From humble beginnings to being a household name, Bill Cosby has influenced millions of people. He has proven to be a successful comedian, product representative, television producer, storyteller, author, and film and television star (Merrit). Throughout his career, he has changed the way African Americans are viewed. He has used his fame and popularity to address sensitive issues in society. He has imbedded values, morals, and teachings into his books and comedy routines. He has been extremely generous and has donated millions of dollars to worthy institutions and organizations.
Bill Cosby was born in North Philadelphia on July 12, 1937, at 3:00 am. His parents were originally from Virginia and moved to the North during the Great Depression (Herbert 21). When he was born, his family was lower middleclass (Herbert 21). When Bill Cosby was eight years old, his brother James died from rheumatic fever (Wichterman). Shortly after this family tragedy, his father joined the Navy. At first, his father sent money home to his family, but he soon stopped sending any support. In order to help pay the bills, young Bill began working by shining shoes.
By the time, he was eleven he was working fulltime in the summers (Herbert 24). Throughout Bill Cosby’s childhood, his grandfather and mother were his major role models (Herbert 24). Bill Cosby’s grandfather loved to tell stories. (Herbert 24). Most of the stories had a moral point about working hard or getting an education (Herbert 24). In times of struggle, his mother’s sense of humor helped keep him upbeat and not depressed (Herbert 26). Bill Cosby started to show signs of being a good comedian at an early age.
He would often crack a joke or do something that would make his mother laugh, in order to get what he wanted (Herbert 27). Bill Cosby’s humor was his way of dealing with the pain and hardships of living in the ghetto (Herbert 27). With his sense of humor, he could turn a painful or sad situation into a funny and happy one (Herbert 27). The way he kept people from crying was to get them laughing (Herbert 27). If grades were given on athletic ability, Bill Cosby would have gotten all A’s (Herbert 31). He excelled in football, baseball, and basketball.
When he was not cracking a joke, he impressed everyone with his amazing speed and athletic ability (Wichterman). He was also very active in the Police Athletic League Competition and a supreme pitcher and the captain on the high school football and track teams (Herbert 31). He was a very intelligent person, but never took his grades seriously. Mary Forchic, his sixth grade teacher, helped bring Bill Cosby’s grades up, but they soon fell when he was out of her influence (Herbert 32). She was also the person who inspired him to be an educator (Herbert 32).
In 1956, after failing several grades, he dropped out of high school. In order to support himself, Bill Cosby shined shoes for a living (Herbert 37). He also tried attending night school but could not focus and eventually quit (Herbert 37). Then, like his father, he joined the Navy. He stayed in the Navy for four years. During that time, he realized his mistake of dropping out of High School and soon enrolled in correspondence school to complete his education (Herbert 38). Because he participated in sports through the Navy, he was able to achieve an athletic scholarship to Temple University.
At the time he entered Temple University, he was mature enough to keep his grades up while doing extracurricular activities. Bill Cosby played football, basketball, and track. Even through his constant studying to keep his grades up, Bill Cosby retained his sense of humor (Herbert 40). During his sophomore year, as a bartender, he began telling jokes to earn larger tips (Herbert 43). When winter break rolled around in 1962, Bill Cosby decided to try to make it as a comedian in New York. He started out making $60. 00 a week, plus a free place to stay (Herbert 45).
In his comedy routines, he would occasionally talk about personal experiences, but he mostly did what other comics were doing (Herbert 46). At first, one third of Bill Cosby’s act consisted of racist jokes, but he eventually tried to establish his own brand of humor (Herbert 48). This paid off, and he soon began making more money. He was offered a job in Philadelphia making $250. 00 a week, but this job interfered with football practice (Herbert 50). At this point, Bill Cosby decided he would leave college in order to pursue a career as a comic.
Bill Cosby’s act started to move from one-liners to storytelling (Herbert 53). He eventually recorded his first album, Bill Cosby Is a Very Funny Fellow …Right, 1963. The album soon reached the bestsellers charts. In 1963, after knowing Camille Hanks for only two weeks, he asked her to be his wife. Less than a year later, they were married. At this point, he was one of the top comedians in the country (Herbert 58). He was invited to the Tonight Show and eventually guest hosted it many times (Herbert 59).
In 1964, Bill Cosby released his second album, I started out as a child; it earned over a million dollars. Bill Cosby’s first major roll in television came not in comedy but the action-adventure series I Spy, in 1965 (Merrit). This was the first time an African American had stared in a weekly television series. This show, along with his comedy career, broke many racial boundaries (Bill Cosby). After I Spy, Bill Cosby created his own show, The Bill Cosby show. This show did not do very well. He then tried several other shows. In 1972, Fat Albert and the Cosby kids came out.
This show was a Saturday morning cartoon that educated children in a very casual and fun way (Herbert 79). Bill Cosby then tried several other shows, but they were not very successful. In 1971, Bill Cosby’s television career seemed to be at a standstill and he decided to go back to college (Herbert 80). Consequently, his family moved to Massachusetts so that he could attend the University of Massachusetts (Herbert 81). He worked hard to earn his masters and doctorate degrees in education. In 1984, the television series The Cosby Show began. It was one of his most successful shows.
Bill Cosby had grown disappointed with most television shows and created one that lacked violence and was suitable for the whole family (Wichterman). The Cosby Show was the number one television show for four years. In 1999, Bill Cosby created the cartoon Little Bill, which helps build self-esteem and social skills in children. It is based on his own childhood experiences. In 1974, Bill Cosby stared in the film Uptown Saturday Night. This movie was successful with black and white audiences (Herbert 86). Bill Cosby has had even more success with books than in movies (Herbert 89).
The first book he wrote was The Wit and Wisdom of Fat Albert in 1973. Fat Albert Survival Kit followed shortly after. In 1986, he released the book Fatherhood; it sold almost 3 million copies. In 1987, he released the book Time Flies. Bill Cosby is a familiar face in advertising. His ability to communicate with children and adults makes him an ideal advertiser (Herbert 92). In 1974, he did his first advertisement for Jell-O brand pudding (Herbert 90). He soon became the face of Jell-O. Since then, he has advertised for Coco-Cola, Dutch Masters, the Ford Motor Company, E. F.
Hutton, Kodak, and Texas Instruments (Herbert 91). In recent years, Bill Cosby has been trying to improve black communities (Williams). He speaks out against controversially subjects such as drugs, violence, and teen pregnancy (Herbert 95). “In November of 1998, he and his wife donated 20 million dollars to Spellman College, the elite black women’s college in Atlanta” (Herbert 93). He continues to work on projects that influence and better American society. Over the last 50 years, Bill Cosby has been a huge influence on American society. He has accomplished more things than most people even dream about.
He is also the first African American to star in a weekly television series (Bill Cosby). Through his entertainment, publications, teachings, and generosity he has influenced and changed American Culture for the better. Works Cited “Bill Cosby. ” Moono Home Page. 2001. 23 Apr. 2008 . Herbert, Solomon and George, Hill. Bill Cosby. New York: Chelsea House, 1992. Merrit, Bishetta. “Bill Cosby. ” Museum Home Page. 23 Apr. 2008 . Wichterman, Larry. “Bill Cosby. ” Geocites Home Page. 2003 23 Apr. 2008 . Williams, Walter. “Three Cheer for Bill Cosby, Part 2” Capitalism 12 June, 2004. Simpson