***Radio Free Dixie For The 21st Century***
Original Air Date: Weds. November 30, 2011
I created the television show “Good Times,” the characters George and Louise Jefferson of “The Jeffersons.” I also wrote the movie “Cooley High,” upon which the television show, “What’s Happening?” was based, not to mention that I created the television show, “The Cosby Show."
“Cooley High” was made for $750 thousand dollars and grossed over $100 million in the box office. All those things were block buster hits and made people hundreds of millions of dollars but yet I ended up living in a homeless shelter because I was cheated out of all the money those things made because of my ignorance and race.
When I came to Hollywood I was a young black high school dropout from the streets of Chicago who’s desire was to improve the images of black people on the screen and in books. In 1970 Norman Lear produced a show called “All in the Family.” He hired a guy named Mike Evans to play a character called Lionel. Lionel’s first line on “All in the Family” was, ‘I’s gwine get an edjumakation.’ The kind of degrading stereotypic thing I had come to Hollywood to change. I knew Mike.
One day Mike came to me and said that he was on this show called “All in the Family,” and that all he had was a walk on, walk off part. He said that there were a lot of people writing for the show and getting paid. He’d heard that I was a good writer and he wanted me to write a show, centering on his character, he would put both our names on it and take it in to Norman Lear. I wrote the episode in which I created Lionel’s mother and father, George and Louise Jefferson. George was a successful black man who didn’t like white people and called them “Honkies.” Mike took the script in to Norman and two weeks later Norman Lear sent for me. The first thing Norman said when I walked into his office was, ‘America will never buy a black man calling white people honky on a sit-com.’ I said, ‘they will if you keep it funny.’ You can’t be that funny he told me. “I can,” I said. He said he wanted to talk about something else. He sent for Mike Evans who was on the set rehearsing “All in the Family.”
While we were waiting he told me that “All in the Family,” was originally an English show and that he had another English show that he was getting ready to produce about a junkman called “Steptoe and Son.” I recommended Redd Foxx for the part because Redd was playing a junk man in a movie called “Cotton Comes to Harlem,” and I’d been a fan of Redd’s for years. Norman, who had never heard of Redd Foxx, told me that it was a white show and that it wouldn’t work with a black actor.
Mike came up and Norman said he wanted to do a black show and asked if we had any ideas. I immediately pitched “The Black Family,” which came on the air three years later as “Good Times.”
A few months after that first meeting he started shooting “Sanford and Son,” with Redd Foxx as the lead character. I tried out for the role as Lamont but Norman told me that I was a writer not an actor.