GRADY AND LAMONT - 8 Episodes of SANFORD AND SON Without Redd Foxx
Producers Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin had the highest rated show on NBC in 1973: Sanford And Son. They also had a cantankerous star — Redd Foxx — who was angling for a sweeter deal. So, perhaps as an insurance policy, Lear and Yorkin added a new face to the cast as production began on the third season.
“It’s me, Fred — Grady!” Whitman Mayo said, as Grady Wilson knocked on the Sanfords’ door in “Libra Rising All Over Lamont” on September 21, 1973. At first, absent-minded widower Grady went to toe-to-toe with Fred, literally throwing a few (harmless) punches in a dispute over a stolen TV. But soon, Grady evolved into a charmingly goofy sidekick who always popped up in the same baggy blue blazer whenever Fred Sanford needed a buddy.
But there was one big difference between this F.O.F. (Friend of Fred) and others introduced in the sitcom’s first few seasons. Many of Sanford And Son’s supporting players had long histories with Foxx, from their earliest days as performers in African-American (or integrated) venues during a time of racial segregation in America. Comics like LaWanda Page (Aunt Esther), Slappy White (Melvin), Leroy Daniels (Lucky Leroy), Ernest Mayhand (Slick Skillet), and others had known Foxx for decades, and had little (or no) prior experience acting on-camera.
Mayo, on the other hand, was hand-picked by Lear and Yorkin. The veteran actor was hired straight from the New York stage (like Sherman Hemsley and other Lear favorites) at the suggestion of a Sanford staff writer. And Grady came out of the gate at full speed, appearing in eleven of the season’s first 20 episodes. He even had his own catch phrase: “good goobly goop” (and variations of it).
And then, the worst happened: the Emmy-nominated star of the second-highest rated program on American television walked out on his show. With six episodes still to be produced in the third season, Redd Foxx held out for a new contract. He initially cited “health issues,” but the dispute was clearly over salary, profits, and ownership.
“Danny Thomas, Lucille Ball, Dick Van Dyke, and all those cats got a piece of their shows,” Foxx told People in 1974. “I’m fighting now for a whole lot of black people in show business who never had any doors opened for them.”
While negotiations continued behind the scenes, Lear and Yorkin’s insurance policy paid off on-screen. Whitman Mayo became Demond Wilson’s de facto co-star, with Grady moving into the Sanford house while Fred was at his cousin’s funeral in St. Louis. Scripts were rewritten and one was scrapped entirely. And, for the next eight produced episodes, Sanford And Son unofficially became “Grady And Lamont.”
Happily, Foxx and Tandem Productions inked a new deal, and Foxx returned in June of 1974 with a raise, plus 25% of the net profits. The network split up Mayo’s eight episodes, airing the first five in February and March and the remaining three in December — after Foxx’s return had aired as the season four premiere.
Ironically, Sanford And Son didn’t skip a beat without its star. Ratings actually increased from season three to four, and NBC liked Mayo so much they gave Grady his own spin-off in 1975. Grady became Bud Yorkin’s first series after he split with longtime partner Lear and, when it was cancelled after just ten episodes, Mayo returned to Sanford And Son.
Mayo went on appear in two sequel series: Sanford Arms in 1977 and Sanford (sans Demond Wilson) in 1981. In total, Grady appeared in 37 episodes of Sanford And Son and Mayo played the character on four different shows. When Grady said goodbye in 1981, Mayo was just 50 years old — two decades younger than his character!
“I’ve always played older parts,” he said in 1988. “When I was 19, I played 60.”
Here’s a look at the eight Sanford And Son episodes Mayo starred in during Redd Foxx’s absence. And best of all, you can see them all on getTV!
1. Will The Real Fred Sanford Please Do Something (Season 3, Episode 20 — Airdate: February 22, 1974)
“I promised your daddy I’d take good care of you while he was in St. Louis!” Grady says to Lamont. Why a 31-year-old man needs a caretaker is one of Sanford And Son’s great mysteries, but just go with it. In this episode, Grady is mistaken for Fred by an old flame (Vivian Bonnell) with ulterior motives. You may notice that he’s meaner to Lamont than in previous shows. It’s likely that writer/producer Aaron Ruben retrofitted Fred’s dialogue for Grady, but it was a masterstroke to make Mayo’s first episode as stand-in star a case of mistaken identity.
2. Tyranny, Thy Name Is Grady (Season 3, Episode 21 — Airdate: March 1, 1974)
This is a fun episode, as writer Gene Farmer figures out a way to put Grady at odds with both Aunt Esther and Lamont. Esther wants to have a bible meeting at the house, and Lamont wants to have some ladies over with his buddy Rollo (Nathaniel Taylor). Grady follows Fred’s instructions for “no bible meetings or orgies” in his absence.
3. Aunt Esther And Uncle Woodrow Pfftt… (Season 3, Episode 22 — March 8, 1974)
After 27 years of marriage, Esther throws Uncle Woody (Raymond Allen) out of the house. It’s fun to watch how the Sanford and Son writers expand Grady’s character with more airtime. Here, he decries “Women’s Lib” and gives Woody some unfortunate “man-to-man” advice about standing up to his wife. This is an aspect of Grady we haven’t seen before, but it feels genuine.
4. The Way To Lamont’s Heart (Season 3, Episode 23 — March 15, 1974)
Lamont just wants to have some fun, but his girlfriend Judy (Judy Pace) wants to make it official. Finally, after three episodes without Redd Foxx, Demond Wilson gets something to do. It’s telling that Lear and Yorkin relied so heavily on Mayo and not Wilson to do the comedic heavy lifting during Foxx’s absence. It wasn’t exactly a vote of confidence for the show’s second-billed star.
5. Hello Cousin Emma, Goodbye Cousin Emma (Season 3, Episode 24 — March 22, 1974)
Grady’s lazy cousin Emma (Clarice Taylor) comes to visit from Chicago, and Grady and Lamont are forced to share a bed. This episode gives viewers a pretty good indication of what Sanford And Son would have become if Redd Foxx had left permanently. It’s a different — and sillier — show with Whitman Mayo as the star, but it works. He got his shot and made the most of it.
6. Fred’s Treasure Garden (Season 4, Episode 11 — November 29, 1974)
The first produced episode of season four finds Grady mistakenly growing pot in Fred’s garden — and serving it to Officers Hoppy (Howard Platt) and Smitty (Hal Williams) in a salad. There’s no doubt that Redd Foxx was a superstar, but Mayo has a comic range that’s as good or better. His Grady alternates from forgetful old coot to sharply sarcastic imp, with broad physicality and Archie Bunker-style malapropisms. And like Foxx, he squeezes every possible laugh out of every situation.
7. A Little Extra Security (Season 4, Episode 13 — December 13, 1974)
In this episode, Grady engages in a get-rich quick scheme, ignores Lamont when he tries to talk him out of it, and calls Esther “King Kong.” Plus, there’s absolutely no mention of Fred Sanford. Lear and Yorkin were sending a very obvious message to Foxx that they were prepared to move on without him — and that Mayo was up to the challenge.
8. Once A Thief (Season 4, Episode 15 — December 27, 1974)
Lamont’s ex-con friend Herman (Ron Glass) comes for a visit, and Grady doesn’t like it. This was the last of the “Grady And Lamont” episodes aired by NBC and it’s clear to see why the network quickly gave him his own spinoff. It’s also clear that Whitman Mayo should be acknowledged for what he is: a classic TV icon.
Sanford And Son airs weekdays on getTV — For more, visit the getTV schedule.