In the book Of Mice and Magic, author Leonard Maltin laments that Famous Studios toned down Jack Mercer’s under-breath mumblings for the character Popeye from the 1940s onward. At the same time, another charming vocal staple was discontinued. Ever since the 1930s African American vocal artist Lillian Randolph sang when performing for animated cartoons as a domestic servant. She often sang in dialect, keeping in line with stereotyped conventions that Hollywood promoted for how domestic-servant characters spoke. However, the singing set her maids apart from those played by other vocal artists, who were usually European American men like Mel Blanc.
Randolph first sang as a maid in Walt Disney’s Three Orphan Kittens in 1935, and she sang as fictional domestic workers for the studio until Figaro and Cleo in 1943. By then she had started work for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer as the maid in the “Tom and Jerry” series. She sang in the 1943 episode The Lonesome Mouse, which demanded much from her voice. She started her performance by singing “How About You” but, to reflect that Jerry Mouse hurt her by snapping her garter, screams in pain mid-performance. The maid sings Duke Ellington’s “I Got It Bad, and That Ain’t Good” in the 1945 episode The Mouse Comes to Dinner. However, she sounds different, and Randolph may not be the singer in that instance. The African American newspaper Kansas City Plaindealer reported in December 1944 that MGM had recently hired a singer named Anita Brown as a cartoon vocalist, and imdb.com lists her among the cast of The Mouse Comes to Dinner.
The maid did not return to “Tom and Jerry” until 1947, and MGM gave Randolph more lines to speak in episodes upon her return. On the other hand, she no longer sang when playing the character. In a sense, the “Tom and Jerry” maid was modeled more after radio sitcom characters like the title-character of Beulah, and she essentially became just another fictional domestic servant. Randolph’s now-songless character was the last of the animated maids to be retired—in 1953.