The Jeffersons was a spin-off series from All In The Family and featured George and Louise Jefferson, a well-to-do African-American couple and their adventures in New York City. It was a more traditional sitcom than its parent series and was far more interested in the relationships between its characters and much less in pressing social issues.
A Decade Of Memories
The incredibly popular TV series lasted a full decade as one of America’s best-loved comedy programs and here’s what you need to know about the popular show.
It Was The Longest Running Comedy With a Predominantly Black Cast of All Time
The Jeffersons began in 1975 and finally came to a close in 1985. The show experienced 11 amazing seasons and featured more than 250 episodes. Amazingly, the spin-off actually outlasted its parent series which was canceled after nine seasons. It also spent more time on screen than The Cosby Show which was, perhaps, America’s best-known comedy with a predominantly black cast.
It Was Cancelled Abruptly And Had No Finale
For some reason CBS pulled the plug on the show without giving the cast and writing team any notice – so it came to an abrupt end with no proper finale. Several cast members say they learned of the cancellation through the media and other personal channels rather than being informed of it personally. They’ve all indicated they thought that CBS’ actions were downright disrespectful.
The Jefferson’s Returned, Briefly, In The Fresh Prince of Bel Air
If The Jeffersons dominated the airwaves of the 1970s and 1980s, it was The Fresh Prince of Bel Air which took their throne in the 1990s. Will Smith’s first well-known role would eventually propel him to international fame but the show didn’t forget its roots. The Jeffersons would appear in the finale of the 1996 season of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, reprising their roles one last time.
The Englishman Was Definitely American
Paul Benedict, who acted the part of the Jefferson family’s neighbor, was an Englishman in the show but in real life that couldn’t have been further from the truth. Paul was actually an American-born and raised in New Mexico. He’d worked on Broadway and the hit children’s TV show Sesame Street before joining the cast of The Jeffersons.
The Jeffersons Feature In A Will Smith Hit Record
It wasn’t just in the Fresh Prince of Bel Air that The Jeffersons proved to have been a huge influence on Will Smith. Will Smith’s hit 1990s single, “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It,” includes a sneak tribute to the two lead characters of the TV show in its lyric sheet. “Now they give it to me nice and easy, since I moved up like George and Weezy.”
Florence And George Carried On When The Show Ended
Marla Gibbs’ role as the maid was so popular that it won her an Emmy award for her part in The Jeffersons. She had a special chemistry that got audiences going, and after the show she continued the role in commercial advertisements for two years. Sherman Hemsley (as George) also appeared in commercials after The Jeffersons went off the air.
Paul Benedict Was Saved By An Audience Member
Paul Benedict was a stage actor in the 1960s. During a performance at the Theater Company of Boston, an audience member noticed something not right with the actor. He came backstage and explained that he was an endocrinologist, and had noticed that Benedict’s facial structure suggested symptoms of acromegaly (a hormone disorder). This intervention enabled Benedict to get treatment and ensure his career as an actor.
Isabel Sanford Was Almost Never In The Jeffersons
Isabel Sanford wasn’t keen on the idea of appearing in a spin-off series as she felt that her role in All in the Family was stable and well-received. She turned down the opportunity until she was told in no uncertain terms that if The Jeffersons was picked up, she’d be written out of All In The Family and replaced by a new actress in the new show.
The Theme Tune Was Ja’Net’s Debut
The theme song for The Jeffersons was composed by Jeff Barry and Ja’Net DuBois. Ja’Net also starred in a popular African-American sitcom, Good Times. However, the theme song for The Jeffersons was her debut as a professional singer and it’s quite incredible how confident and assured she sounds on the song.
What Ever Happened To Norman Lear?
Norman Lear was the creator of The Jeffersons and the original All in The Family, as well as its other spin-off comedy success – Good Times. He is considered to be “The Godfather of Classic Black Sitcoms.” More recently he’s appeared on South Park and was the officiant at Trey Parker’s wedding. He has also consistently been a champion for civil rights in America and beyond.
What Ever Happened to Marla Gibbs?
Marla Gibbs was the actress who played Florence Johnston, the Jeffersons' maid and always ready with a blockbuster comeback in the nick of time. She added a lot of power to the sitcoms funniest scenes and was a series regular throughout the show’s run. She continued to work in TV after The Jeffersons had finished and has appeared on The Hughleys and The First Family. She’s also done a number of movies.
What Ever Happened to Berlinda Tolbert?
Jenny Willis Jefferson was played by the lovely Berlinda Tolbert. She was the child of Helen and Tom Willis, and also the wife of Lionel Jefferson. Once The Jeffersons had finished, she continued to act in many roles. She’s been in ER and Six Feet Under, and starred in some very popular movies such as Goodfellas and Patriot Games.
What Ever Happened to Mike Evans?
Mike Evans was the first and last actor to play Lionel Jefferson, but had to take a break to work on Good Times until Damon Evans temporarily took over the role for a while. After the show, he drifted out of acting and into real estate and was a successful real-estate investor until passing away of throat cancer at the age of 57.
What Ever Happened To Damon Evans?
Damon Evans strangely wasn’t related to Mike Evans, but he did play the same role – Lionel Jefferson. Following the show’s cancellation, he would carry on to pick up several roles on screen and on Broadway. His most critically acclaimed success would be his role in Trevor Nunn’s version of "Porgy and Bess." Over the years, he has gradually dropped out of the limelight.
What Ever Happened to Franklin Cover?
Franklin Cover was the man at the heart of one of the very first, onscreen, interracial couples – Tom Willis. His post-Jeffersons career was very successful and he would star in ER, Will & Grace, and Mad About You, among others. Sadly, at the age of 77 he passed away in 2006.
What Ever Happened to Paul Benedict?
The Jeffersons' next door neighbor, Paul Benedict, always brought the laughs. When he left the show he starred in many other TV shows and movies appearing in The Addams Family, Seinfeld, A Different World, Devil’s Advocate, and more. In 2008, Paul Benedict took his final curtain call and passed away from a brain hemorrhage.
What Ever Happened To Ned Wertimer?
Ned played the doorman, Ralph Hart, and was famous for the scenes when he appeared expecting to be tipped, only to be abused and have a door slammed in his face. The viewers loved it. Following The Jeffersons, Ned would take up occasional roles on TV and appeared in one of The Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Ned died in 2013 from complications following a fall.
What Ever Happened To Zara Cully?
Zara Cully had had a long distinguished career before joining The Jeffersons and she was very popular with the audience as “Mother Jefferson.” Sadly, this would prove to be her final role on television and she died of lung cancer in 1978. It’s worth noting that Zara was a teetotaler, who had never touched a cigarette.
What Ever Happened To Roxie Roker?
Roxie Roker played Helen Willis and is one of the best-known icons of her day thanks to her elegance and beauty. She wasn’t just a proponent of interracial relationships on screen, following the same pattern in real life. Her son Lenny Kravitz is also the son of Sy Kravitz (a Jewish TV producer). She did continue to act after the show and tragically died in 1995.
What Ever Happened To Isabel Sanford?
“The Queen” is how Isabel Sanford will be remembered from her time on The Jeffersons, though her character was Louise Jefferson. Her polished performances acted as a perfect foil for her husband’s whackier and more aggressive behavior. As with much of the cast, Isabel continued her acting career and appeared in In The House and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, among others, before passing away due to heart problems in 2004.
What Ever Happened To Sherman Hemsley?
Sherman Hemsley’s George Jefferson was a one-of-a-kind character. It’s the kind of role that could never be reprise under different circumstances. Referring to white folks as “honkies” and physically evicting people from his apartment is what made him so popular. He continued with a successful and prolonged acting career following his departure from the show until sadly passing away in 2012 from lung cancer.