July 24, 2012, - 6:28 pm
I don’t know much about Sherman Hemsley’s politics, but I will miss the real life actor behind George Jefferson of TV’s “The Jeffersons,” who died today at age 74. My dad introduced me to the show, and it was must viewing in our house when I was a kid in the mid-70s to early ’80s. George Jefferson was one of my favorite TV characters of all time. I loved Hemsley’s politically incorrect upscale Black businessman character on the show. As Mr. Jefferson, he was funny, he was strident, and he had strong views. I particularly enjoyed watching him fight with Florence, the maid (played by Marla Gibbs). And I liked that, despite the fact that he’d “moved on up to the East Side” of New York “to a deluxe apartment in the sky,” he wasn’t pretentious and mocked the BS of the trappings of the upper class. Even outside of his successful dry cleaning biz, he knew that there was an advantage in maintaining his streetwise ethos from the ghetto. And at the dawn of feminism, George Jefferson didn’t buy into that BS either.
Today, I was searching for a particular episode on YouTube, in which Louise Jefferson has amnesia. George says, “Oh my G-d, a lifetime with a woman who can’t remember and another one I’d like to forget [referencing the maid].” I couldn’t find it, but I found several videos, like the ones below (the best is the very last video from Archie Bunker with the Jeffersons), in which Hemsley regularly used the N-word as Mr. Jefferson (so did Isabel Sanford as Louise Jefferson) and referred to White people as “Honkies.” Today, that would never fly on regular broadcast TV. I also noted a lot of other things that would never fly, such as George Jefferson’s attacks on the interracial marriage of his neighbors, Tom and Helen Willis, and the impending marriage of his son Lionel to their mixed-race daughter, Jenny. He referred to them as “Zebras,” a term completely unacceptable today. While liberal creator Norman Lear meant to mock racism of all kinds (“The Jeffersons” was a spin-off show, as they were originally the neighbors of White racist Archie Bunker of “All in the Family”), “The Jeffersons” actually portrayed the real life racism we never talk about that is inherent in Black America–both against Whites and fellow Blacks. I doubt Lear would have the courage to make this film today, as his left-wing politics went further left along with the rest of Tinseltown.
Would this show stand the test of time? To me, the answer is yes and no. I would rather watch a “The Jeffersons” rerun marathon than any of the crap that’s on TV, today. But could it be shown on TV today? Aside from the fact that comedies like this with laugh tracks are long past on the way out, the liberals who made them back then are conservative compared to the liberals who run Hollywood and television today, even with the ever-expanding TV choices. They would never show an N-word show like this, unless it was on BET. And they certainly wouldn’t show us the sub rosa racism in Black America, even in the middle and upper middle classes, as the Jeffersons were. It’s simply too far from the Treyvon Martin narrative they’ve been cowed into.
And so, for that alone, I respect Sherman Hemsley. I always like a politically incorrect actor. Especially one with the moxie he had. And that’s aside from the fact that he was a respected Broadway actor and served our country for four years in the U.S. Air Force before he was George.
I liked Hemsley and his Mr. Jefferson because of the spunk and guts he had. Not only did his character have chutzpah, but I suspect he did, too. Ditto for the disarming charm. I have a feeling they had more in common than not.
Archie Bunker’s Anti-Black Racism Trumped by George Jefferson’s Anti-White Racism . . .
Sherman Hemsley a/k/a “George Jefferson,” Rest In Peace.
Tags: Archie Bunker, Florence, George Jefferson, Helen and Tom Willis, Isabel Sanford, Jenny Willis, Lionel Jefferson, Louise Jefferson, Marla Gibbs, Norman Lear, Rest In Peace, RIP, Sherman Hemsley, Sherman Hemsley RIP, The Jeffersons