Flip Wilson as Geraldine Jones
Clerow “Flip” Wilson, Jr. was an outrageously funny comedian and actor in his time. He was well known for his many live and television appearance during the late 1960s and 1970s. Wilson was also a regular at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, N.Y. for a time. He was also a welcome guest on The Tonight Show, Laugh-In and the Ed Sullivan Show.
Because of his television exposure, Wilson went on to host his own weekly variety show in the early 1970s. The Flip Wilson Show was an instant success with viewers and earned him a Golden Globe Award and two Emmy Awards. The Flip Wilson Show featured an impressive list of guest stars during its run. The once popular variety show was given the distinction of the highest rated show on television network at one time.
Time magazine recognized and celebrated Flip Wilson, in its January 1972 issue. Wilson was also billed as, “the first black entertainer to be the host of a successful weekly variety show on network television”. Quite an accolade for a black entertainer at that time. If anyone deserved that distinction, Flip Wilson certainly did!
Wilson portrayed many characters on his show and wasn’t afraid to laugh at himself while making his audiences laugh. One of his best-known characters was Geraldine Jones. Geraldine was one of the most recurring characters Wilson portrayed. She was a sassy, outspoken, liberated, black woman. She wore her clothes tight and revealing and flirted with the men but never failed to be anything but faithful to her (never seen) boyfriend, Killer. Geraldine wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed but that didn’t keep her from being overly confident. She was a “what you see, is what you get” kind of girl.
Geraldine was an audience favorite. At times it was difficult to remember that she was actually Wilson in drag. Wilson played Geraldine so well the character took on a life of her own. Geraldine was known for several catchphrases that audiences came to expect and would have been disappointed if she didn’t deliver. Popular catchphrases Geraldine coined included “When you’re hot, you’re hot; when you’re not, you’re not”, “The Devil made me do it” and “What you see is what you get”.
Wilson’s inspiration for Geraldine’s character came from early performances when he would use high pitched voices to imitate women in his acts. The bit became so popular that he decided that he would do well to invent an alter ego and that turned out to be a very wise career move. Wilson gave his character the name, Geraldine, after a childhood friend that he was very fond of.
Many times, male comedians would put women down in their acts to get the big laughs. The only problem with that was that only the men were laughing. This alter ego was the perfect way for Wilson to playfully poke fun at women while not offending them in the process.
Geraldine became so popular and was in such demand that Wilson made comedy albums featuring Geraldine Jones. Geraldine began receiving invitations for appearances, apart from Flip Wilson. Geraldine was a strong, proud woman and was usually the heroine of her own story, all while making people laugh. She was in such demand that Wilson even recorded comedy albums featuring Geraldine.
Eventually, Flip Wilson tired of the Geraldine character. She had saturated his act and quite possibly gained more notoriety than he did as himself. To soften the blow to Geraldine’s countless fans, Wilson began telling people that she had retired. I guess he had reached his limit but that is OK because it was good while it lasted!
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