The ’70’s sitcom Sanford & Son was a smash hit for the NBC network, predating the later success of Black sitcoms like The Cosby Show, black-ish and other series that came in its wake. The series is celebrating its 45th anniversary this weekend, and remains a cultural staple within the African-American community.
The show starred comedian Redd Foxx and actor Demond Wilson in the leading roles. Fred G. Sanford, Foxx’s character, was a 65-year-old widowed junk dealer from the South. His son, Lamont, Wilson’s character, was an often shiftless but kind-hearted partner to his father’s zany antics. The show was set in South Central Los Angeles and featured LaWanda Page as Sanford’s sister-in-law Esther, Grady, played by Whitman Mayo, and Lynn Hamilton as Fred’s love interest, Donna.
Amazingly, Wilson and Foxx didn’t think the show would last six seasons and were set to grab the cash and move on to their next big roles. After CBS turned down the series, a move they came to regret, the show took hold on NBC. It was likened to All In The Family, which featured cranky protagonist Archie Bunker. Like Bunker, Sanford was bigoted with a sharp tongue which often masked a true heart of gold.
Foxx was 49 when he first did the show, and wore makeup to appear older. He also wore heavy shoes to give the character his distinctive walk. Whenever under duress, Sanford would feign a heart attack and declared “Elizabeth, I’m coming home” in a nod to his deceased wife.
The series was still a hit when it went off the air in 1977 due to Wilson’s battle with the studio over salary. Foxx also had several disputes with producers of the show during the series. The show spawned one spin-off series, Grady, and two failed reboots before producers moved on.
Sanford and Son is a staple of television syndication. Much of the physical and situation comedy elements used then still translate well to contemporary audiences.
TV One is showing a three-day Sanford and Son marathon starting on Friday, Jan. 13 at 8 p.m. EST through Sunday, Jan. 16 at 12 a.m. EST. The series’ pilot episode airs on Saturday, Jan. 14 at 8 p.m. ET – the same date and time the show originally debuted on NBC in 1972.