Sanford and Son

Sanford and Son

Rightly considered one of the 100 best TV shows of all time, Sanford and Son blustered into NBC’s Friday night lineup in 1972 and made lasting television history with Redd Foxx’s portrayal of the one-of-a-kind Fred Sanford. Despite airing in an unpopular time slot, the show enjoyed consistently high ratings throughout its six seasons.

Prior to the series, Redd Foxx had earned a notorious reputation with his nightclub stand-up act which was, by the standards of the time, quite raunchy; in fact, Foxx is considered raunchy by the standards of today. His comedy routines were recorded and released on albums which were very popular at gatherings and parties.

When Norman Lear adapted a British comedy into the very American Sanford and Son, Redd Foxx was a perfect fit for the role of Fred. Lear hoped to repeat the success of another British sitcom he had adapted for U.S. audiences, namely All in the Family. In fact, Fred Sanford was advertised as the black “answer” to All in the Family‘s Archie Bunker.

Fred Sanford and his son, Lamont, owned a junkyard in South L.A.’s Watts neighborhood and though they were very close, their familial affection didn’t keep them from driving each other crazy. Fred was sarcastic, cynical and very outspoken while Lamont was kinder, gentler and a little naive. The son regularly fell for the manipulations of his father, who was fond of clutching his chest and complaining about the “big one” whenever Lamont displeased him. Fred often bemoaned Lamont’s trusting nature and looked out for his “dummy” son if it seemed like the world was taking advantage of him.

The irascible Fred regularly clashed with the other characters on the show, especially his sister-in-law, Esther. Fred had been widowed for many year but Esther still felt that her sister had been too good for the crass junkman. For his part, Fred insulted Esther at every opportunity, usually comparing her to Godzilla or something worse. Fred also went up against Ah Chew ( Karate Kid‘s Pat Morita), his Japanese-American friend, belittling him with stereotype jokes, which Ah Chew took in stride while volleying some zingers of his own.

Another regular supporting character was Grady (Whitman Mayo), Fred’s closest buddy, who actually became the main focus of the show during the brief hiatus Redd Foxx took in the third and fourth seasons. Grady would also get his own spin-off series in 1975, though it was short-lived.

With an offensive quip ever present on the tip of his tongue, Fred wasn’t the easiest person to befriend. But since he was an equal opportunity curmudgeon, people around him let his crazy antics slide, including all his get-rich-quick schemes that caused no end of worry for Lamont. Regardless, the love and loyalty between father and son were clearly evident in every episode.

Sanford and Son was a big hit for NBC, ranking in the top 10 TV shows for all but the last season of its six-season run. Upon the show’s cancellation, a spin-off series featuring the supporting cast called Sanford Arms lasted for a mere month (you are forgiven if you don’t remember it).

One is far more likely to remember the funky opening theme song to Sanford and Son, written by Michael Jackson producer Quincy Jones and titled “The Streetbeater.” Hearing the first few bars let you know that uproarious laughs were just around the corner, once Lamont returned to the shop in Fred’s old red 1951 Ford during the opening credits. Much like that old jalopy, Sanford and Son was one wild and funky ride.

Do you remember watching this popular sitcom back in the day? We hope you’ll take a moment to share your favorite Sanford and Son memories with us in our comments section below.

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