Thursday, February 1, 2007


I never understood why there was such a fuss made about 'Amos And Andy' being racially offensive and politically incorrect. Maybe that could be said about the radio version which spawned the TV show (since the characters were voiced by white men), but not the TV series.

I've seen a few episodes of the show and I just don't get that "offensive" angle. For the most part the characters were decent and hard-working and the situations they found themselves in were already to be found in sitcoms about white people. To me, the Kingfish scamming Amos and Andy could be translated into Ralph and Norton getting conned by Bilko.

If anything, I always found the characters on 'Good Times' to be more offensive and stereotypical, and yet that gets a berth on the TV Land sked.

Many of the shows that came out of the Lear/Yorkin factory in the mid-1970s utilized all kinds of stereotypes, no matter the race. But then they found a way to turn it on its head to illustrate some facet of the human condition.

And one of these stereotypes was that of the sassy, back-talking black maid which were especially prevalent in the early talkies of the thirties.

But for the 1970s, she was refashioned into a character played by Marla Gibbs on 'The Jeffersons'. Florence Johnston proved to be so popular, her character even moved in with George and Weezie and was eventually spun off into her own show.

Here's some relevant information from Wikipedia about Florence:

Florence was hired as a maid for George and Louise Jefferson. Originally, she was a recurring character; it was explained that she worked for the Jeffersons only a few days a week. Gibbs' character was popular, and she began appearing in more episodes.

In the episode "Louise Gets Her Way" (aired early in the third season), Florence moved in as a full-time maid after Florence explains to Louise that she had been evicted from her apartment building, which was scheduled to be razed. George, who is already tired of Florence's wisecracks and has not been consulted on allowing her to live with them, finds out and not only fires Florence, he kicks her out. However, Florence — thanks to her constant eavesdropping on phone conversations — is able to save George from falling victim to a crooked business deal, and he agrees to let her stay.

Florence and George often exchanged wisecracks, especially in the early years of the show. She usually took Louise's side when Louise and George argued. In later years, she found creative ways to avoid doing any work. Below is a good example:

The doorbell rings.
Louise: "Aren't you going to answer that?"
Florence: "You're closer"

When George had a potential client (a hotel owner) at his apartment to schmooze, Florence's wisecracks caused the visitor to offer her a job overseeing the housekeepers at his hotel. This was how they introduced the spinoff show Checking In. After only four episodes, Checking In was cancelled. Florence returned to The Jeffersons. On the show, it was mentioned that the hotel burned down.

In later years, the relationship between George and Florence improved, to the point that George included her in his will and put money away for her retirement.

[Thanks to Wikipedia for the information.]

After 'The Jeffersons' left the air, Florence still showed up in Toobworld. Three years ago, she enjoyed a trip to a tropical resort which was probably hosting a convention for "domestic engineers", as also present at the resort were maids and butlers like Alice ('The Brady Bunch'), Benson ('Soap', 'Benson'), Rosario ('Will & Grace') and Geoffrey ('The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air'). (This happened in a Swiffer blipvert which used to be available for viewing at, but alas! I don't see it listed there anymore.)

The connection to the Will Smith sitcom was actually established years earlier when Florence showed up in the sixth season episode "I, Done (Part Two)". That was the series finale in which the Jeffersons bought the mansion and planned to move in by Memorial Day. So it looks as though Florence has also living in California this past decade.

Marla Gibbs has also appeared in commercials for Sears (1984), the long distance phone service 10-10-321 (1998) and Doublemint Chewing Gum (2001). I can't verify this, but I would think that she was in character as Florence Johnston. This argument could be made especially for the phone carrier, as they used other actors as they looked in their more familiar roles, like Christopher Lloyd as taxi driver Reverend Jim Ignatowski.

But at any rate, with the appearance on 'The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air' finale, in the Swiffer ad, and with her own spinoff 'Checking In', the maid for 'The Jeffersons' was certainly moving on up for herself.

And as such, she is being inducted into the TV Crossover Hall of Fame for February, 2007, in honor of Black History Month. And there she will join her employers, George and Louise Jefferson, who were inducted together in February of 2002.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Amos and Andy, the television show, was cleverly written. Amos, in fact, was often the bright voice of reason, while Andy was getting conned by Kingfish. Amos' role as the smarter one evolved over the years, however, and that, I think, is part of the controversy. Originally and especially on the radio show, both characters were easily duped, and Kingfish was less clever and more just a schemer. Add to that the fact the show was created by two whites who played blacks on air, and you've got a political problem. There's also a movie--Check and Double-Check, with Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll appearing in blackface. Sadly, these less than sensitive ideas have helped bury the show. The same sort of thing happens when the less-enlightened complain about Rochester being a butler, proving they miss the joke entirely.