Redd Foxx in a leisure suit NYC
“Foxx was born John Elroy Sanford on December 9, 1922, in St. Louis, Missouri, and raised in Chicago’s South Side. His father, Fred Sanford, an electrician and auto mechanic from Hickman, Kentucky, left the family when Foxx was four years old. He was raised by his half-Seminole mother, Mary Hughes, from Ellisville, Mississippi, his grandmother and his minister. Foxx attended DuSable High School in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood with future Chicago mayor Harold Washington. Foxx had an older brother, Fred Jr., who provided the name for his character on Sanford and Son. On July 27, 1939, Foxx performed on the Major Bowes Amateur Hour radio show as part of the Jump Swinging Six.
In the 1940s, he met Malcolm Little, later known as Malcolm X. In Malcolm’s autobiography, Foxx is referred to as “”Chicago Red, the funniest dishwasher on this earth.”” He earned the nickname because of his reddish hair and complexion. During World War II, Foxx dodged the draft by eating half a bar of soap before his physical, a trick that resulted in heart palpitations. On September 30, 1946, Foxx recorded five songs for the Savoy label under the direction of Teddy Reig. Foxx’s raunchy nightclub act proved successful. After performing on the East Coast, his big break came after singer Dinah Washington insisted that he come to Los Angeles, where Dootsie Williams of Dootone records caught his act at the Brass Rail nightclub. Foxx was one of the first black comics to play to white audiences on the Las Vegas Strip. He was signed to a long-term contract and released a series of comedy albums that quickly became cult favorites. Foxx achieved his most widespread fame starring in the television sitcom Sanford and Son, an adaptation of the BBC series Steptoe and Son. Foxx played the role of Fred G. Sanford (“”Fred Sanford”” was actually Foxx’s father’s and brother’s name), while co-star Demond Wilson played the role of his son Lamont. In this sitcom, Fred and Lamont were owners of a junk/salvage store in Watts, California, who dealt with many humorous situations. The series was notable for its racial humor and overt prejudices which helped redefine the genre of black situation comedy.
The series premiered on the NBC television network on January 14, 1972, and was broadcast for six seasons. In 1974, Foxx was sued for $10 million by Tandem Productions, producers of the show, for not showing up to start taping the new season. The final episode aired on March 25, 1977.
The show also had several running gags. When angry with Lamont, Fred would often say, “”You big dummy!”” or would often fake heart attacks by putting his hand on his chest and saying (usually while looking up at the sky), “”It’s the big one, I’m coming to join ya honey/Elizabeth”” (referring to his late wife). Fred would also complain about having “”arthur-itis”” to get out of working by showing Lamont his cramped hand. Foxx portrayed a character who was in his 60s, although in real life he was a decade younger.
Foxx used his starring role on Sanford and Son to help get jobs for acquaintances such as LaWanda Page, Slappy White, Gregory Sierra, Don Bexley, Beah Richards, Stymie Beard, Leroy Daniels, Ernest Mayhand and Noriyuki “”Pat”” Morita.
Wilson was asked whether he kept in touch with everybody from Sanford & Son, especially the series’ star himself, after the series was canceled: “”No. I saw Redd Foxx once before he died, circa 1983, and I never saw him again. At the time I was playing tennis at the Malibu Racquet Club and I was approached by some producers about doing a Redd Foxx 50th Anniversary Special. I hadn’t spoken to him since 1977, and I called the club where (Redd) was playing. And we met at Redd’s office, but he was less than affable. I told those guys it was a bad idea. I never had a cross word with him. People say I’m protective of Redd Foxx in my book (Second Banana, Wilson’s memoir of the “”Sanford”” years). I had no animosity toward Foxx [for quitting the show in 1977] because I had a million-dollar contract at CBS to do Baby… I’m Back!. My hurt was that he didn’t come to me about throwing the towel in—I found out in the hallway at NBC from a newscaster. I forgave him and I loved Redd, but I never forgot that. The love was there. You can watch any episode and see that.””[”
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