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.
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.
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.
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.”
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…
Bern Nadette Stanis as Thelma Ann Ev
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. See what Miss Bern Nadette looks like today and what else she’s been up to, next.
Bern Nadette Stanis Becomes A Writer
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.
“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.”
Carrol O’Connor Thought It Would Never Take Off
Before signing on to do the show, Carroll O’Connor read about the BBC series Till Death Do Us Part on which All in the Family was supposed to be based. He allegedly told his wife that no one would be able to get away with such a bold show on American television.
Still, he signed on to play the lead and the show really took off. Can you imagine anyone else playing the iconic role of Archie Bunker?
How A Show Can Hold An Actor Back
Actress Sally Struthers wanted to do films during her time working on All in the Family. She even auditioned for the lead in the film The Day of the Locust.
However, All in the Family producers refused to give her time off to film if she landed the role and Tandem Productions revised Struthers’s contract to make it so that she could not appear as an actress anywhere else other than on All in the Family.
Actors Thought The Show Was Too Offensive
Before the final cast was set, there were a lot of other names in the mix that were candidates to appear on the show. Harrison Ford was asked to play son-in-law Michael Stivic, but he turned down the role because he allegedly thought Archie Bunker’s bigotry was too offensive.
Luckily turning down the role didn’t hurt Ford’s career at all. Other people up for the role of “Meathead” were actor Tim McIntire and Oakland Raiders linebacker, Chip Oliver.
Archie Bunker Was Much More Liberal in Real Life
He might have played a bigot, but in actuality, Carroll O’Connor’s views better mirrored those of the left-leaning sect. He was even ahead of his time in demanding that Jean Stapleton receive top billing along with him (originally, O’Connor was the only one slotted for this).
That’s right, ladies and gentlemen: Archie Bunker was a feminist. We bet that’s something you never thought you’d see anyone write. O’Connor’s incredible actions helped pave the way for female stars of later series to demand equal pay and billing as well.
Jean Stapleton Wasn’t Actually Tone Deaf
One of the shows running gags was Edith Bunker’s singing ability (or lack thereof). But, in actuality, Jean Stapleton was an accomplished songstress. Her voice even helped land her what would become her defining role: Lear made the offer after watching her shine in a performance of Damn Yankees.
For pretending she didn’t know how to hold a note, Stapleton was awarded two Golden Globes and Three Emmy’s. Not bad for someone who started her career in musicals on Broadway.
Carroll O’Connor Wasn’t the First Choice
It’s hard to picture anyone else as Archie, but Carroll O’Connor wasn’t the original casting choice. ABC, who first had the rights to the show, wanted the part retooled for Jackie Gleason. When Lear sold the show to CBS, he offered Archie Bunker Mickey Rooney the role.
Rooney read the script and promptly declined, believing Lear would be ostracized for his audacity. His refusal turned into a blessing in disguise for O’Connor. Of course, other roles almost went to different actors as well.
There Were Many Firsts
As you’d expect from a show with so much influence, All in the Family featured many firsts. For instance, it was the first show to be videotaped in front of a live studio audience. Other shows, such as I Love Lucy, had been broadcast in front of an audience but this was the first to be recorded.
It was also the first show to feature the sound of a toilet flushing in prime time. My, my… won’t they ever think of the children?
All in the Family Had Many Spinoffs
All in the Family was well known for its spinoffs. There was The Jeffersons, Archie Bunker’s Place, Good Times and Maude. Incredibly, many of these spinoffs were quite successful. In total, seven shows spun off the parent program.
The only other show in history to rival that is Happy Days. That show had five spin-offs, including Mork and Mindy, Joanie Loves Chachi, and Laverne and Shirley. Of those shows, the last one on the list was the most successful, running for eight seasons.
Archie Bunker Had A Special Place For His Wedding Ring
While Archie and Edith loved each other, their relationship was interesting. Suffice to say, there weren’t any dull moments. Archie showcased this by wearing his wedding ring on a very special finger: his middle one.
This way, he got to show it off whenever a driver cut in front of him during rush hour. Talk about bring a little love to your morning commute! The ring gag was just one of the subtle touches Lear used to help flesh out the characters on the show.
Rob Reiner Didn’t Win His Role the First Time Through
Rob Reiner was passed over for the original pilot. He was passed over for the second one as well. It was the third time that proved to be the charm, when Lear gave him yet another chance.
Reiner has stated in interviews that, to this day, he still gets called “Meathead” by random strangers. If you ever wondered what happened to Reiner after the show ended, sleep easy knowing he became an Oscar nominated director.
Jean Stapleton Lived a Long Life
While Edith might have met an untimely end, the woman who played her did not: Jean Stapleton died in 2013 at the age of 90. The lights of Broadway dimmed in her honor as she had begun her career on the stage.
Her coworkers also spoke highly of her. Lear, in particular, stated that she could have given lessons on how to be a human being. The world lost a special person the day she left this world.
Sally Struthers Rebooted Her Role in the Early 1980s
Although Sally Struthers left All in the Family in 1978 (as did Reiner, her TV husband), she came back for Gloria, a spinoff of Archie Bunker’s Place. Unfortunately, it proved to be short-lived, lasting only a season. But Sally’s career hasn’t been so brief. She was on the game show circuit for a time before going back to mainstream (on shows such as Gilmore Girls).
Recently, she’s returned to the stage; in 2014, she toured with Hello Dolly. Reiner, on the other hand, never returned for the spinoff; he’s been just a little too busy.
Carroll O’Connor Was on Television for Forty Years
While Carroll O’Connor will always be Archie Bunker in the eyes of many, his career certainly couldn’t fit into his living room recliner. He was much more than the man who introduced us to the catchphrase “Meathead.”
He had roles on shows such as The Heat of the Night, Mad About You, and The Untouchables. He also starred in dozens of films before his death in 2001. Unfortunately, he’s not the only cast member who has passed away.
Sherman Hemsley Passed Away in 2012
Sadly, Sherman Hemsley, the man who played George Jefferson on All in the Family as well as The Jeffersons died in El Paso, Texas from lung cancer in 2012. But while he’ll always be recognized as the man who moved on up to the East Side, Hemsley was so much more.
He was a former member of the United States Air Force as well as a jazz keyboardist (he even released a few singles). He was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame the same year he passed away.
Archie Bunker Might Have Hated Her In Real Life
Actress Betty Garrett played the Bunker’s feisty neighbor Irene Lorenzo, who acted as a tomboyish liberal foil to Archie Bunker. Years before she appeared on the show, however, Garrett was blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee for her affiliations with the Communist Party and as a result, it was difficult to find work.
So landing the role of Irene was a big break in her acting career. Eventually, other blacklisted actors and writers would return to work as well.
The Words Unspoken
CBS knew that All in the Family would cause a stir among more conservative viewers and took some precautions to ease the shock. While writing the first episodes, Lear received a notice from the CBS Program Practices department that warned him to avoid writing in certain words and phrases.
Lear ignored the request. He envisioned the show as a look into real life. Censoring harsh words and phrases would have stripped away the realism of the show.
O’Connor Played Daddy Behind The Scenes
Because O’Connor and his real-life wife thought of Sally Struthers as a daughter, they certainly were concerned for her as any parent would be. Good thing they didn’t have to deal with the awkward teenage years!
Sally Struthers recounted to People, “He saw me go through an engagement, dates, boyfriends… He always disapproved of them because he thought none of them was good enough for me. Just like my own father would have.” It was even O’Connor who introduced Struthers to her eventual husband.
Bracing Themselves For Backlash
Knowing that All in the Family was bound to offend the average American viewer, CBS posted a disclaimer prior to the first episode. They even hired extra operators at the switchboard to handle calls from outraged viewers.
Surprisingly enough, the viewers were not offended as CBS thought they would be and they actually embraced the brazen figure that was Archie Bunker. Today, the character is still remembered for his blunt brazenness and toxic masculine demeanor.
All in the Family Barely Survived
Due to its tendency to offend, All in the Family was nearly canceled shortly after it first aired. In the witching hours of the 1971-1972 season, it received its renewal, less than a month before the first episode was due to hit the screen.
It returned to much stronger ratings the following seasons. The decision by CBS to stick by the show wasn’t an easy one, but it day pay off in spades. The money they still make from re-runs is enough to keep them smiles for years to come.
Mike’s Parents Weren’t Too Attentive
Mike’s parents never appear onscreen during the run of the entire series. At his and Gloria’s wedding, they didn’t show up; his uncle, instead, was the family member present. When Mike was mugged and hospitalized, they were also never seen.
This wasn’t the only point of vagueness: the name of the college Mike attended was never revealed. Meathead – a man of mystery! Perhaps this mysterious nature is one of the reason Meathead became a fan favorite character.
O’Connor and Lear Were Often at Odds
It’s rumored that O’Connor and Lear had a strained relationship — one mired by contract disputes, creative differences, and even conflicting opinions about the dialogue (O’Connor occasionally rewrote it).
Their unease carried into the 1980s, as O’Connor sued Lear for royalties from The Jeffersons, believing he too was entitled to a piece of the pie. Of course, O’Connor had nothing to do with the creation of the show, and it was determined he wasn’t entitled to any of the profits.
Show Me The Money
Of the many differences that the cast and the producers encountered, contract disputes were certainly one of them. Carroll O’Connor claimed that he was owed $64,000 in back pay from Tandem Productions, in addition to demanding a 12-week vacation during his 24-week work schedule.
O’Connor’s demands prompted Norman Lear create five Archie-less episodes and Lear also threatened to kill off Archie Bunker if O’Connor didn’t lay off his demands. Maybe O’Connor was more like Archie Bunker than we all thought!
Can Archie Bunker Be Replaced?
As Lear threatened to kill off O’Connor’s character, he already had a replacement lined up. James Cromwell played Stretch Cunningham, who was slated to take the place as the male foil for the family dynamic on the show, but O’Connor’s contract was settled and Stretch died after two seasons.
According to the New York Post, O’Connor had Cromwell written off the show “because [he] was getting too many laughs,” with Cromwell adding that “he did me a great favor, because I might have ended up as another Fonzie, an actor totally identified with one character.”
The Biggest Blowup
As a result of her contract provisions, from 1974 to 1975 Struthers tried to sue Tandem Productions, but to no avail. This caused her to go through what she later labeled as a “prima donna period.”
Struthers told People magazine, “I was terrible. I was not happy at the time and dumped all my anxieties, hostilities and frustrations on everyone else.” Looking at all the drama behind the scenes, it’s amazing the show stayed on the air with the same cast for so long!
Not all the actors on set could handle Struthers’ reign of terror. According to People magazine, Carroll O’Connor is the one who finally blew up and gave Struthersa piece of his mind.
Director Paul Bogart recalled, “He told her off like only he can… She fled the set, weeping. When we found her, she asked, ‘Did you hear what he said? I thought of him like my father.” Without O’Connor’s blow up, who knows what would have happened to Struthers’ character.
Like A Surrogate Father
Perhaps Carroll O’Connor had good reason to yell at his on-screen daughter the way he did. Struthers’s own father died before the series began and she often thought of O’Connor as a stand-in father.
While cameras weren’t rolling,she even called O’Connor “Daddy.” O’Connor told People, “My wife, Nancy, and I think of Sally as a daughter.” She may have come into their lives as an adult, but they clearly thought of her as one of their own.
A Reunion Years In The Making
In 2019, Jimmy Kimmel announced on his late night show that he was working with Normal Lear to bring back both All in the Family and The Jeffersons. The 90 minute television event will recreate and re-imagine classic episodes for modern audiences.
Together, Lear and Kimmel are pulling out all the stops. Actors already confirmed for the special include Will Ferrell, Wanda Sykes, and Jamie Foxx. Lear said he agreed to do the special serves on purpose, to show “the timelessness of human nature.”
Rob Reiner Found Greater Success Behind the Camera
As mentioned above, Reiner will always be Meathead, but his television persona aside, it’s in the director’s chair where he’s really left his mark. He seems to be all over Hollywood, having directed When Harry Met Sally, Misery, A Few Good Men, This is Spinal Tap, and the Princess Bride (to name a few).
Today, he’s still working as much as he can, and was even behind the camera for Shock and Awe, a film about the invasion of Iraq.
Bea Arthur had a Golden Career
Bea Arthur played Maude for so long that it’s almost impossible to tell one from the other. But for those born in later decades, Arthur was better known as Dorothy, the dry-humored widow on The Golden Girls. That show ran for seven seasons on NBC, giving Arthur an amazingly long television career.
During her career, Arthur won awards for both television and stage. She even returned to Broadway in the sunset of her life. She died in 2009 at the age of 86.