The world had never seen anything quite like Sanford and Son when Red Foxx’s comedy originally aired from 1972 to 1977. Set in LA’s Watts neighborhood at a salvage yard, Foxx’s acerbic wit shined through in every classic episode. For six seasons, the show made history for its gut-busting comedy, often edgy racial humor and its no-holds-barred outlook on working-class African American life. Along with Demond Wilson, Foxx and a growing number of background players depicted life through the lens of South Central Los Angeles. Here are some facts you may not know about one of the most iconic sitcoms of all time.
1. About Lamont’s Name
According to his father, Lamont was actually named after a pitcher for the Negro Leagues named Lamont Lomax. While Lomax himself is fictional, the team he purportedly pitched for — the Homestead Grays — was very much real. Of course, Fred tried to convince his son that Lamont was his middle name, that he had no first name. That wasn’t true. Lamont’s middle name was Grady.
2. Those Catchphrases
The show was one of the pioneers of the sitcom catchphrase. From Fred’s repeated fake heart attacks (“This is the big one! I’m comin’ Elizabeth!”) to his and Lamont’s nicknames for each other (“dummy” and “old fool”) to sassy LaWanda Page’s calling Fred an “old heathen,” the show made its mark in TV history by its expert use of repeated lines.
3. It’s a British Import
While the show wound up being quintessentially American, the fact is that the show is based on a BBC sitcom called Steptoe and Son. That show ran for four series from 1962 to 1965 and spawned — in addition to Sanford and Son — versions in Sweden, the Netherlands and Portugal.
4. The Theme Was Composed By…
Music icon Quincy Jones was commissioned to draft the now iconic theme song “The Streetbeater,” a short tune that has become so synonymous with the show that it’s very mention calls to mind a rusty old pickup truck driving down the streets of Los Angeles.
5. Red Foxx Missed Nine Episodes
In the second season, viewers were told that Fred Sanford had gone back to his hometown of St. Louis to tend to a cousin’s funeral. In truth, though, Foxx had walked off the show as part of a contract dispute over his salary. For the rest of the season, the show focused on Lamont. Happily Foxx came back at the beginning of the following year.
6. It Shares DNA With ‘All if the Family’
If Fred Sanford’s race-oriented, comically mean-spirited, social commentary sitcom approach seemed at all familiar to you, it should. Sanford and Son was produced by Norman Lear and the same team responsible for unleashing cantankerous bigot Archie Bunker on the world.
7. The Truck is a Collectors Item
Fred Sanford’s truck on the show, a 1951 Ford F1, has managed to keep itself running throughout the years, changing hands between a variety of collectors. After the series it was bought at auction, from there moving to a real junk dealer, before it was finally bought by BlueLine Classics, a car dealership in Ohio.
8. The Show Was Still Popular When It Was Canned
After six seasons on NBC, Sanford and Son was still extremely popular, raking in great ratings. Unfortunately — presumably because Red Foxx could be a bit of a handful — the show was cancelled unceremoniously. Of course, several cast members would go on to prominent careers, but that doesn’t change the fact that we could have (theoretically) gotten more out of the show.
9. The Cleavon Little Connection
Before he got the role as Lamont, Demond Wilson actually appeared in an episode of All in the Family (as a robber). He played opposite Blazing Saddles’ star Cleavon Little. It was also Little who recommended Red Foxx for the part of the ever-scheming Fred Sanford. Little himself was actually offered a role on the show, but he was forced to pass on the project due to prior commitments.
10. CBS Passed on the Show
While the show eventually aired on NBC, another channel initially had a shot to air Sanford and Son. Lear and company repeatedly asked the brass at CBS to watch rehearsals of the show before it aired, but they declined, expressing no interest in the project. Of course, then-president of CBS, Fred Silverman, later regretted that dismissal after NBC snapped up the show and it became a hit.
11. Red Foxx Wore Makeup
When Sanford and Son began, Red Foxx was only 49, though his on-screen character was pushing 65. As a result, Foxx wore makeup on the show in order to play older. Of course, as the show progressed, the makeup would miff Foxx, because viewers assumed he was as old as his TV character.
12. Foxx Came Up With the Heart Attack Bit (Sort Of)
One of Fred Sanford’s most famous recurring jokes was dramatically clutching his chest, looking to the heavens, and shouting, “This is the big one! I’m coming home to you Elizabeth!” According to the comedian, this joke was based on his real life mother, who would apparently do the exact same thing (and for the exact same reasons).
13. LaWanda Page Almost Didn’t Get the Job
LaWanda Page, who came in halfway through season two to become Fred’s primary antagonist, was almost passed over for the part because she was too nervous to audition. Thankfully, Red Foxx insisted that she be given enough chances to show her stuff because he was convinced that she was the perfect actress for the role.
14. Foxx’s Untimely Death
Years after the show was cancelled Foxx was working on another show, The Royal Family, when he suffered a fatal heart attack on the set. Unfortunately for Foxx, help wasn’t immediately summoned as the cast and crew believed that Foxx was just doing a bit from his classic sitcom. He wasn’t. The comedy star collapsed on set and never awoke.
15. The Sanford Arms
After the show was cancelled, NBC tried to use the property in another series in which Phil Wheeler moves into the Sanford home, trying to turn the house next door into a popular hotel. Several characters from Sanford and Son showed up, but the show never caught on and was cancelled after just four episodes.
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