ABOUT THE SHOW
Sanford and Son is an American sitcom, that ran on the NBC television network from January 14, 1972, to March 25, 1977.
Sanford and Son stars Redd Foxx as Fred G. Sanford, a widower and junk dealer living at 9114 S. Central Ave. in the Watts neighborhood of South Central Los Angeles, California and Demond Wilson as his son Lamont Sanford. In his youth, Fred moved to South Central Los Angeles from his hometown of St. Louis.
ABOUT THE CHARACTERS
Redd Foxx played Fred Sanford, portraying him as a sarcastic, irascible schemer whose frequent get-rich-quick ideas routinely backfired. His son Lamont longs for independence, but loves his father too much to move out on his own and leave the trouble-prone Fred unsupervised. Though each owns an equal share in the business (technically Fred is the boss), Lamont often finds himself doing all the work and ordering his father to complete tasks and duties. Fred often insults his son, usually calling him "dummy." Lamont returns the favor, referring to him as an "old fool." Despite this, the two share a close bond and regularly come to each other's aid. An episode in the second season featured a plot in which Fred and Lamont had such a heated argument over the business Lamont quit and went to work for one of Sanford and Son's chief rivals. Meanwhile, Fred filled Lamont's position with a lay-about who spent Fred's money on a useless item. When Lamont quits his job and Fred fires his new man, the two decide to reform their partnership, despite being too proud to admit they could not make it without each other.
According to Fred, his wife Elizabeth died around 1947. A running gag in the series would see Fred in times of distress, looking up (as to heaven) with his hand across his chest, faking a heart attack and saying, "This is The Big One, Elizabeth! I'm coming to join ya honey." Fred raised Lamont alone and missed Elizabeth deeply. According to Fred, his son was named for Lamont Lomax, a (presumably fictional) pitcher from the Homestead Grays. In one episode, Lamont asks why he did not have a middle name; Fred tells him that Lamont is his middle name: he and Elizabeth never came up with a first name. However, it was revealed in the 3rd episode of the first season Lamont was named "Lamont Grady Sanford."
At first, Fred's main foil on the show is his sister-in-law and Lamont's aunt, Ethel (Beah Richards). Ethel's involvement in the Sanford family squabbles lasts until midway through the second season, where she was replaced with her more tart-tongued sister, Esther (LaWanda Page). Fred and Esther's relationship as in-laws goes on to become a major part of the plot. The two frequently trade insults, usually instigated by Fred, who contorts his face upon Esther's entrance and uses disparaging and colorful metaphors to describe her. Sometimes in response, Esther will say "Watch it, sucka!", attack Fred with her purse, and refer to him as "You old heathen." Esther's disdain for Fred goes back to when he and Elizabeth were dating; she disapproved of Fred marrying her sister.
A running gag on the show is that whenever Lamont threatens to move out or things are not going Fred's way, he will fake a heart attack and say something like, "You hear that, Elizabeth? I'm coming to join ya, honey!" No one, however, falls for the transparent ruse. Foxx himself died of a heart attack in 1991 during the filming of The Royal Family. Despite his stubbornness and irascible nature, Fred sometimes redeems himself with acts of kindness, even to those (like Esther) whom he insists he does not like. In the last episode of the series, Fred earns his high school diploma, and is the valedictorian of his graduating class.
Earlier in the show's run it adhered closer to the format of its British predecessor, Steptoe and Son with 16 episodes (12 in season one and 4 in season two) being re-made from the original "Galton and Simpson" scripts with Fred and Lamont often at odds over various issues. Fred and Lamont are also depicted as being equally manipulative. Fred manipulates with constant threats of "The big one" and avoids manual labor due to his "arthur-itis". In earlier episodes, Lamont through various antics would try and drive a wedge between his father and his girlfriend, Donna Harris (Lynn Hamilton), whom he sees as usurping his mother's place.
Demond Wilson played Lamont Sanford, who is depicted at times as the greedier of the two. In one episode, for example, he refuses to sell two coffins for less than what he thinks they were worth, despite the fact that this clearly upsets his superstitious father. Lamont sometimes receives his comeuppance for being disdainful of his father's habits and ways. (One example of this is the time Lamont is upbraided by a Nigerian woman he hopes to impress by "adopting" African culture; she considers his attitude towards Fred to be disrespectful.) There are moments when Lamont is shown to be naive and foolish, such as the episode where he invites his new "friends" over to play poker. His street-savvy father sees right away that they are out to cheat Lamont after they gain his confidence by letting him win a few smaller-stakes games. Fred then turns the tables on the scammers by pretending to be ignorant of poker himself, agreeing to play a few hands and then taking all of their money by means of a marked deck of cards and special glasses that allow him to see what he is dealing. A similar predicament befalls Lamont in the second season when he gets involved in an unethical deal by buying a possibly valuable Regency commode from a woman for a rock-bottom price, then selling it back to her husband at double the price. He then takes an offer from a third party for quadruple that price while Fred tries over and over again to warn him that he is doing something immoral. Lamont becomes so put out that he threatens to lock Fred in his bedroom. Finally, due to some investigation on Fred's part, it is revealed that Lamont has been scammed, the pot is a fake and the two men have made off with several hundred dollars of Lamont's money.
One constant with Lamont (particularly in the second season) is that he is always trying to find new ways to move up in the world, and away from the junk business; like his British counterpart, Harold Steptoe (played by Harry H. Corbett), but is often thwarted by Fred's interference. In the first episode, he buys a possibly valuable piece of porcelain from an elderly woman in Beverly Hills with the intention of selling at auction. However, Fred messes things up at the auction and Lamont ends up buying the piece back from himself. In the second season, Lamont buys a revolutionary war rifle from an auction with the intent to sell it for thousands. While investigating it, Fred accidentally fires the gun through the front window and he and Lamont spend all night wondering if he's accidentally killed the neighbor across the street. In a panic, Lamont melts the gun down with a blowtorch before realizing that the neighbor went out on a rare trip out of town. In one episode, he attempts to become an actor, Lamont and Rollo answer an ad for wannabe black film actors for an independent film company only to realize that it is really a pornographic film factory. In another episode, he answers an ad to travel around the world working on a tramp steamer, which would mean putting Fred in a nursing home, but Fred tricks him into not going. During the third season, Lamont attempts to open a side business with Julio selling used automobile parts. Fred is so put out by the idea that he moves out and into a flop house. Lamont eventually gets Fred to come home, but it is never said whether or not he changed his mind about the new business venture.
The most significant change in Lamont's character throughout the series was his attitude toward his work, his father and his future. In the very first episode, he is portrayed as hostile and angry toward Fred and the life he is forced to live, especially when Fred's interference ruins his plans; similar to the relationship of Harold Steptoe and Albert Steptoe (played by Wilfred Brambell). This would last through the middle of the first season, especially in an episode when he takes Fred out for his birthday and is angry and frustrated every time Fred says or does anything. At the end of the night, he becomes so angry that he abandons Fred at the restaurant, leaving his father to walk home in the rain. His attitude towards Fred would soften by mid-season as episodes tended to focus more on the two working together to solve a problem, as when several bill collectors converged on the house threatening to repossess their belongings. He would change throughout the series and become a man dedicated to his work and to his father, but also who would try new things and new ideas to better himself, such as when he attempts to embrace his African heritage or later when he tries to run for State Assemblyman.
- Esther Anderson (LaWanda Page), also known as Aunt Esther, is the Bible-toting sister of Fred's late wife Elizabeth. Esther is a staunchly religious Baptist who finds little use for humor. Fred has an intense dislike for Esther, which she gladly returns. His trademark response to her entrance is to make an exaggerated grimace. He then spews forth colorful insults and likens her to animals like bulldogs and horses ("Esther, I could stick your face in some dough and make some gorilla cookies.") and fictitious monsters such as King Kong, (often referring to her as "Esther Kong"), and Godzilla. Her usual reaction to his antics is to cringe her face and yell, "Watch it, sucka!". Sometimes, cracking from the constant barrage of insults, she swings her purse wildly in Fred's direction while angrily calling him a "fish-eyed fool", "heathen", or even, "fish-eyed fool-heathen". When leaving the Sanford home, she often hollers, "Have glory!" Her long-suffering but loving alcoholic husband Woodrow (played by Raymond Allen) begins appearing infrequently later in the series. Woodrow eventually becomes sober so he and Esther can adopt a young orphan, played by Eric Laneuville. Fred and Esther call a temporary truce, of sorts, in the episode "My Fair Esther." Esther first appeared in early 1973, replacing her sister Ethel (Beah Richards), the first principal in-law character.
- Grady Wilson (Whitman Mayo) is Fred's closest friend who appears regularly on the show. Grady's catchphrase is, "Good Goobly Goop!" He utters this when something good happens or he is in a pleasant mood. Grady is Fred's "sidekick" and often is involved in get-rich-quick schemes concocted by Fred. In the episode "Hello Cousin Emma, Goodbye Cousin Emma" it is revealed that Grady grew up on the south side of Chicago and in his youth was a lady's man with the nickname "The Sheik of Drexel Avenue." Early in the series, a running gag was that Grady could never remember Lamont's name. Lamont would often correct him with a bogus name like Lucas or Lance. Later in the series, Grady's name-confusion gag was targeted at Esther. When Foxx had a contract dispute with (and walked out on) the show, several episodes were taped without him. These episodes involve Grady as the central character who is watching over the business and Lamont whilst Fred is "away" on vacation in St. Louis. Grady was actually named after actor Demond Wilson, whose full real name is "Grady Demond Wilson." (The character eventually was spun off into his own eponymous TV series in December 1975.)
- Bubba Bexley (Don Bexley) is another of Fred's friends who appears frequently. Bubba is known for his infectious belly-laugh and jovial persona. Bubba is primarily a straight man to set up punchlines for Fred. His loud greeting of "Hey Fred!" drives Fred and Lamont crazy. His function in several episodes is to encourage Fred into get-rich-quick schemes, as when he encourages Fred to fake having whiplash after he is hit by a white man in a Cadillac while driving the truck. In the episode "Lamont Goes African", Bubba reveals that he is originally from Memphis, Tennessee.
- Rollo Lawson (Nathaniel Taylor) is Lamont's best friend. Fred will often make disrespectful remarks towards Rollo, usually stating that he thinks Rollo is a criminal, as Rollo had spent time in jail. At one time when Rollo introduced Lamont to his African cultural heritage, Fred thought it was a scam and noted that "If there was money to be made Rollo would become an Eskimo." Rollo appears in the show every so often to come pick up Lamont so they can go out and chase women. Also, they sometimes go to pornographic films or what Rollo calls "skin flicks." His mother, Rita, is also friends with Lamont's aunt Esther.
- Donna Harris (Lynn Hamilton) is Fred's on-again, off-again girlfriend who later becomes his fiancée. She is employed as a practical nurse. Donna is an even-tempered lady who takes in stride Fred's shenanigans and occasional trysts. She also appears to be a bit more of an upper class individual in contrast to Fred's somewhat blunt, crude persona. Lamont, being the overprotecting son, detests Donna at first (branding her as "The Barracuda"), but by Season 6 has completely warmed up to her. Esther is hostile toward Donna at first, almost coming to blows with her during their first meeting on Donna's and Fred's wedding day (an event that causes the cancellation of the wedding). Eventually Esther warms up to her.
- Julio Fuentes (Gregory Sierra) is the Sanfords' Puerto Rican next-door neighbor who befriends Lamont. When Julio and his family move in next to the Sanfords, Fred takes an immediate disliking to them and remarks, "There goes the neighborhood." Despite Julio's friendliness, Fred often makes crude ethnic jokes about Julio and openly wishes he would return to Puerto Rico, despite the fact that Julio is actually from New York City. Despite the contention, Fred does stand up for Julio's nephew at his elementary school, which has threatened to drop him to a lower grade due to lack of proficiency in speaking English; Fred tutors him for some time as well. In the fifth season, Julio moves away. The Sanfords buy his former home and convert it into a boarding house named "The Sanford Arms."
- Ah Chew (Pat Morita) is a Japanese-American friend of Lamont whom Fred belittles every chance he gets. Fred insults Ah Chew on numerous occasions using clichéd Oriental jokes. Fred actually befriends Ah Chew in a later episode because he wants to use him as a cook when he opens a Japanese restaurant, "Sanford and Rising Son", in the Sanford house. Despite this arrangement, Fred still hurls verbal abuse at Ah Chew.
- In the fifth season episode "Sergeant Gork", Morita portrays Colonel Hiakowa, in a flashback where Fred tells Lamont's fiancee's son, Roger, of his supposed heroism in World War II.
- Officer "Smitty" Smith and Officer "Hoppy" Hopkins are a pair of police officers who occasionally show up at the Sanfords' residence. One officer is African-American, Officer "Smitty" Smith (played by Hal Williams), and one Caucasian, Officer "Hoppy" Hopkins (played by Howard Platt). Often, Hoppy incorrectly uses 'Jive' slang, which Smitty corrects—e.g., "cold" instead of "cool" or "right up" instead of "right on." Conversely, the ever-professional Hoppy delivers a speech filled with police jargon and big words, which confuses Fred and/or Lamont thus turning to Smitty, who would then translate Hoppy's speech into Jive. Later in the series's run, the officers often appear individually. Unlike Ah Chew and Julio, Hoppy remains free of Fred's usual insults. In one episode, "This Little TV Went to Market", Officer "Jonesy" Jones (Bernie Hamilton) appears with Hoppy in place of Smitty. In the sixth season episode "The Hawaii Connection", Smitty appears with his slow-witted new partner, Percy (Pat Paulsen). In "The Reverend Sanford", comic Freeman King appears as a police officer named Jim, presumably standing in for Smitty, but without Hoppy or any other partner.
- Officer "Swanny" Swanhauser (Noam Pitlik) is originally Officer Smitty's Caucasian partner who is replaced early in the second season with Officer Hopkins. Swanny is basically the same as Hoppy, but his demeanor is much more serious and humorless. Like Hoppy, Swanny is never racially insulted by Fred.
- May Hopkins (Nancy Kulp) is Officer Hoppy's prim and proper mother who appeared in the fifth season. She is a retired store detective who rents a room at the Sanford Arms next door. Landlord Fred often insults her when she pays a visit. Much like her son, Mrs. Hopkins incorrectly uses Jive slang, but the more experienced Hoppy corrects her.
- Janet Lawson (Marlene Clark) is a divorcee Lamont begins dating in the fifth season. Janet also has a young son, Roger (Edward Crawford). The Lawsons appears occasionally until Lamont and Janet break up in the sixth and final season, due to the return of Janet's ex-husband.
- Melvin White (Slappy White) is an old buddy of Fred's who appears in the first season. He appears in one second season episode as well.
- Leroy & Skillet (Leroy Daniels & Ernest 'Skillet' Mayhand) are a rambunctious pair of Fred's friends who like to play poker, billiards or joke around. They appear in the second and third seasons.
- Otis Littlejohn (Matthew "Stymie" Beard) is a friend of Grady's who appears in the third and fourth seasons.
- George "Hutch" Hutton (Arnold Johnson) is an elderly tenant of the Sanford Arms who befriends Fred. When they first meet, Hutch admits to serving a lengthy sentence in prison to avoid his ugly sister-in-law. This immediately endears him to Fred. Fred is then disgusted when Hutch joins Aunt Esther's Bible study group. He appears in the fifth season.
- Frank Nelson appears as various comic foils to Fred in the fifth and sixth seasons using his catchphrase, "Yeeees?"
- Fritzi Burr appeared as various comic foils to Fred from the fourth season to the sixth.
- Dr. Caldwell (Davis Roberts) is the Sanford's family doctor who shows up in several early episodes. He often enters the Sanford residence with an alarming cough and his credentials as a doctor are questionable. Asked if he is really a doctor he claims "On Monday, Wednesday and Friday I'm a doctor. The other days I work in the post office."
- Nelson B. Davis (James Wheaton) is a mortician who dropped by the Sanford residence several times in the second season, at one point to look at some caskets that Lamont picked up an auction. With a deep voice and a spooky laugh, he would often make odd quips in reference to his unusual profession: "It's been a slow week, business is dead" and "I must to return to my place, I'm a working stiff." Once he told Lamont that "Burial insurance is something that everybody digs."
- Reverend Trimble (Alvin Childress) is the soft-spoken minister of the Central Avenue Baptist Church who dropped by in the first two seasons, usually to officiate a wedding. The running joke was that every time he officiated a wedding for the Sanford family, the family usually ended up in a screaming match over petty disagreements which escalated into a war that left everyone fleeing the house in anger while the Reverend stood by in stunned silence.