Sanford and Son is an American sitcom that premiered on the NBC television network on January 14, 1972, and was broadcast for six seasons. The final original episode aired on March 25, 1977. The show was based on the BBC sitcom Steptoe and Son.
Sanford and Son
starred Redd Foxx
as Fred G. Sanford
, a 65-year-old junk dealer living at 9114 S. Central Ave. in the Watts
neighborhood of southern Los Angeles, California
; and Demond Wilson
as his 28-year-old son, Lamont Sanford
Redd Foxx played Sanford as a sarcastic, stubborn, and argumentative antiques and junk dealer, whose frequent money-making schemes routinely backfired and created more troubles. Lamont dearly would have liked to enjoy independence but loved his father too much to leave him to his devices and schemes. Although each owned an equal share in the business and technically Fred was the boss, Lamont often found himself doing all the work and having to order his father to complete tasks and duties.
On the show's premiere in 1972, newspaper ads touted Foxx as NBC's answer to Archie Bunker, the bigoted white protagonist of All in the Family. (Both shows were adapted by Norman Lear from BBC shows.)
Fred G. Sanford was a widower (he had moved to Los Angeles from St. Louis), whose wife Elizabeth had died some two decades before. Fred had 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. Fred was also known for insulting his sister-in-law Esther, who had disapproved of Fred marrying her sister. He would often contort his face upon Esther's entrance and make disparaging remarks to her, comparing her with King Kong and Godzilla and using colorful metaphors to describe her. Despite his stubbornness, Fred would sometimes redeem himself with acts of kindness, even to those (like Esther) who he insists he doesn't like. In the last episode of the series, Fred earned his high school diploma, and was the valedictorian of his graduating class.
Earlier in the show's run, it adhered more closely to the format laid out by its British predecessor, Steptoe and Son, with Fred and Lamont often at loggerheads over various issues. Fred and Lamont were also depicted as being equally manipulative (Fred with his constant threats of "the big one" and his "arthur-itis"; Lamont with his attempts to drive a wedge between Fred and his girlfriend, Donna, who he saw as usurping his mother's place). At times, Lamont was actually depicted as the greedier of the two; for example, in one episode he refused to sell two coffins for less than what he thought they were worth, despite the fact that they clearly upset his somewhat superstitious father. As well, Lamont sometimes received his comeuppance for being disdainful of his father's habits and ways (an example of this would be the time Lamont was upbraided by a Nigerian woman he hoped to impress by "adopting" African culture; she considered his attitude towards Fred to be disrespectful). There were even moments when Lamont was shown to be naive and foolish, such as the episode where he invited his new "friends" over to play poker; his more experienced father saw right away that they were actually out to cheat Lamont, after they had gained his confidence by letting him win a few smaller-stakes games.
As the series progressed, however, it became more focused on Fred's antics and schemes, with Lamont often adopting the role of the gentler, more open-minded progressive who attempted to broaden his father's horizons. A notable example of the softening of Lamont's character is his change in attitude towards Donna, Fred's girlfriend; early in the show's run, Lamont derided her as "the barracuda" and was openly hostile towards her (to say nothing of attempting to ruin her relationship with his father at least twice), yet an episode later in the series' run saw Lamont inviting Donna out to dinner with himself and his girlfriend, remarking that it would do his reputation good to be seen with "two lovely ladies". Similarly, Fred was initially depicted as a man who, if not always ethically or culturally sensitive, had the wisdom of experience. As the show went on, Fred was seen getting into increasingly ludicrous situations, such as faking a British accent to get a job as a waiter; convincing a white couple that an earthquake was really the "Watts subway"; taking over a play featuring George Foreman; or sneaking into a celebrity's private area, such as Lena Horne's dressing room or Frank Sinatra's hotel room. Many of these situations invariably revolved around Fred trying to make a quick buck.
One constant remained through the show, however, and that was the loyalty of father and son to each other. Even in the show's earliest episodes when one or the other left the house, seemingly for good (Lamont moved out at least twice, and at one point he even put Fred in an old folks' home), something always occurred that returned things back to normal (Lamont got homesick and worried about his father, or something didn't work out and Lamont schemed his way back in; Lamont felt lonely without his father around the house thanks to a plan Bubba and Fred hatched). Perhaps the best example of this bond between father and son occurred in the episode where a friend from Fred's past showed up and claimed to be Lamont's real father. After hearing the news, Lamont told a tearful Fred that he was "the only pop I've ever had" and as far as he was concerned, it was "always" going to be Sanford and Son (in the humorous twist that closed the episode, it turned out the friend had accidentally slept with Aunt Esther, thinking she was her sister Elizabeth).
Sanford and Son was enormously popular during most of its run, and was one of the top ten highest-rated series on American television from its first season (1971-72) through the 1975-76 season. With its coveted 8pm Eastern Friday night time slot, Sanford and Son put enough of a dent into the middling audience of ABC's The Brady Bunch to drive it off the air in 1974. Sanford and Son peaked at #2 in the Nielsen ratings during the 1973-74 season, and stayed there for three years in a row. The series was second only to All in the Family in terms of ratings. The show was still quite popular when it was cancelled (due entirely to Foxx's departure from the show) in 1977.
In 2007, Time magazine included the show on their list of the "100 Best TV Shows of All Time".
Sanford and Son
was a big hit in the ratings during its six year run (1972-1977) on NBC
. Despite airing in the so called Friday night death slot
, it peaked at #2 in the ratings (behind All in the Family
|| Ranking |
|| #6 |
|| #2 |
|| #2 |
|| #2 |
|| #7 |
|| #27 |
It was produced by Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin's company Tandem Productions, which was also responsible for All in the Family. The two shows had a few things in common. They were both based on popular British sitcoms and both were pioneers of edgy, racial humor that reflected the changing politics of the time. Both series also featured outspoken, working-class protagonists with overt prejudices. Sanford and Son helped to redefine the genre of black situation comedy.
- 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 would then spew forth colorful insults and liken her to animals and fictitious monsters such as King 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 would swing her purse wildly in Fred's direction whilst angrily calling him a "fish-eyed fool" or "heathen". Her long-suffering but loving alcoholic husband Woodrow (played by Raymond Allen) began appearing infrequently later in the series. Woodrow eventually became sober so he and Esther could adopt a young orphan, played by Eric Laneuville. Fred and Esther did call a temporary truce, of sorts, in the episode "My Fair Esther"
- Grady Wilson (Whitman Mayo) is Fred's closest friend who appears regularly on the show. Grady's catchphrase is "Good Goobly Goo!" and is uttered by him when something good would happen or he was in a pleasant mood. Grady was Fred's 'sidekick' and would often be involved in get-rich-quick schemes concocted by Fred. When Foxx had a contract dispute with (and walked out on) the show, several episodes were filmed without him. These episodes involved Grady as the central character who was watching over the business and Lamont whilst Fred was 'away' on vacation in St. Louis. Grady was actually named after actor Demond Wilson. Demond Wilson's full name is "Grady Demond Wilson".
- 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!" drove Fred and Lamont crazy.
- 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, which Rollo doesn't deny. 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 stag films or what Rollo calls "skin flicks".
- 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 (infamously branding her as "The Barracuda"), but by Season 6 has completely warmed up to her. Like Lamont, Esther was mildly hostile to Donna, at first, but soon warmed up to her.
- Julio Fuentes (Gregory Sierra) is the Sanfords' Puerto Rican next-door neighbor who befriends Lamont. When Julio and his family moved in next to the Sanfords, Fred took an immediate disliking to them and remarked, "There goes the neighborhood". Despite Julio's friendliness, Fred often made crude ethnic jokes about Julio and openly wished he would return to Puerto Rico. However, Fred stood up for Julio's nephew at his elementary school, which had threatened to drop him to a lower grade due to lack of proficiency in speaking English; Fred tutored him for some time as well. In the fifth season, Julio moved away. The Sanfords bought his former home and converted it into a boarding house named "The Sanford Arms".
- Ah Chew (Pat Morita) is a Japanese-American friend of Lamont who Fred belittled every chance he gets. Fred insults Ah Chew on numerous occasion 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", Pat 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 was black, Officer "Smitty" Smith (played by Hal Williams), and one white, Officer "Hoppy" Hopkins (played by Howard Platt). Often, Hoppy would incorrectly use slang, which Smitty would correct (e.g., "cold" instead of "cool" or "right up" instead of "right on") Conversely, the ever-professional Hoppy would deliver a speech filled with police jargon and big words, which would confuse Fred and/or Lamont thus turning to Smitty, who would then translate Hoppy's speech into 'Jive'. Later in the series' run, the officers would often appear individually. Unlike Ah Chew and Julio, Hoppy was the only non African-American character on the show who remained free of Fred's usual insults. In one episode ("This Little TV Went to Market"), Officer "Jonesy" Jones (played by Bernie Hamilton) appeared with Hoppy in place of Smitty.
- Officer "Swanny" Swanhauser (Noam Pitlik) was originally Officer Smitty's Caucasian partner who was replaced early in the second season with Officer Hopkins. Swanny was basically the same as Hoppy, but his demeanor was much more serious and humorless. Like Smitty, Swanny was never racially insulted by Fred.
- May Hopkins (Nancy Kulp) is Officer Hoppy's prim and proper mother who appeared in the fifth season. She was a retired store detective who rented a room at the Sanford Arms next door. Landlord Fred would often insult her when she paid a visit. Much like her son, Mrs. Hopkins would incorrectly use slang, but the more experienced Hoppy would correct her.
- Janet Lawson (Marlene Clark) is a divorcee Lamont began dating in the fifth season. Janet also had a young son, Roger (Edward Crawford). The Lawsons appeared occasionally until Lamont and Janet broke up indefinitely 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.
- 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 appeared in the second and third seasons.
- Otis Littlejohn (Matthew "Stymie" Beard) is another friend of Fred's who appeared 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. He appeared in the fifth season.
- Frank Nelson appeared 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.
Later years of the series and 1980 revival
In the midst of taping episodes for the 1973-74 season, Redd Foxx walked off the show in a salary dispute due to a feud with NBC in which he demanded a salary that the network claimed it could not afford. His character was written out of the series for the rest of the season. The continuity of the show explained that Fred Sanford was away in St. Louis attending his cousin's funeral and leaving his friend Grady (Whitman Mayo) in charge of the business. NBC sued Foxx and as part of the settlement, Foxx later returned. Less than ten episodes before Fred "left for St. Louis" to observe the death of his cousin, his uncle Leotus Sanford died... and he had to go to St. Louis.
After the series was canceled in 1977 (due entirely to Foxx's departure; the ABC television network gave Foxx a big raise to do a variety show and NBC refusing to give Wilson a raise), a failed, short-lived continuation featuring supporting characters titled The Sanford Arms aired. Whitman Mayo starred in a spinoff series, Grady, during the 1975-76 season.
In 1980-81, Redd Foxx attempted to revive his old hit with the short-lived Sanford (so named because Demond Wilson declined to reprise the role of Lamont for the new series).
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
has released all six seasons of Sanford and Son
on Region 1
DVD between August 2002 and June 2005.
||Release Date |
| The First Season
|| August 6, 2002 |
| The Second Season
|| February 4, 2003 |
| The Third Season
|| October 7, 2003 |
| The Fourth Season
|| March 30 2004 |
| The Fifth Season
|| September 14, 2004 |
| The Sixth Season
|| June 7, 2005 |
| The Complete Series
|| October 28, 2008 |
Some material from Sanford and Son is now considered too controversial to air on network television and is routinely edited in syndication, specifically, derogatory racial references:
- The episode "Fred Sanford, Legal Eagle" was edited before being aired on the cable TV network TV Land. In the unedited version, Fred represents Lamont in traffic court as his legal counsel. At the climax of the episode, Fred confronts the white traffic policeman who wrote Lamont the ticket. "Hey, look here", Fred asks the policeman, "why don't you arrest some white drivers?" When the policeman answers, "I do", Fred gestures to the court observers, who are all black, and asks, "Well where are they? Look at all these niggas in here!" Upon uttering this statement, the live studio audience went crazy with laughter and applause. Redd Foxx had to pause for the crowd to settle down before delivering the coup de grâce: "There's enough niggas in here to make a Tarzan movie!" In the TV Land version of this episode, Fred's questioning of the policeman abruptly ends after "What do you have against black people?".
- When Fred returned from St. Louis, his family and friends held a party for him, and at Rollo's request for "cheers", Fred responded, "Bim bam boom, somebody get this nigga outta my room!"
- In the episode "Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe", the show dealt with an old friend called Grip returning to meet Fred and claiming he was Lamont's true father. When he first presented the news to Esther (who had previously enjoyed his company), she jumped up and yelled, "What did you say, nigga?" In syndication, the line is altered to "What did you say, sucka?"
- In "Here Comes The Bride, There Goes The Bride", Fred also utters that the bride's family looks like a "bunch of jive niggas" (also edited/removed by TV Land).
Pop culture references
Sanford & Son has been referenced in several other television series, including episodes of Malcolm & Eddie
, Will and Grace
, The King of Queens
, Smart Guy
, Mystery Science Theater 3000
, Family Guy
, The Simpsons
, Living Single
, King Of The Hill
, and Girlfriends
The show is also referenced in the films Metro and Daredevil, as well as the video game World of Warcraft.
The truck driven in the series is a 1951 Ford, which was still functional as of July 2006 and used by its owner, Donald Dimmitt of Dimmitts Auto Salvage, a real-life junk dealer in Walnut Township, Marshall County, Indiana