Isabel-Sanford

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The Jeffersons was one of three programs of the period to feature African-Americans in leading roles–the first such programming since the cancellation of the infamous Amos ‘n’ Andy show in 1953. The Jeffersons was the first television program to feature an interracial married couple, and it offered an uncommon, albeit comic, portrayal of a successful African American family. Lastly, The Jeffersons is one of several programs of the period to rely heavily on confrontational humor. Along with All in the Family, and Sanford and Son, the show was also one of many to repopularize old-style ethnic humor.

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Lady Sings The Blues

Born Elinore Harris, Billie Holiday had a difficult teen and young adulthood period, which included working in brothels, both as a cleaning woman and a prostitute, and being raped. Through this difficulty, she dreamed of becoming a jazz singer. She got her initial singing break when she applied at a Harlem club that was looking for a dancer, but where she got hired as a singer. There, she met and fell in love with the suave Louis McKay. After this initial break, Billie wanted her singing career to move to the mainstream clubs in downtown Manhattan. She took a risk when she agreed to be the lead singer for the Reg Hanley Band, a primarily white group, who convinced her that she would have to make her mark in regional tours before her Manhattan dream could happen. As Billie tried to advance her career, pressures of life, including being a black woman, led to her not so secret substance abuse (especially of heroin), not so secret because of her increasingly erratic behavior, both on stage and off. As those around her, including Louis, worked to support Billie emotionally to get off drugs, Billie faced other issues, such as open narcotic use being a criminal offense, which in combination with the effects of the heroin use itself could be Billie’s downfall despite her singing talent.

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365 Day Movie Challenge (2015) - #95: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967) - dir. Stanley Kramer

Despite the rather dated nature of some of William Rose’s dialogue (particularly from the mouth of the awful Katharine Houghton, whose bouncy naiveté in both character and performance makes zero sense and totally infuriates me), a lot of it still feels effective and relevant to today. Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn are great, particularly in the scene with them talking in the bathroom prior to the dinner and also Tracy’s excellent monologue at the end of the film. As great as Hepburn is (and she did win her third Oscar for this performance), I think it’s Tracy who gives the really revelatory performance. He was always such a top-notch actor in just about everything he did, but there’s something even greater happening here. It’s true that he does look quite tired and older than I’d expected he would look - he died of a heart attack just 17 days after the film wrapped in 1967 - but because his character goes through so much more development than Hepburn’s, including all those wonderful moments when he curses (how satisfying to hear those words coming from a classic film actor of the 1930s!), his performance is ultimately the best of the bunch.

Sidney Poitier does a fine job as Houghton’s fiancé, although the whole time I was thinking about various articles I read recently for film classes, complaining about how Poitier played so many angelic goody-goodies that that was why films like Shaft and Super Fly had to be made as an answer to the Poitier school of character/performance. (As Frank Rich put it, Poitier’s role was “too perfect and too ‘white’” not to be eventually accepted by Tracy and Hepburn.) There is no question of his being a good actor, but the only moments when I really enjoyed his performance was toward the end of the film when he is finally able to let loose and have a screaming match with his father. Speaking of which, the film has some wonderful supporting performances, particularly Beah Richards as Poitier’s mother (she has a very powerful scene with Tracy near the end of the film, surely the reason why Richards received an Oscar nomination), the delightful Cecil Kellaway (also Oscar-nominated) as family friend Monsignor Ryan, Roy Glenn as Poitier’s father and Virginia Christine as one of Hepburn’s friends from work. (I guess Isabel Sanford is OK as maid Tillie, but her performance is like a lever stuck on only one setting: pissed-off.) You also get the memorable sight of Barbara Randolph and Skip Martin dancing to some groovy music, as well as Alexandra Hay as a gum-chewing carhop. Since most of the film is contained within the Tracy-Hepburn house, it has a claustrophobic feel not unlike many stuffy plays, which also makes the cinematography rather staid. The few exceptions in Sam Leavitt’s camerawork were one particularly nice scene when Hepburn goes out onto her terrace alone at sunset, as well as the aforementioned bathroom scene (utilizing a mirror) and the scene in which Isabel Sanford yells at Sidney Poitier in the guest room, which has the camera tilted sideways. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is of definite social and historical value, but it also doesn’t feel quite so revolutionary as I’d assumed for all these years.

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One thing that I knew about Isabel Sanford: She is the the only Black woman to win the Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. (Which is a shame, hello Phylicia Rashad and Tichina Arnold)

One thing that I did not know about Isabel Sanford: She was 21 one years older than Sherman Hemsley, her George Jefferson. She was born in 1917, Hemsley was born in 1938. 

ALSO, there is an age gap between George and Louise Jefferson’s counterparts, Florida and James Evans of Good Times, played by Esther Rolle and John Amos: Esther was 19 years older than John, who was just six years older than Jimmie Walker, who played oldest child J.J.

‘The Jeffersons’ Star Sherman Hemsley Dies

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The Jeffersons” star Sherman Hemsley has died at the age of 74.

The actor passed away at his home in El Paso, Texas, on Tuesday…

Born in Philadelphia, Hemsley got his break in show business in the early 1970s, making his Broadway debut in a production of the play “Purlie.”

Bing video: Sherman Hemsley on 'Jeffersons’

It was during his stage stint that he caught the eye of TV writer and producer Norman Lear, who reached out to Hemsley and asked him to star as George Jefferson in the sitcom “All in the Family.”

Hemsley was reluctant to quit the theater and held off on the role for two years before taking Lear up on the standing offer.

Although Jefferson was just a secondary character on the show, Hemsley’s comedic timing convinced Lear to develop a spin-off series titled “The Jeffersons” in 1975, allowing the actor to really shine on camera.

The program became one of Lear’s most successful projects and remains the longest-running sitcom with a predominantly black cast in U.S. TV history, airing from 1975 to 1985. […]

Picture Credit: 

Sherman Hemsley, left, and Isabel Sanford in “The Jeffersons” (©CBS)