Redd Foxx, TV's Fred Sanford: Facts About Sanford & Son's Star
Close up of actor Redd Foxx in his TV show, Sanford & Son. Source: (Bettmann/Getty images)
Redd Foxx, Sanford & Son's Fred Sanford, was one of the most amusing characters on TV in the 1970s. Fred Sanford owned a junk (or antiques) business with his son, Lamont Sanford (Demond Wilson), and the show documented constant dramas between the two. Redd Foxx's Fred Sanford was a stubborn old character, complete with half-baked schemes and often trying to pull a fast one, and he frequently ended up sabotaging his son Lamont's efforts. Fred Sanford combined some wisdom and street smarts of an older generation with a childlike tendency to get in over his head -- Redd Foxx's character was essentially an old guy who usually meant well but could be relied upon to foul things up. Sanford was less sympathetic in his dealings with Aunt Esther, whom he called a "gorilla," but she matched him insult for insult, making for good comedy. There was also a theme of racial tension evident in the show, with Fred Sanford being a counterpart of sorts to another character who brought American racial issues to light -- Archie Bunker of All In The Family.
Redd Foxx was born John Elroy Sanford in 1922. He left home when he was a teen to become a performer. People started calling him "Red" when he moved to Harlem, due to his ruddy complexion and reddish hair. He took the name "Foxx" from one of his favorite baseball players, Jimmie Foxx. He added a second "D" to his nickname and became known as "Redd Foxx. His stand-up comedy was considered very racy for the time. He was very successful as a comedian and recorded several comedy albums. Foxx found stardom when he was the lead on the popular sitcom Sanford And Son. After Sanford And Son ended he guest-starred on several variety shows and was a regular Las Vegas headliner. Redd Foxx passed away in 1991.
Did you know Redd Foxx was significantly younger than his famous character, or that he was friends with Malcolm X? Read on for facts and true stories about the man who played Fred Sanford.
Redd Foxx And His Malcom X Connection
Redd Foxx and civil rights leader Malcolm X met in Harlem. They became friends when they both ended up washing dishes in a restaurant. They were basically homeless and resorted to petty crime to survive. According to Foxx, they sold stolen zoot suits from a rooftop and sold marijuana. In his biography, Foxx also stated that he joined the Communist Party with Malcolm X although not because of politics but because they served food and had pretty women to dance with. Eventually, the pair drifted apart due to differing interests. Foxx was a performer and did not want to get into the more serious crimes that landed Malcolm X in prison.
Was Sanford And Son Originally British?
After seeing Redd Foxx perform in the movie Cotton Comes To Harlem television producer Norman Lear was impressed. Lear was creating an American version of the popular British sitcom Steptoe and Son. In the American version, Sanford And Son, the name Fred Sanford was taken from Foxx’s brother. The show was a hit and one of the only shows on television featuring African-Americans. It is said that Sanford And Son is the show that killed The Brady Bunch. It consistently beat The Brady Bunch in the ratings and ABC finally pulled the plug on the story of Mike, Carol and their six kids.
Creating Fred Sanford
Redd Foxx was only 49 years old when he played the part of Fred Sanford. He had to wear makeup to appear older, as the character’s age was sixty-five. Foxx also wore really heavy shoes to get the walk down. He has said, “Just as soon as I put those big heavy shoes on and walk out there, I become Sanford – but not until then, not until I put my shoes on.”
Fred Sanford's One Liners
"You big dummy!" is the hallmark catchphrase from Sanford And Son. This comment was usually leveled at Fred Sanford’s son, Lamont. Fred Sanford was always ready with the one-liners. The show was set in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. Fred Sanford said, “Yeah they can walk in Los Angeles but they’ll still be running in Watts!” Sanford also asked an unwed mother, “You gonna have this baby on purpose?” Nothing was off limits!
'Watch It, Sucka!'
LaWanda Page and Redd Foxx had known each other since they were kids. Foxx chose her to play the part of Esther, Fred’s sister-in-law. The producers of the show were not convinced she was the right choice, but Foxx threatened to quit if Page did not keep the part. The Fred and Esther character interactions on the show provided much of the comedy. Fred would respond to Esther’s entrance by making a face and then insulting her, usually about her looks. He called her “Ug-leee!” He once told Esther, “I could stick your face in some dough and make gorilla cookies!” Esther responded in kind and her usual response was to raise her fist and say,” Watch it sucka!” Sometimes she would swing her purse at him. She also remarked on his looks, calling him, “old fish-eye fool.”
'Hear That Elizabeth? I'm Comin' To Join Ya Honey!'
Nearly every episode had Fred Sanford faking a heart attack. Whenever Lamont did something he didn’t want him to do or things were not going his way, he would grab his chest and shout out to his deceased wife that he was going to join her. Redd Foxx was so connected to this joke that it may have contributed to his death. He had a heart attack while filming The Royal Family and though he complained of chest pains everyone thought he was joking around. Sadly, he eventually collapsed and died.
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