a Girl. He then retired from show business and with his third wife, Benzonia Davis Moore (1889-1956) settled down in his old home town of Rock Island (Moore's second wife Gertie died in the 1930s).
Television Stardom and Later Years
In 1951, Moore was called out of retirement by the Columbia Broadcasting System to star in a new television adaptation of Amos 'n' Andy as George "Kingfish" Stevens, a role which was voiced on radio by white actor Freeman Gosden. As the radio series had developed in prior years, the scheming but henpecked Kingfish had become the central focus of most of the plots. In the television version, Moore played the character more broadly, with louder and more forceful delivery and a distinctive Georgia drawl, exaggerated for comic effect. Moore's Kingfish dominated the calmer and soft-spoken "Amos 'n' Andy" characters.
Moore was very popular in the show and for the first time in his career became a national celebrity, as well as the first African American to win stardom on television. The show aired on primetime TV from June 1951 to June 1953. Although quite popular, the series was eventually cancelled due to complaints about ethnic stereotyping. After the series was cancelled, it was shown in syndication until 1966.
Many of the TV shows were devoted to Tim Moore as Kingfish, supported by Ernestine Wade as his headstrong wife Sapphire, without the participation of Amos 'n' Andy. This is because these Kingfish-only episodes were originally produced as a spinoff series, The Adventures of Kingfish, which made its debut on CBS on January 4, 1955. When the Amos 'n' Andy half-hours went into syndication, the Adventures of Kingfish shows were added to the syndicated package, under the Amos 'n' Andy series title.
Moore married his last wife, Vivian (1912-1988) after Benzonia's death and this marriage won him considerably publicity thanks to the "Roast Beef Scandal" of January 1958. Moore fired a gunshot at his "mooching in-laws" when he found that the last of the New Year's roast beef had been eaten by them. According to newspaper accounts dated January 6, 1958, Moore was candid when the police came: "I'm the old Kingfish, boys, I'm the one you want. I fired that shot. I didn't want to hit anyone, although I could have. Anyway, you should have seen the in-laws scatter when I fired that gun." At his arraignment, bail was set at $1000. However, "the Kingfish" evidently so charmed the judge that the bail was cancelled and Moore was released. Thanks to the "Roast Beef Scandal," Moore was once more in demand and even received a testimonial tribute dinner from the Friars' Club in Beverly Hills The publicity also won him an extended performance engagement at the prominent Mocambo nightclub.
Tim Moore died at age 71 of pulmonary tuberculosis in Los Angeles, California, four days after his birthday. After a large funeral, (attendees included George Jessel, Frank Sinatra, Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis, Ronald Reagan, George Burns, Eddie Cantor, Sammy Davis, Jr., Harry Richman et al), he was buried at Rosedale Cemetery.