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The Jeffersons aired from January 1975 until July 1985 0n CBS.

George Jefferson was the black Archie Bunker. In fact, he
had been Archie's next-door neighbor in Queens for several
years, a situation that created quite a turmoil between two
opinionated, blustery, bigoted individuals. George had started
a small dry-cleaning business and his success resulted in
expansion to a small chain. It was at that point that this
spin-off from All In The Family started, with George ( Sherman Hemsley), his
levelheaded wife Louise ( Isabel Sanford), and their college-student son Lionel ( Mike Evans)
moving into a luxury Manhattan high-rise apartment on Manhattan's East Side.

One of the Jeffersons' neighbors was an erudite Englishman,
Harry Bentley( Paul Benedict); another was Tom Willis ( Franklin Cover), a white man with a
black wife (Helen, played by Roxie Roker). ( The Willises were the first racially-mixed married couple to be featured on a prime-time series). Their daughter Jenny( Berlinda Tolbert), was Lionel's
girlfriend, fiance, and finally wife when they were married in the 1976 Christmas show. George's quickly
acquired wealth enabled his natural snobbishness to assert
itself, and he was often pretty intolerable. He resented
Lionel's involvement with the child of a mixed marriage
and was continually at odds with Tom and Helen. Adding to
the general level of discord in the Jefferson apartment
was George's dotting mother Olivia ( Zara Cully), who was referred to as Mother Jefferson and their wisecracking maid, Florence ( Marla Gibbs). Ralph ( Ned Wertimer), was the building's doorman, always looking for somebody to give him a tip.

Mike Evans who had played the role of Lionel on All In The Family and stayed with it when The Jeffersons first went on the air, left the show in the fall of 1975. He was replaced by Damon Evans, another young black actor, to whom he was not related. Early in the 1977-1978 season a young streetwise black named Marcus Garvey( Ernest Harden, Jr), was added to the cast as an employee of the branch of George Jefferson's chain of cleaning stores that was located in the lobby of the building in which the Jeffersons lived. Meanwhile in early 1978 Mother Jefferson died ( Actress Zara Cully had passed away).

The following fall brought Allan Willis ( Jay Hammer), Jenny's white brother back from a commune to become a regular member of the cast and a source of irratation to both his own father and George Jefferson. Damon Evans had left the cast and , although Lionel was occasionally referred to in various episodes, he was no longer seen until Mike Evans, the original Lionel, returned to the series in the fall of 1979. Lionel and Jenny had a baby girl, Jessica, the following spring.

In the spring of 1981, The Jeffersons lost 2 of its oldest supporting players. Harry Bentley was transferred to Russia and Florence got a new job as the chief of a hotel's housekeeping staff in a spin-off series called Checking In. That series was canceled after 4 episodes and Florence returned to The Jefferson's the following season. Meanwhile Lionel found a job as an electrical engineer for Teletex Electronics. His career was moving along but his marriage was faltering, and in the fall of 1981 Lionel and Jenny seperated. Although Lionel no longer appeared on The Jeffersons, Jenny, who had become a fashion designer, continued to show up periodically. Neighbor Bentley returned in late 1983, after a two year stay in Russia, still his very proper self, and George's business as well as The Jefferson's ratings continued to prosper.

In 1984 George went into partnership, along with Tom Willis, in Charlie's Bar a little place that became their leisure-time hangout. Charlie The bartender who had been a semi-regular for years was played by Danny Wells. Jessica was now a talking pre-schooler and she was played by Ebonie Smith.That January Lionel and Jenny filed for divorce. That summer, after a run of more than a decade, The Jeffersons finally faded from the CBS prime-time schedule.

An Article From USA TODAY on The Jefferson's timeslot change opposite The A-Team from December 1984.

'Jeffersons' will battle 'The A-Team'

By Jefferson Graham

New York dry cleaner George Jefferson comes home to his big East Side apartment and gets in a fight with wife Louise ( " Weezy"). Insults are traded with Weezy and maid Florence until their upstairs neighbors Tom and Helen Willis come to visit. All five insult each other for 20 minutes until the fight has been solved and the credits roll.

For the past 11 seasons, that's been the routine for CBS' The Jeffersons, television's longest -running sitcom. But after 240 episodes, ratings are down and CBS has compensated by announcing that the show will move from Sunday to Tuesday in January.

" Eventually a show gets tired It happens with everything in life," says CBS programmer Harvey Shephard. But it's not a cancellation, he insists. A new time-slot can work wonders. In the 1978-79 season, CBS moved The Jeffersons from Mondays to Wednesdays, where it did so poorly it " was close to being canceled," says Shephard. " We moved it to Sundays and it got a new life."

But on its new life on Tuesdays, the show will face stiff competition from NBC's The A-Team. Co-executive producers Jerry Perizigian and Don Siegal plan to fight back with guest stars like Reggie Jackson from rock and sports, " calculated to bring in some new viewers and to appeal to young people and men who watch The A-Team," says Perizigian.

A February bonus is the return of son Lionel ( Mike Evans) and daughter-in-law Jenny Jefferson ( Belinda Tolbert) in a special two-part episode after an absence of three years. They will continue to make periodic appearances " if and when CBS renews us for next year," says Perizigian.

Do they think the show is tired? "Absolutely not," says Perizigian. "It's better than ever. We feel The Jeffersons is the strongest TV show that has opposed The A-Team yet, and we fully expect to make inroads on its popularity."

But keeping the show fresh is a problem. " Everybody said M*A*S*H* did such a good job of mixing humor and drama," says Perizigian. " It was easy. They had people at home longing for their loved ones, helicopters bringing in dead people, the war. I'd like to see what they would have done with a dry cleaner in his living room for 10 years."

The producers subscribe to an assortment of magazines and newspapers searching for stories, but they say most plots come from the daily brain-storming sessions of the eight producer/writers.

After 11 seasons, every possible story in the world has been explored. The most pitched story ( that they never would use) is one in which Weezy gets pregnant.

Has the show changed since 1975, when George Jefferson was the black Archie Bunker? " George is no longer a black loudmouthed braggart," says Perzigian. " He is now just a loudmouthed braggart . He still has the same energy. He's just as vain, but not as angry."

Like Archie Bunker in his later years, George Jefferson has mellowed. But just a bit. " If you take the fight out of George, you take away the series," says Siegal.

An Article from Entertainment Weekly
Published on April 16, 1993

Behind the Scenes
The cast of 'The Jeffersons' dusts off its hit sitcom for the stage

Where's Marla going?'' Sherman Hemsley asks as Marla Gibbs ambles to a corner of the threadbare San Fernando Valley, Calif., studio where most of The Jeffersons' cast has reunited for a stage version of its smash 1975-85 sitcom. ''She went to put on makeup,'' says Roxie Roker, who is reprising her role as the Jeffersons' neighbor Helen Willis. ''Do we have a trowel?'' Hemsley snorts. Make no mistake: George Jefferson is back, and snarly as ever. In one of the three early-'80s epi-sodes being rehearsed for The Best of the Jeffersons, Gibbs as Florence, the family maid, asks her boss if he minds opening a dry- cleaning store so close to New York City's Hell's Kitchen. ''Every morning when I eat breakfast, you make me feel like I'm in Hell's Kitchen,'' Hemsley shoots back. It's not Chekhov-it's not even Cheers-but George Jefferson does hold a place in entertainment history. The first black character presented as an arrogant, intolerant bigot-the black Archie Bunker-George was also one of TV's first upper-income blacks, appearing nearly a decade before The Cosby Show began its own long run. Jeffersons references in the films Basic Instinct and CB4 attest to its continuing influence on pop culture. And now audiences are now handing over good money for live renditions of put-downs they can still hear for free through the magic of worldwide syndication. The 5,000-seat Fox Theatre in Detroit enjoyed brisk ticket sales for the April 8-11 opening run of The Best. Later this month, the cast will take the show to Fort Lauderdale, with hopes for an extended road tour. ''What happens next is up to God,'' says Isabel Sanford, 68, who is back as George's wife, Louise (''Weezy''). The stage version of The Jeffersons follows in the footsteps of such TV-to- theater productions as The Real Live Brady Bunch and Gilligan's Island: The Musical, but there's one notable difference: Neither of those shows featured real live original- cast members. ''All the Brady Bunch stuff was cutesy, cutesy,'' Hemsley, 55, sniffs. ''I thought this would make an interesting stage comedy.'' Hemsley's trowel line was clearly meant as a joke-''We really do like one another,'' he says of the cast. In the eight years since the show left the air, time has taken its toll on them all, but their spirits have remained youthful. ''I just turned 30,'' Gibbs, 61, jokes. ''I started this show when I was, uh, 12.'' Roker, 63, pipes in: ''Don't you know that black don't crack?'' And Franklin Cover, 64, who plays Helen's husband, Tom, reports, ''I'm a little grayer on top, and a little thinner. We have all these fat jokes-they may have to pad me.''

A few cast members are missing. Ned Werti-mer, 63, skipped the first rehearsal because he was on vacation in Acapulco but will return as Ralph the doorman. Paul Benedict (snooty Harry Bentley), who began directing the show, left to do a film. Damon Evans and Mike Evans, two unrelated actors who played the Jeffersons' son, Lionel, won't appear now, but one of them may join later. Damon is an opera singer in London; Mike is semiretired and lives near Palm Springs, Calif. | So why did the others decide to re-create their sitcom on the boards? Reason No. 1: no finale. ''They snatched the rug from under us while we were on hiatus,'' Sanford recalls of The Jeffersons' cancellation. Adds Roker: ''We had no closure.'' Reason No. 2: no respect. ''When a show is popular, sometimes the industry dismisses it,'' Cover laments and Hemsley agrees: ''Maybe part of this is giving ourselves the recognition.'' Reason No. 3: no cash. ''All the money is gone,'' Gibbs says, laughing. Not that they were rich; most were unknown stage actors when the series began. ''We went together to ask for raises when we heard the Diff'rent Strokes kids made more than us,'' Cover says. Their request was granted. In the post-Jeffersons era, Cover returned to stage work, as did Roker, who has seen her rocker son, Lenny Kravitz, attain his own fame. Hemsley and Gibbs starred in the hit NBC sitcoms Amen and 227, respectively. Sanford has done game shows and cashed residual checks-''The last one was for 99 cents,'' she cracks-and recently signed for an appearance on HBO's sitcom Dream On. But it's for The Jeffersons that the cast will be best remembered. ''When I go to New York, all the skycaps want my autograph,'' Cover says proudly. ''We were a family show,'' Roker says. ''George loved Weezy to pieces and was a working black man.'' And while insults were their shtick-in-trade, Hemsley notes, ''There was love underneath.'' ''This is our work,'' Roker says. ''It's not all going to be Shakespeare.'' But for now, all their world's a stage.


To read Zara Cully's Obituary go to

Roxie Roker, 66, Who Broke Barrier In Her Marriage on TV's'Jeffersons'

Published: December 6, 1995

Roxie Roker, a star of the long-running CBS television series "The Jeffersons," died on Saturday, her publicity agent said. She was 66.

Her family, including her son, Lenny Kravitz, the rock guitarist and singer, declined to release further details, said the publicity agent, Cynthia Snyder.

Ms. Roker was born in Miami. She grew up in Brooklyn, earned a drama degree from Howard University in Washington and studied at the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-on-Avon, England. While holding an office job at NBC in New York in the 1960's, she appeared in Off Broadway shows, including Jean Genet's play "The Blacks." In 1967-68, she was a host of "Inside Bedford-Stuyvesant," a community-oriented show on WNEW-TV.

After resigning from NBC and turning full time to acting, Ms. Roker appeared onstage with the Negro Ensemble Company in "Ododo" and "Rosalee Pritchet." She won an Obie Award, and was a 1974 Tony nominee for her performance as Mattie Williams in "The River Niger." Her other Off Broadway credits include "Behold! Cometh the Vanderkellans" (1971) and "Jamimma" (1972).

Ms. Roker moved to California when the producer Norman Lear cast her in "The Jeffersons," a 1975 spinoff of his series "All in the Family." The new show moved Archie Bunker's black neighbors, the Jeffersons, from a blue-collar Queens neighborhood to a luxury apartment house in Manhattan.

The character played by Ms. Roker, Helen Willis, was a black woman with a white husband, Tom (Franklin Cover), television's first interracial couple. They were neighbors of George and Louise Jefferson (Sherman Hemsley and Isabel Sanford), and the Willises' daughter eventually married the Jeffersons' son, Lionel. "The Jeffersons" ran for 10 years.

Ms. Roker later made guest appearances in other television series and specials and returned to the stage. She appeared in a stage production of "The Jeffersons" and toured with Mary Martin and Carol Channing in "Legends."

Her community work, including her role as a board member of the Interagency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect, earned her two citations from the Los Angeles City Council.

A marriage to Sy Kravitz, a former NBC executive, ended in divorce, said a spokesman for Virgin Records, their son's recording company.

In addition to her son, she is survived by her father, Albert Roker, and a granddaughter, Zoe.

Emmy Winner Isabel Sanford; Starred in TV's 'The Jeffersons'

From News Services
Tuesday, July 13, 2004; Page B06

Isabel Sanford, 86, the actress best known for playing the long-suffering matriarch on the sitcom "The Jeffersons," died July 9 at a hospital in Los Angeles. Her health deteriorated after preventive surgery on a neck artery 10 months ago.

"The Jeffersons" ran on CBS from 1975 to 1985, and Ms. Sanford received an Emmy Award for best actress in a comedy series.

The show was a spinoff of "All in the Family," on which Ms. Sanford and Sherman Hemsley played a black couple who live near the bigoted Archie Bunker. "All in the Family" was a landmark show that addressed racism in a comic format.

On "The Jeffersons," Ms. Sanford played Louise "Weezy" Jefferson, who showed exasperation with the foibles and schemes of her husband, George, whose successful dry cleaning business enabled the family to move into a tony Manhattan skyscraper. The show's theme song was "Moving On Up."

Ms. Sanford was born in New York and began performing in her teens, against her mother's wishes. She sneaked out of her home to sing in nightclubs, and soon her notoriety left her no choice but to tell her mother. She had won third place in an Apollo Theatre amateur contest.

She married, had three children and was the principal source of income for her new family. She worked as a keypunch operator by day at the New York City welfare department and spent her nights acting with the American Negro Theatre and other groups. She had a number of off-Broadway parts.

After her husband's death, she decided to take her children to Hollywood and attempt a career in film in the early 1960s. Her biggest role was in Stanley Kramer's "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" (1967). She played the maid, Tillie, who disapproved of the interracial love match between Sidney Poitier and Katharine Houghton.

The part led to her recurring role on "All in the Family."

"I watched the first episode of that, and I didn't like it," Ms. Sanford told a reporter in 1996. "I didn't like the background. I didn't like the way they dressed. I didn't like the way Archie Bunker talked about black people. But I decided to watch the next episode anyway to see if I could determine why they would allow this trash to be on the air, and I found myself falling down laughing."

After "The Jeffersons," she did stage and television work in Los Angeles and made several cameo appearances in shows such as "Cybill," "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" and "Roseanne."

In recent years, she did voice-overs on "The Simpsons" and appeared in commercials for Denny's restaurants and retailer Old Navy.

Survivors include three children, seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Mike Evans Obituary

December 23, 2006
Associated Press

TWENTYNINE PALMS, California -- Actor Mike Evans, best known as Lionel Jefferson in the TV sitcoms "All in the Family" and "The Jeffersons," has died. He was 57.

Evans died of throat cancer December 14 at his mother's home in Twentynine Palms, said his niece, Chrystal Evans.

Evans, along with Eric Monte, also created and wrote for "Good Times," one of the first TV sitcoms that featured a primarily black cast.

Michael Jonas Evans was born November 3, 1949, in Salisbury, North Carolina. His father, Theodore Evans Sr., was a dentist while his mother, Annie Sue Evans, was a school teacher.

The family moved to Los Angeles when Evans was a child.

He studied acting at Los Angeles City College before getting the role of Lionel Jefferson in 1970s situation comedy "All in the Family."

Evans kept the role of Lionel when "The Jeffersons" launched in 1975. The hit show was a spinoff featuring bigoted Archie Bunker's black neighbors in Queens who "move on up to the East Side" of Manhattan.

Evans was replaced by Damon Evans (no relation) for four years, then he returned to the series from 1979 to 1981.

He also acted in the 1976 TV miniseries "Rich Man, Poor Man" and made guest appearances on the TV series "Love, American Style" and "The Streets of San Francisco." His last role was in a 2000 episode of "Walker, Texas Ranger."

In recent years he had invested in real estate in Southern California.

Actor Franklin Cover, neighbor to 'The Jeffersons,' dies at 77

February 10, 2006

LOS ANGELES (AP) Franklin Cover, who became a familiar face as George and Louise Jefferson's white neighbor in the long-running TV sitcom The Jeffersons, has died, his publicist said Thursday. He was 77.

In addition to The Jeffersons, Franklin Cover, seen here in 1983, also appeared on other shows including Will & Grace and ER.
By Wally Fong, AP file

Cover died of pneumonia Sunday at the Lillian Booth Actor's Fund of America home in Englewood, N.J., said publicist Dale Olson. He had been living at the home since December 2005 while recuperating from a heart condition.

In his nearly six decades in show business, Cover made numerous appearances on television shows, including The Jackie Gleason Show,All in the Family,Who's the Boss?Will & Grace,Living Single,Mad About You and ER.

He began his career on the stage, appearing in Shakespeare's Hamlet and Henry IV, and later in numerous Broadway productions, including Any Wednesday,Wild Honey and Born Yesterday.

But Cover was best known for his role as Tom Willis, who was in an interracial marriage with a black woman, in The Jeffersons.

He and his wife lived in the same "deluxe apartment building" that Sherman Hemsley moved his family to after making money in the dry-cleaning business. There, Cover often played a comic foil to Hemsley's blustering, opinionated black businessman. The show ran from 1975 to 1985.

Cover also appeared in several films, including The Great Gatsby,The Stepford Wives and Wall Street.

He is survived by his widow, Mary, a son and a daughter.

December 05, 2008|Times Staff and Wire Reports

Paul Benedict, the actor who played the eccentric English neighbor Harry Bentley on the sitcom "The Jeffersons," was found dead Monday at his home on Martha's Vineyard, Mass. He was 70.

Authorities were investigating the cause of death, said his brother, Charles.

Benedict's oversized jaw and angular features were partly attributed to acromegaly, a pituitary disorder that was first diagnosed by an endocrinologist who saw Benedict in a theatrical production.

He underwent medical treatment to prevent the disease from spreading while he continued to act -- and used his facial features for comic effect.

As an actor, Benedict built a career portraying loony characters in films such as "The Goodbye Girl" (1977), "The Man with Two Brains" (1983) and "The Addams Family" (1991). He also appeared in the Christopher Guest comedies "This Is Spinal Tap" (1984), "Waiting for Guffman" (1997) and "A Mighty Wind" (2003). On the PBS children's show "Sesame Street," Benedict was the Mad Painter who painted numbers everywhere.

But he was mainly known for his role as Bentley on "The Jeffersons," which ran on CBS from 1975 to 1985. He left in 1981 to pursue other projects but returned in 1983. Benedict later said he hadn't expected the show to last more than a season and only agreed to the part because producer Norman Lear kept asking him to reconsider.

The accented speech that he used even offstage led many to assume that Benedict was British, but in fact he was born Sept. 17, 1938, in Silver City, N.M. He was the youngest of six children; his father a doctor, his mother a journalist.

"When I was 5 years old, from the first time I went to the movies, I knew I wanted to be an actor," Benedict told The Times in 1992.

After growing up in Boston, Benedict attended the city's Suffolk University and began his acting career in the 1960s in the Theatre Company of Boston, performing alongside such future stars as Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman and Al Pacino.

On Broadway, he appeared opposite Pacino in Eugene O'Neill's two-character play "Hughie" in 1996 and played the mayor in a 2000 revival of "The Music Man."

As a stage director, he was known for taking a work in progress or a new play and laboring with a playwright to infuse it with "intelligence, sympathy and warmth -- and of course, humor," The Times reported in 1992.

His breakthrough show as a director was "Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune" in 1987, closely followed by "The Kathy & Mo Show: Parallel Lives" in 1989, both two-person sleepers that became off-Broadway hits.

To read some articles about The Jeffersons go to and and and and and and and

To watch some clips from The Jeffersons go to

For an episode guide go to

To Read Isabel Sanford's Story go to

For two great reviews of The Jeffersons go to and
Date: Fri July 16, 2004 Filesize: 59.2kb Dimensions: 533 x 429
Keywords: Jeffersons: Cast Photo



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