Jimmy 'JJ' Walker: 'Good Times' Wasn't Such A Good Time
Jimmy Walker in 1974. (Photo by John D. Kisch/Separate Cinema Archive/Getty Images)
As the character JJ Evans on Good Times, famous for dropping the catchphrase "Dyn-O-Mite!," actor and standup comedian Jimmy Walker became one of the best-loved sitcom stars in the mid-'70s. Walker, who is currently in his early 70s, doesn't pull punches -- perhaps it's his standup comedy heritage that makes him such a truth-teller. He was recently interviewed by the Television Academy, and his insights about Good Times and his castmates are eye-opening.
We've all had good jobs and bad. Sometimes, the people you work with feel like a family, and sometimes they really don't. Jimmy Walker ended up playing a part on a show about a close-knit family, but his TV family -- his co-stars -- were far from close in real life. Good Times was on the air from 1974-79, and it was a quality show with a great cast. Walker, though, feels the show could have lasted even longer if everyone had been on the same page. Instead, Walker and his co-stars -- particularly Esther Rolle and John Amos, his TV parents -- were more or less strangers.
'Good Times' Was About A Family's Love
If you remember the show, it was about the Evanses, a tight knit, African American family struggling to make ends meet and get by in this world. Both parents worked hard to make sure their children had every advantage they could provide for them.
The patriarch of the family was father, James Evans, Sr., portrayed by John Amos; Florida Evans, portrayed by Esther Rolle, was his strong and supportive wife; Jimmy Walker portrayed the eldest son, JJ (short for James, Jr.); Thelma Evans, the only daughter and middle child, was portrayed by BernNadette Stanis; and last but not least was Michael Evans, the baby of the family, was portrayed by Ralph Carter. The ever-present single neighbor, Willona, was portrayed by Ja’Net DuBois.
Black Families Were Increasingly Visible On TV
Shows like Good Times gave white America a glimpse into the inner workings of the African American family. It was interesting to note that at the time, many white families had no idea that family is family and that we all have the same struggles. Good Times was intended to be a comedy but was also based on real life struggles with a serious side. Although, JJ provided much of the comedic relief, according to him, it wasn’t always, “DYN-O-MITE!” This is the term JJ used to describe everything from his love life to himself in general.
When ever JJ had a particularly good date, a good day at school or just wanted to shout his own praises, he would deliver a dramatic, “DYN-O-MITE!” It always came with a boisterous and animated delivery and was his signature "go to" throughout the series and beyond. That is not necessarily how he felt about Good Times.
Jimmy Walker Regrets That He Barely Knew His TV Parents
All was not what it seemed on the set of Good Times. While the television family was very close and supportive of one another, that wasn’t the case once the cameras stopped rolling. He reported that there was no camaraderie, personal friendships, or even casual relationships, off set.
I will honestly say, I don’t remember ever speaking a word to Esther the whole time she was there. I think the same basically goes for John. We talk more now but very, very little. We were never friends, never talked. If you said at that time ‘Call Esther and ask her about [something],’ I wouldn’t even have her number. I couldn’t have called John. I wouldn’t have had his number … We never spoke to each other. Only on the set … We never did anything together.
Walker Feels His Co-Stars Didn't Appreciate The Show's Success
Before, after, and during Good Times, John Amos was the most famous actor in the group. He'd been on Maude and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and would go on to appear in Roots and several films, including Coming To America. Amos left the show prematurely, and Walker feels that he never appreciated the value of Good Times. The show had a huge following and did very well in the ratings, but Walker detected little enthusiasm from those around him.
Walker recalls working with certain white TV actresses of the day -- Heather Thomas of The Fall Guy, and Farrah Fawcett of Charlie's Angels -- who'd boosted their fame with pinup posters. Walker felt that his co-star BernNadette Stanis could have gone the same route; he'd heard tremendous enthusiasm from the show's male fans. "She didn't have a lot to do on the show," walker recalls, "but everywhere I went, guys would go, 'Man, is that Thelma gorgeous." When Walker pitched the idea to the production company, he met immediate resistance from Norman Lear and Amos. "They came to me and said 'How dare you put our girl in a position like that. She is not a ho. ... You keep your illicit mind off of that, and you never, ever bring that up again.'"
I think that [my co-stars] killed the goose that laid the golden egg. These people, anytime you said anything, they get crazy, they get upset. They don’t get it, man.
Life Since 'Good Times'
Although Jimmy Walker may have been left with a bad taste in his mouth surrounding his days on Good Times, it certainly jump started his career. He started out as a kid born in the Bronx who fought his way to the top. Currently, he still draws big crowds for his stand-up comedy shows and continues to entertain audiences all these year later.
Tags: Career-Defining Moments | Good Times | Jimmy Walker | TV In The 1970s
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