I watched a lot of television when I was a child. (Must have been where my kids got it from). The stories and characters became a big part of my life, and remain so today. Perhaps that is why I enjoy storytelling so much. In addition to my usual writings, I will be adding a few on some of my favorite characters. We shall start off with the best of the best; Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son.
Sanford and Son was about an old junk dealer, Fred Sanford, and his long suffering son, Lamont. Their love/hate relationship was the basis of most scripts. Lamont struggled with his desire for freedom and his devotion to his father. Fred did everything he could to keep Lamont with him, often faking heart attacks, pointing up to the sky and saying, “Elizabeth, I think it’s the big one.” (Elizabeth was his deceased wife).
Sanford and Son was a Norman Lear production, based on the highly successful British Steptoe and Son. (Norman Lear made a career out of adapting British television). It had the first all black cast since Amos and Andy in 1953, and the network was very nervous. However, Sanford and Son was a huge success, and lasted six seasons from 1972-1977.
Steptoe and Son was unique in that it combined two dramatic actors, Wilfrid Brambell and Harry Corbett, into a comedy, something outside of either one’s experience. The drama and emotion on Steptoe was far deeper than on its American counterpart. The pairing was so successful than they had no regular supporting cast. Many of the scripts for Sanford were adapted from Steptoe. Every episode of Steptoe and Son and both films are available on Youtube.
Fred Sanford was played by Redd Foxx, an established comic and nightclub performer. His real name was John Sanford, and Fred G. Sanford was his father’s name. (Ironically, Redd Foxx died from a heart attack on October 11, 1991. Those around him had thought he was joking at first).
Lamont Sanford was played by Desmond Wilson, a relatively unknown film, stage, and television actor.
The American network decided that there would be a much greater emphasis on comedy, and a regular supporting cast. They also wanted a female foil for Redd Foxx. Their first attempt failed, but in the middle of season two in walked Aunt Esther Anderson, played by Lawanda Page.
Redd Foxx and Lawanda Page were friends since childhood and they often performed together. Her nightclub act was one of dirty jokes and raunchy songs. As an inside joke, Aunt Esther was made a deeply religious Baptist, who only tolerated Fred Sanford for her deceased sister, Elizabeth, and her beloved nephew.
Esther would scowl at Fred, preaching the word of Jesus and calling him a “heathen”, while welding her bible and huge purse when he insulted her looks. Her famous lines were “you ol’ fish-eyed fool” and “watch it sucka!” Their battles became a major part of the show.
I always wished Aunt Esther had been my aunt, exactly as she was; preaching to me to stay on the straight and narrow, while using that huge purse to make her point. Her one eyed scowl sent villains running. But her love and devotion to her family was evident in everything she did.
Everyone deserves to have an Aunt Esther in their lives.