Sanford and Son debuted as a mid-season replacement in January 1972 and was an instant success. It was produced by Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin, the team responsible for ratings giant All in the Family. The two shows had a few things in common. They were both based on popular British sitcoms (Till Death Us Do Part and Steptoe and Son), and both were pioneers of edgy, racial humor that reflected the changing politics of the time. Sanford and Son helped to redefine the genre of black situation comedy.
Comedian Redd Foxx played the show’s central character, Fred Sanford, a 65-year-old L.A. junk dealer. Sanford’s son, Lamont (Demond Wilson), is his reluctant partner in the junk business, always looking for a way out. Crotchety old Fred makes his son crazy with his schemes, but Lamont ultimately cares for his pop too much to leave him to his own devices. Many of the arguments end with Fred faking a heart attack while crying out to his deceased wife (“I’m coming to join you, Elizabeth!”) or Fred calling Lamont “dummy.”
A cast of colorful characters add to the hilarity of the series, including Fred’s buddies Melvin (Slappy White), Bubba (Don Bexley) and Grady (Whitman Mayo), as well as his meddling sister-in-law, Aunt Esther (LaWanda Page). Another star of the show was the funky theme song, written by Quincy Jones.
Sanford and Son was ranked in the top 10 for its full five and a half year run, peaking at number two in the 1972-3 and 1973-4 seasons, bested only by All in the Family. When the two lead actors opted out of the series after the ’76-’77 season, the rest of the cast carried on with the forgettable follow-up series The Sanford Arms. The show fizzled in less than a month. An attempt was made at a revival in 1980 with Foxx returning to the series Sanford, but it only lasted one season.
A US adaptation of the UK classic Steptoe and Son.
USA / NBC – Bud Yorkin, Norman Lear / 136×25 minute episodes / Broadcast 14 January 1972 – 25 March 25 1977
Creators: Ray Galton, Alan Simpson / Producers: Norman Lear, Saul Turteltaub, Bernie Orenstein
Redd Foxx as Fred Sanford
Desmond Wilson as Lamont Sanford
Dennis Burkley as Cal Pettie
Whitman Mayo as Grady Wilson
LaWanda Page as Esther Anderson
Raymond Allen as Woody Anderson
Eric Laneuville as Daniel Anderson
Nathaniel Taylor as Rollo Larson
Gregory Sierra as Julio Fuentas
Slappy White as Melvin
Noam Pitlik as Officer Swanhauser
Hal Williams as Officer Smitty
Howard Platt as Officer “Hoppy” Hopkins
Don Bexley as Bubba
Lynn Hamilton as Donna Harris
Marguerite Ray as Evelyn Lewis
Leroy Daniels as Leroy
Nancy Kulp as May Hopkins
Marlene Clark as Janet
Edward Crawford as Roger
Mary Alice as Frances Victor
Allan Drake as Rodney Victor
Pat Morita as Ah Chu