The 1970s and 1980s produced some of the best sitcoms in American history and among these great shows was The Jeffersons.
When we look back at some of our favorite moments of The Jeffersons we see that it was one of the few shows that managed to mix humor with serious issues. The Jeffersons cast truly seemed like a family – sometimes dysfunctional, but always managing to stick together.
But, The Jeffersons Cast hid huge secrets from the cameras. Nevertheless, these challenges didn’t hold the show back and it still managed to become a big success – despite the many hurdles that came its way. But do you know about these secrets? Even some of the biggest fans don’t know them.
Join FactsVerse to learn about how The Jeffersons Cast hid these huge secrets from the cameras….
SHERMAN HEMSLEY’S BEGINNINGS
Without a doubt, George Jefferson couldn’t have been played by anyone else but Sherman Hemsley and this great character was created because of his personal life experiences.
As the theme song of The Jeffersons makes clear, the characters were ‘movin’ on up’ as they came from nothing and have become something great – finally getting their piece of the pie.
Sherman Hemsley was born on the first of February, 1938, in South Philadelphia. He was raised by his mother who was a factory worker and he didn’t meet his father until his teens. He dropped out of high school and went on to serve in the US Air Force. Upon his return he worked at the post office while studying acting in the evenings.
As one would expect, his life wasn’t easy – being a postal worker was exhausting and the pay was little. He had to muster the energy to study acting and he struggled to find work. He had found a few bit parts and recurring roles on TV but he wasn’t cast in The Jeffersons until he was almost 40.
But the show made him a star and he continued to work regularly until his death in 2012. He was a rather private gentleman and little was known about the struggles he had to go through to become the actor he became. But his struggles throughout his life is what made him a great actor and its what made him perfect for the role of George Jefferson – a character who had to go through major struggles to become a success.
FRANKLIN COVER’S STRUGGLES
Like Sherman Hemsley, Franklin Cover also had many struggles in his life to become a successful actor.
He played Tom Willis who was married to Helen Willis – played by actress Roxie Roker. This couple was one of the first interracial couples seen on American television. As a result, Franklin Cover was doing his part to not only play a great character – but to make history.
The Willis family lived right next to The Jeffersons so they were also a wealthy couple. However, Franklin Cover came from modest beginnings and was still struggling during his time working on the show.
The Jeffersons was the first show that he had a starring role and before the show he mostly worked on stage. He would take the bus to get to the set and often, his co-star Roxie Roker would drive him back to his rental property where he lived. She even joked that he was the ‘black woman’s burden.’
It’s perhaps these struggles that made him perfect for the role – being able to portray a likable character and one whom you could count on as a great friend.
Franklin Cover had a few guest appearances and smaller roles in television following his role on The Jeffersons. He had a few notable roles in feature films. His notable films included The Stepford Wives, Wall Street, Brain Donors, and Almost Heroes.
He died in 2006 at the age of 77.
ISABEL SANFORD BECOMES A STAR
Like her co-stars, Isabel Sanford also struggled to become an actress and her efforts truly paid off. For her role as Louise Jefferson, she became the first black actress to win a Best Lead Actress Award in the Emmys.
She was born as the youngest of 7 children and despite her mother’s wishes – she decided to pursue a career as an actress. She would perform in local nightclubs and became an accomplished singer and stage actress.
She began her film career in the 1960s when she acted in a role in the now-classic feature film Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. At the same time, she had bit parts and small roles in TV shows. Like most of her co-stars, her journey to fame was slow.
But once she was cast as Louise Jefferson – her career took off, even though she was almost 60 years when she was cast. But the long wait was worth it – as she was lauded for her role by her colleagues, critics, and audiences alike. She often made cameo appearances as Louise Jefferson in other shows – often alongside Sherman Hemsley playing George.
She continued to have a successful career in television as well as film following the end of The Jeffersons. She continues to be recognized as one of the greatest black actresses of all time and one who paved the way for future generations.
Isabel Sanford died in 2004 at the age of 86.
MEETING AN OLD FRIEND
One of the biggest successes of The Jeffersons was that the cast wasn’t afraid to act in stories that were controversial. Norman Lear, the show’s creator often used his shows to push social change and discuss uncomfortable topics. If he felt buttons needed to be pushed, he used his shows to push them.
The Jeffersons cast showed an incredible maturity and wasn’t afraid to take risks with the stories they acted in.
There was one episode called ‘Once a Friend,’ in which George reunites with one of his old Navy buddies. His friend was named Eddie – but now goes by Edie. His friend underwent a sex change and became transgender. This wasn’t the first time a transgender character was shown on television but The Jeffersons was one of the first shows to have an episode dedicated to understanding this relatively new phenomenon – that few Americans knew about and many didn’t understand.
In the episode, George tried to understand why Eddie became Edie and this sensitive subject was dealt with respectfully and with humor. Today, so many sitcoms want to address difficult subjects but they do so almost with a sense of rage and without knowing how to be humorous and mature about it. This was truly one of the great achievements of The Jeffersons.
GEORGE MEETS THE KLAN
Perhaps one of the finest episodes of any American sitcom was the episode where the building where The Jeffersons live have a rat problem. George goes to a meeting that Tom invites him to – thinking it’s a discussion on how to get rid of the “scum” in the building.
To his shock, they are told that this meeting is a meeting of the KKK. The leader of the Klan group hurls racial slurs toward George that today’s TV executives would wish to censor. The language is no doubt disturbing but it was necessary to tackle the ugliness of racism in America head front.
This episode also managed to use humor to explore a dark subject in American life. It also showed how even someone with hate could walk away and lead a better life. It also showed the decency of George Jefferson when he saves the Klan leader’s life by performing CPR on him.
This episode is perhaps not easy to watch but it’s arguably one of the best episodes of the show and one that should be required viewing – even if you have never seen The Jeffersons before. This once again showed the maturity of The Jeffersons – that it wasn’t afraid to tackle difficult subjects even though it was otherwise a light-hearted sitcom. Props must be given to the excellent The Jeffersons cast members for appearing in such a chilling but important episode.
THE LEGACY OF THE JEFFERSONS CAST
While The Jeffersons cast hid their struggles from the camera, they managed to create an iconic sitcom despite all their struggles. Sherman Hemsley and Isabel Sanford especially became legends after the show ended.
They often appeared together in other sitcoms as themselves, most notably in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Sherman Hemsley even had an appearance in the song “Batter Up” by Nelly and the Saint Lunatics. Isabel Sanford won roles in hit films such as Original Gangstas.
Marla Gibbs who played Florence kept her day job for much of the show as she wasn’t sure if it’d be a success. No doubt Norman Lear had to hide many of the fights he had off-camera to create episodes that discussed challenging topics. But despite these secrets and struggles, The Jeffersons was a hit and we thank the show’s creator and the fantastic cast for it!
The Jeffersons ran for 11 seasons and had 253 episodes. It didn’t have a proper series finale but despite that, the characters and the stories have never left us. It has truly been a great loss as many of the main cast members have passed away.
But they persisted and kept their chins up even with the struggle and that’s what made The Jeffersons such a great show.
If you’ve watched The Jeffersons many times before, there’s still no shame in watching it again. If you have, now’s the time to watch it again.
Are you a fan of The Jeffersons? It was one of the most entertaining shows of its time and one that’s still loved by audiences today.
Now, here’s what we’d like to hear from you:
Do you think that today’s sitcoms can match up to the same level that The Jeffersons offer?
Or are today’s sitcoms not up to par and don’t challenge audiences with humor the way that The Jeffersons did?