On February 8, 1974, CBS premiered Good Times, a show about the Evans family and their lives in the projects of inner-city Chicago. Created by writer Eric Monte and actor Michael Evans, Good Times was brought to life by producer Norman Lear as a spin-off of his show Maude, which was a spin-off of his original show, All in the Family. Let’s take a look back at the cast of Good Times and what they’ve been up to since.
Florida Moves To Chicago
Esther Rolle played matriarch Florida Evans. Florida originally appeared as the housekeeper on the show Maude, until Good Times was developed and focused on Florida’s family. For the creation of Good Times, writers altered the history of Florida and her family, giving no mention of Maude throughout the duration of the show. Good Times was solely premised on the Evans family and their struggles to overcome poverty in 1970s Chicago.
While the show dealt with serious topics in the first season, which undoubtedly is what made the show popular in the first place, Rolle grew restless with the show’s direction by season two. Click on to find out why!
A Strong Father Figure
On Good Times, patriarch James Evans often found himself unemployed, but when he did have work he held two jobs at once, primarily doing manual labor. Much to Florida’s discontent, James sometimes hustled money by playing pool. Like Esther Rolle, actor John Amos—who played James Evans—also had issues with the direction the show was taking. Apparently Amos had multiple disagreements with producer Norman Lear, who by the third season told Amos that his contract with not going to be renewed.
Amos told Jet in 1976, “That’s the same as being fired. Sure, I want to do my thing in films, but not at the expense of my job.” Many people at the time assumed that Amos left the show to pursue more serious acting roles, but his ideological disagreements with Lear were the real reason. As a result, James Evans was killed off the show, having died in a car accident at the start of the fourth season.
J.J. Coins “Dyn-O-Mite!”
James Evans, Jr.—primarily known as J.J. on Good Times—was the eldest Evans kid on the show. He was arguably the most well-known character on the show, popularizing the catchphrase “Dy-no-mite!” which quickly caught on with viewers. Jimmie Walker, who played J.J., became a household name, especially for the way in which he portrayed the clownish antics of J.J.
While that became a premise for the comedic aspects of the show, not everyone agreed with the way the character was written. As a result, Walker was frequently at odds with his castmates, especially Rolle, because he felt that they didn’t support him and his newfound popularity.
As previously mentioned, not everyone agreed with the way J.J. was written. John Amos was quoted as saying, “The writers would prefer to put a chicken hat on J.J. and have him prance around saying ‘DY-NO-MITE’ and that way they could waste a few minutes and not have to write meaningful dialogue.”
Esther Role apparently had the biggest issue with this, telling Ebony in 1975, “He’s 18 and doesn’t work. He can’t read or write. He doesn’t think. The show didn’t start out to be that… Little by little—with the help of the artist, I suppose, because they couldn’t do that to me—they have made J.J. more stupid and enlarged the role. Negative images have been slipped in on us through the character of the oldest child.”
Esther Rolle Quits!
In addition to Amos being fired, Esther Rolle was so fed up with J.J.’s buffoonish storylines that she eventually quit the show. At the end of season four, the character Florida was written out by getting engaged to Carl Dixon (since her husband dies), then getting married and moving to Arizona by the start of season five. But after this, executives at CBS realized the show was plateauing due to lack of parental guidance with both of the Evans household heads gone.
They decided to invite Rolle back to the show, who only did so on the condition that she get a higher salary and higher-quality scripts. This entailed that her character was no longer with Carl (since she believed that Florida couldn’t possibly move on so quickly after James’s death) and mostly making J.J. are more responsible character, so that he’d be a better example for African-American youth.
Thelma Was A Bombshell
Bern Nadette Stanis played the only daughter and middle child of the Evans family, Thelma. Thelma was quick-witted goal-oriented, becoming a role model for young girls across America. Thelma’s character proved that you could have big dreams and achieve them despite the circumstances, especially with a strong family support system.
Bern Nadette Stanis, who played Thelma, was probably not far off from her character. Having grown up in 1960s Brooklyn, as a teen she became Miss Brooklyn as a part of the Miss Black America pageants and became a first runner-up for Miss New York. She later went on to attend Juilliard.
Michael The Militant Midget
Ralph Carter played Michael Evans, the youngest son of Florida and James. On Good Times, Michael was often referred to as “the militant midget” by his father, because of his passionate activism. Before he was Michael on Good Times, he was cast in the Broadway musical Raisin, which is based off of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun.
Carter primarily worked throughout the ‘70s and early ‘80s as a child and teen actor for both Broadway and some television, but hasn’t had any major acting credits since. Click on to see what he and the other Good Times actors have been up to in recent years!
Esther Rolle Fights For The Show
When Rolle signed on to do Good Times, she insisted that a father figure be written into the show, because it would be too stereotypical for her to be raising a family on her own. Rolle always fought hard for the integrity of the show’s writing, which is why she was upset when J.J.’s character brought a sense of frivolity to the show.
Still, as one of the most seasoned actors on the show, Rolle was nominated in 1975 for a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Musical/Comedy. In 1978, she won a Primetime Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie for her role in the film Summer of My German Soldier. Esther Rolle passed away in 1998 due to complications from diabetes, nine days after her 78th birthday.
James Amos Is In Everything
As another seasoned actor on the show, John Amos went on to have an incredibly prolific career in film and television. Not only was he nominated in 1977 for a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor for a Single Appearance in a Drama or Comedy Series for his role in Roots, he is also credited with having won the most TV Land Awards over any other actor for his work on Roots, Good Times, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
Amos’s most recent acting credits include Two and a Half Men and 30 Rock, and he’s even appeared on Netflix’s The Ranch—although that’s hardly a taste of his filmography.
Jimmie Keeps It Comedy
After Good Times went off the air, actor Jimmie Walker kept busy. In addition to making guest appearances on numerous television shows such as Fantasy Island, The Drew Carey Show, Scrubs, and Everybody Hates Chris, Walker has also appeared in films such as Airplane!, Doin’ Time, and Let’s Do It Again alongside Good Times co-star John Amos.
Meanwhile he kept up a career as a radio host for numerous radio stations from the late ‘70s through the ‘90s. He currently still tours for his stand-up routine and is known to have conservative views on politics. In his autobiography, Dyn-O-Mite: Good Times, Bad Times, Our Times: A Memoir, he is a self-proclaimed “logicist,” who believes in “logic and common sense.”
Bern Nadette Becomes A Writer
Since Good Times ended, Bern Nadette Stanis has acted in some television shows such as What’s Happening Now!!, Bustin’ Loose, and The Cosby Show. She even reprised her role of Thelma Evans for an episode of The Wayans Bros. in 1997.
Aside from acting, Stanis is also a writer. She has written four books including Situations 101: Relationships, The Good, The Bad & The Ugly, For Men Only, Situations 101: Finances, and The Last Night. She has been married four times and has two daughters. Stanis is also an Alzheimer’s Association National Spokesperson as an advocate for Alzheimer’s awareness, a disease she calls the “Monster in the mind” and which her mother suffers from.
Ralph Carter Sings
At the height of his Good Times popularity, Carter was somewhat of a teen-idol singing sensation. In 1976, he came out with “Young And In Love,” which was produced by Mercury Records. His other hit single was “Extra Extra (Read All About It)” and he would often perform on episodes of the show.
Following the run of Good Times, Ralph Carter reunited with his television father John Amos in 1989, for a stage production of Pass is the Pass by Richard Wesley. But in general, he wasn’t fully able to transition into adult acting roles. He has been married two times and has five kids.
Seasoned actress Ja’net Dubois was a fixture on Good Times as Willona Woods, the Evans family’s neighbor and Florida’s best friend. Dubois was cast in the show after Norman Lear saw her acting in a play at the Mark Taper Forum. The end of Good Times didn’t slow Dubois down, as she has consistently guest-starred in numerous films and television shows from then, well into recent years.
She even won two Primetime Emmys for Outstanding Voice-Over Performance in The PJs, a stop-motion animated television series that was co-created by Eddie Murphy, Larry Wilmore, and Steve Tompkins. Sadly, Ja’net Dubois passed away in 2020, at the age of 74.
What About Bookman?
Johnny Brown appeared on Good Times as Nathan Bookman, the superintendent of the building in which the Evans family lived. Often the brunt of fat jokes delivered by J.J. on the show, Brown as an actor was known for his chubby physique, wide smile, and his impeccable impressions.
His comedic talents are what made him a fixture on the television series Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-in, a sketch comedy program of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Norman Lear had Brown in mind for a lead role on Sanford And Son, but was contractually obligated to Laugh-In at the time. Brown has a daughter named Sharon, who is also an actress.
A Famous Little Girl
You might recall a young child actress with a popular last name to have been on Good Times as well. Janet Jackson appeared on the final two seasons of Good Times as Millicent “Penny” Gordon Woods, a girl who was adopted by Willona after she was abused and abandoned by her own mother.
Before being cast on Good Times, Jackson was on The Jacksons, a variety show that starred her and her siblings. After Good Times, she would go on to have roles on A New Kind Of Family and Diff’rent Strokes. But after acting in her youth, Jackson went on to forge an incredibly successful music career in her own right.
Janet Takes Off
As Janet Jackson is arguably the most well-known person to have starred on Good Times, the public paid attention to her career as he grew older. By the mid-’80s, she had already released her second album and stated that she wanted to break free of her family’s control. She subsequently released her third album, Control, which was “remarkably nervy and mature” for a teenaged Jackson.
By the ‘90s Jackson began acting again with her film debut in Poetic Justice. Jackson caused a stir in 2004 when Justin Timberlake accidentally exposed her breast during their Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime performance. Amidst continuing to work in music, Jackson recently had her first child, a son born in January 2017 with husband Wissam Al Mana.
A Boy With A Goal
When screenwriter Eric Monte was a young boy he loved westerns, according to a 2006 story by NPR. His favorite cowboys included the likes of Roy Rogers and the Lone Ranger. Growing up in the projects of Chicago, he pretended to be the Lone Ranger on his broomstick horse until one day an older white neighbor told him he couldn’t be the Lone Ranger because the Lone Ranger was white.
That’s when he decided he wanted black heroes to look up to and at age 22, he hitchhiked to Hollywood to become a writer, having had no prior experience and just five dollars.
After enrolling in theater classes at a local community college, in five years Monte successfully sold producer Norman Lear on one of his scripts for All in the Family. After pitching his idea for a show about a black family living in Chicago—very similar to his experiences growing up—Monte finally hit his big break. The success of Good Times earned Monte a beautiful home in the Santa Monica Mountains and a NAACP Image Award.
“Not only would Monte’s shows portray African American families, the individual characters would be multidimensional and the scripts would avoid negative stereotypes. He would break with tradition and illustrate that life for the working poor isn’t all about crime, drugs and cheap laughs,” as Los Angeles Times succinctly put it. But success wouldn’t last long…
On The Hollywood Blacklist
Monte’s vision for how he wanted to portray the Evans family on Good Times and the families on his other shows wasn’t in line with what Hollywood wanted, as he quickly came to find out. He told NPR that producers from the start wanted him to dumb down J.J.’s character (which Esther Rolle and James Amos had issues with) and also said, “the one note I got in every meeting, without fail, was you’ve got to get rid of the father. A strong, black man in a sitcom don’t work.”
In addition to creative differences, Monte eventually successfully sued ABC and CBS in 1977 for using his ideas without giving him credit, winning in a one-million-dollar settlement. But unfortunately, that was the end of his career and he soon fell on hard times…
“Not So Good Times”
Monte’s acting to sue blacklisted him as a scriptwriter that was “too hard to work with” and his relationship with Norman Lear ended. Soon he lost his home and his car, eventually succumbing to drinking and developing a crack cocaine addiction. After struggling for 30 years, as of 2005 Monte eventually found a Salvation Army homeless shelter that allowed him to write.
Newly clean—the shelter conducted drug tests—Monte continued to write, developing 30 movie and book pitches. He told NPR, “My living in the shelter and my being broke, I see that as a minor inconvenience. Life is way too short for me to let some idiotic thing like that make me unhappy… Goals are like life, you don’t reach them, you keep fighting to attain them.”