Tuesday, July 24, 2012

TOOK A WHOLE LOT OF TRYING, JUST TO GET UP THAT HILL:  Sherman Hemsley, who passed away today at the age of 74, grew up near 22nd and Christian in South Philly. He worked as a postal clerk at 30th Street Station while learning his craft as an actor at locations familiar to many here -- the TLA, Society Hill Playhouse, and Valley Forge Music Fair, to name a few. Norman Lear spotted him during his Broadway debut in 1971, told him about a part he wanted to hold open for him in his new sitcom, All in the Family, and you know the rest. I can tell you how much I enjoyed Amen growing up, but let's let Odie Henderson discuss Hemsley's defining role:
Until I saw George [Jefferson], most of the Black men on my TV were characters like Thug #2 on Baretta. George opened my eyes to something I had never seen before, a successful and rich Black businessman. I was in awe, and I knew that if George, who reminded me of my uncle, could have seven cleaning stores (one near you), I had a chance to succeed just as he did. I didn't have to grow up to be Thug #2. I could be A-number-one....

Good Times was closer to my reality; The Jeffersons was closer to my dreams. The folks on Good Times acted like people I knew, and despite all his money, George Jefferson acted like people I knew too. I think this is where the confusion about his character lay. What made George such an inspiration to me was that he was a self-made man, someone who pulled himself up, but who also acted exactly like he did when he was broke. This was staying true to the character's roots, his upbringing, and his experiences prior to his promotions. Success may have spoiled Rock Hunter, but it didn't change George. He was still always running his hustle, afraid that everything he had could be taken away at any minute. Just because you have money doesn't mean it changes the type of person you are. Especially if you're not used to having it. Weezy was always trying to refine herself. George was always going to be George.


  1. Joseph J. Finn9:49 PM

    And then there's the AV Club obituary, which discusses how Sherman Hemsley was a huge prog-rock fan.

  2. Anonymous8:49 AM

    I will miss George Jefferson.  Norman Lear shaped my childhood.  I remember how excited I was as a teen to see Archie's chair at the Smithsonian.

  3. Jim Bell5:50 PM

    Guest was me.

  4. Laura7:00 AM

    If Sherman Helmsley was 74 when he died, and Isavel Sanford was 86 when she died in 1994, that means they were about 20 years apart in age. I would have assumed he was much older.