Question of the Month
Mammy Two Shoes
Q: Have you ever heard of someone being called a Mammy Two Shoes? What does it mean?
--Hope Robbins - Fairfield, California
A: Mammy Two Shoes was a character in the Tom and Jerry cartoon series created by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera. These short cartoons were created in the 1940s and 1950s. The plot is essentially the same in the early episodes: Tom (a cat) employs strategies to trap a mischievous mouse (Jerry). Tom comes close to capturing Jerry, but, alas, he is outsmarted by the mouse. This recurring plot begins with the first episode, Puss Gets the Boot (1940) . In this episode, Jasper (the original name of Tom) is tricked by Jerry into breaking plates. Mammy Two Shoes throws the cat out of the house. As she drags Jasper out of the house she says, "And when I sez out, Jasper, I means out, O-U-W-T, out."
During the Jim Crow era, it was common for animated cartoons to feature racial caricatures and stereotypes, and the Tom and Jerry shorts were no exception. After explosions, for example, the blasted faces of the characters transformed to black skin, large lips, and bow-tied hair. In the episode Mouse Cleaning (1948) , a temporarily dark Tom parodied a black man (or a white minstrel) to get out of trouble with Mammy Two Shoes. This tendency to play to the racial attitudes of the white audience was also evident in the episode, The Lonesome Mouse (1943) . A terrified Mammy Two Shoes climbed a stool to escape Jerry. The mouse shook the stool and her clothes began to fall off. The shaking also dislodged a diamond ring, false teeth, a pair of dice, and a straight razor.
Mammy Two Shoes appeared in more than a dozen episodes, but in no episode was she called that name. It is probable that the name was, at first, a moniker used only by the people who produced the cartoon, then later by the media and cultural critics. The name is an apt descriptive label owing to the fact that in almost all episodes only her lower body is seen. At the conclusion of the episode Part Time Pal (1947) , Mammy Two Shoes is shown chasing Tom with a broom. This is the rare episode where her full figure is represented, albeit in silhouetted form. It is clear that she is wearing a bandana - a common way of depicting black women stereotypically during the Jim Crow period.
Most observers refer to Mammy Two Shoes as a maid. This characterization is based on what can be seen of her physical appearance, her heavy "black" dialect, and her behavior. However, in at least one later episode she appears to be the owner of the home. In this episode, Saturday Evening Puss (1950) , she has clothes and a dressing room and speaks as if the home belonged to her. One possibility is that Mammy Two Shoes began as a domestic worker for unknown employers and then morphed into the owner of the home. Another possibility is that the cartoon's creators - again, playing to the prejudices of the time - portrayed a black female homeowner in a way that they believed would gain the most comedic effect. In other words, they portrayed her as a Mammy irrespective of whether she was a domestic worker because they believed that portrayal was funny.
In most of the episodes where she appeared, Lillian Randolph supplied the voice of Mammy Two Shoes. She was an actress and singer who appeared in many radio shows, motion pictures, and television shows. Randolph is best known for two roles: Birdie Lee Coggins, a maid in The Great Gildersleeve radio comedy, and Madame Queen on the immensely popular Amos 'n' Andy radio show and television show from 1937 to 1953. During the Jim Crow era the roles offered to black actresses were limited to stereotypical portrayals.
The 1950s saw the fledgling civil rights movement gaining momentum. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and other civil rights organizations complained about the racially insensitive portrayals of blacks in popular culture. In 1954 - the year that the Brown v. Board of Education decision was handed down by the Supreme Court - the Mammy Two Shoes character was removed from the Tom and Jerry cartoon series. In the 1954 episode Pet Peeve viewers are introduced to two new owners: Joan and George, a well-to-do white couple. In 1961, Rembrandt Films began producing the Tom and Jerry shorts. The owner of the house where Tom and Jerry lived was changed to a white man.
I have included links to some of the cartoons to give you an opportunity to form your own interpretation of Mammy Two Shoes. I tried to find - and hope I did - videos of the original cartoons, but I am aware that the Tom and Jerry shorts were edited in the 1960s. In some of the "re-mastered" cartoons, June Foray, a white actress, was the dubbed voice for Mammy Two Shoes. In recent years, new cartoons are produced as Tom and Jerry Tales. In these new cartoon shorts, there is a new Mammy, a white woman. Her name is Mrs. Two Shoes and she made her debut in the short cartoon, Ho, Ho Horrors. She is a large woman and often gruff, but unlike Mammy Two Shoes, Mrs. Two Shoes has a family, as indicated by several photographs on the mantel.
Dr. David Pilgrim
Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia