I Saw That!

One woman's opinions about popular entertainment.

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Location: Chicago, Illinois, United States

Amateur boxing coach, Christian (but not so heavenly-minded that I'm no earthly good) singer, writer, self-defense advocate, childfree. feminist www.smartwomenboxingtraining.org

Friday, July 25, 2008

"The Jeffersons" (1975-1985)

George Jefferson (Sherman Helmsley) was a self-made man. Born poor in New York City, he opened a dry cleaning store on April 4, 1968 -- the day Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated -- and grew it into a thriving company. The company did so well that he and his wife, Louise (Isabel Sanford), whom he called "Weezy", were able to move into an upscale high-rise along with their college-aged son Lionel (first played by Mike Evans, and later by Damon Evans).

George was smart in business, but he had some major personality flaws, namely his temper and racist attitudes. He had plenty of targets to take his ire out on. Britisher Harry Bentley (Paul Bentley), a translator at the UN, lived down the hall. Helen and Tom Willis (Roxie Roxer and Franklin Cover) were an interracial married couple who lived upstairs. Lionel dated, and later married, their daughter Jenny (Berlinda Tolbert). Ralph (Ned Wertimer), the building's doorman, always had his hand out for tips. The only people who never seemed to let George completely run them over were Louise, and the maid, an outspoken woman named Florence (Marla Gibbs).

Episodes mainly focused on domestic squabbles between George and his wife, George's quest to get more business, and his ongoing fights with the neighbors and whoever else he came across. Yet there was plenty of commentary on issues of the day and race relations.

I always wished there would have been more exploration of the dynamics of the relationship between Tom and Helen Willis. An early episode had George telling the two they didn't dare get into an arguement because of the fear that Tom might call Helen the N-word (Tom was white). The couple left the Jefferson's apartment in a huff. But then Tom admitted to Helen that during their arguements, the N-word crossed his mind. The audience gasped. There would be times when the Willis couple would talk about their challenges as being an interracial couple. But never again would they have a deep conversation like that.

Mother Jefferson (Zara Cully) was a great character. George's mother seemed to never find anything good to say about her daughter-in-law Louise. Louise spent many an episode holding herself back from either cursing the woman out or putting her hands around her throat. Her character appeared on the show for about three years. Unfortunately, the actress who played her passed away; it was explained in the show that George's mother had died.

In fact, most of the primary cast for this long-running sitcom has passed on, including Ms. Sanford, Ms. Roxer, and Mr. Covey. Sherman Helmsley went on to another popular sitcom entitled "Amen" (1986-1991). Ms. Gibbs was the star of "227" (1985-1990). Ms. Roxer's son is musician Lenny Kravitz.

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