In the world of television, iconic African-American sitcom “Sanford and Son” helped to change and revolutionize the Black entertainment landscape. Centered on the antics of a cantankerous junkshop owner played by actor-comedian Redd Foxx (pictured left), the show helped pave the way for other successful shows helmed by Black actors. “Sanford and Son” made its NBC network television debut on this date in 1972, and still stands as one of the most-popular shows of all time.
Based in the Watts section of Los Angeles, Foxx (real name John Sanford) played “Fred G. Sanford,” which was also his brother’s name. A widower, he ran his junk and salvage company with his son, “Lamont,” who was portrayed by Demond Wilson. White television producer Norman Lear was responsible in bringing “Sanford and Son” to life, adapting the show after a BBC program called “Steptoe And Son.” The show was seen as the Black version of Lear’s other popular program “All in the Family,” which featured the bigoted “Archie Bunker” as played by Carroll O’Connor.
Foxx’s character was supposed to be an older man of 65, far older than his actual age during the show. With his gravelly voice, staggered gait, and humorous quips (often at his son’s expense), Sanford could incite laughter just by appearing on the screen. Lamont was a butt of a running catchphrase – “You Big Dummy!” – that still hits with the same punch as it did then. Other characters also figured prominently in the “Sanford and Son” universe.
“Esther Anderson” (played by comedian LaWanda Page) was Sanford’s main nemesis. The sister of his late-wife, Aunt Esther endured insults before launching in to her own assault (“fish-eyed fool”) complete with her swinging pocketbook. “Grady Wilson” (played by Whitman Mayo) was Sanford’s best friend, often bailing out his pal who was always involved in a hustle of some sorts. An interesting bit of trivia: Grady Wilson is the real name of the actor who played Lamont.
“Bubba Bexley” was also party to Sanford’s harebrained schemes, often helping his friend concoct schemes for money.
Lamont was clearly second fiddle to Fred in nearly every aspect, but episodes featuring him and his running mate “Rollo Lawson” (played by Nathaniel Taylor) showcased the pair in several zany situations. There were several other recurring characters in the show, with Sanford reaching back to his comedian days to recruit actors, such as Pat Morita of “The Karate Kid” fame for the show.