Jimmie Walker – 10 Dy-No-Mite Facts about GOOD TIMES’ J.J. Evans
It’s a story as old as television: sitcom launches with big-name stars, the audience embraces a secondary character, and the writers give him or her all the best lines. Think Arthur Fonzarelli, Alex P. Keaton, and James Evans Jr. (J.J.) on Good Times.
As J.J., Jimmie Walker was the fourth lead in the Norman Lear-developed sitcom about an inner-city Chicago family, after Esther Rolle as Florida Evans, John Amos as her husband James, and Ja’net Dubois as sassy neighbor Willona Woods. Then Walker said “Dy-No-Mite!” and Good Times – and American television – was changed forever. With his natural charisma and pitch-perfect timing developed in stand-up, Walker’s J.J. was much-needed comic relief to the financial struggles of the Evans family. Everyone involved with Good Times wanted the first-ever situation comedy about an African-American family to resonate with truth, but Walker remembered that it was still a comedy.
“I came on to be funny,” he told PBS’s Pioneers Of Television in 2008. It worked, and Jimmie Walker became a superstar. More than forty years later, Good Times endures like few other sitcoms of its era. And while Walker isn’t solely responsible for its longevity, he deserves much of the credit for giving the show its timeless, multi-generational appeal. So put on your bucket hat and enjoy these Dy-No-Mite facts about the comedian, actor, and pop culture icon.
1. He was an inner-city kid playing an inner-city kid.
Jimmie was born James Carter Walker Jr. in the hardscrabble South Bronx neighborhood of New York City on June 25, 1947. He attended Dewitt Clinton and Theodore Roosevelt High School before dropping out in his junior year to work as a supermarket delivery man and vendor at world famous Yankee Stadium. It was while taking night classes that Walker began writing about his life, the beginnings of what would become his comedy act.
2. He made his stand-up debut at age 20.
Walker scored a day job as an engineer at WMCA radio in New York City and spent his nights performing with the Last Poets, a Harlem-based collective of spoken-word artists and musicians. He emceed and did stand-up with the group for 18 months, before moving on to legendary venues like the Apollo Theater and Budd Friedman’s Improv comedy club. Jimmie booked his first TV performance on Jack Parr Tonight in 1973, while continuing to perform in clubs and opening for acts like Miles Davis and Bob Marley.
3. He was discovered for Good Times while working on another sitcom.
Walker was working as an audience warm-up comic for the New York-based CBS sitcom Calucci’s Department in the fall of 1973 when he was spotted by castings reps from Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin’s Tandem Productions. He was invited to audition for Good Times and won the role. Ironically, Calucci’s Department aired on CBS against Lear and Yorkin’s Sanford And Son on NBC, which killed it in the ratings.
4. J.J. was a decade younger than Jimmie Walker.
Walker was 26 when Good Times debuted on February 8, 1974, but he was portraying a high school student. At age 34, Amos was only eight years older than the man playing his son. As early as the pilot episode Getting Up The Rent (filmed first, but aired third), we get a hint of the natural comic gifts that would bring Walker more and more screen time. He gets two big laughs before he even speaks his first line – first with a curl of his lip, and then with a smirk and the slow removal of his trademark bucket hat.
5. Norman Lear was not a fan of “Dy-No-Mite!”
Walker credits director John Rich (an Emmy winner for Lear’s All In The Family) with inventing “Dy-No-Mite,” which was quickly immortalized on trading cards, mugs, t-shirts, action figures, and even a talking J.J. doll. But Walker says Lear wasn’t a fan of his trademark catchphrase. “Norman Lear detested it,” he said at a 2014 Television Critics Association event. Lear – now in his mid-90s and still working – was candid about his feelings in an interview with the TV Academy. “The character of J.J. on Good Times played by Jimmie Walker is now looked at as a caricature,” Lear said. “He was anything but a caricature at the beginning, but too much ‘Dy-No-Mite’ two years later is viewed as a caricature.”
6. John Amos and Esther Rolle took issue with Walker’s screen time.
“We had a number of differences, as evidenced by my early departure from that show,” Amos said in a 2015 interview with the TV Academy. “I thought too much emphasis was being put on J.J.” Amos added that he wasn’t “the most diplomatic guy in those days,” which led to his character being written out after the third season. Rolle left a year later. In their absence in season five, Walker became the true star of the show, though DuBois received top billing. Ironically, ratings plummeted and producers asked Rolle to return for season six, which would be the show’s last.
7. Walker had famous writers.
Walker continued to perform stand-up during and after Good Times. He also hired two up-and-coming comedians to write jokes for him at the height of his fame: Jay Leno and David Letterman. Leno made his TV debut on a season three episode of Good Times, appearing in a scene with Walker when J.J. goes to a free clinic. In later years, Walker was a frequent guest on Letterman’s late-night talk shows on NBC and CBS, but Leno never booked him for The Tonight Show. Walker told NPR in 2013 that he believed Leno considered him “washed up.”
8. Walker and John Amos co-starred in a movie.
A year after Good Times debuted, Walker had a lead role in Sidney Poitier’s comedy Let’s Do It Again (1975), playing scrawny boxer Bootney Farnsworth. Poitier’s character hypnotizes Walker’s into believing he has super human strength, and uses him to scam money from a violent crime lord played by…Walker’s TV father John Amos!
9. Good Times wasn’t Jimmie Walker’s only sitcom.
In 1983, Walker played Sgt. “Val” Valentine in the ABC military sitcom At Ease from creator John Hughes (who would go on to write and direct The Breakfast Club and other beloved ‘80s films). During the 1987-88 season, Walker starred in the TV spin-off of Bustin’ Loose, a 1981 Richard Pryor comedy. BernNadette Stanis (Thelma on Good Times) also guest stared in that single-season series. More recently, Walker had a recurring role as Grandpa Gene on Everybody Hates Chris and wrote a memoir, appropriately titled Dy-No-Mite!
10. There was almost a Good Times reunion.
In 2016, Walker and fellow cast members Amos, DuBois, Stanis, and Ralph Carter (Michael) attempted to join forces for a self-produced reunion movie. “We don’t look the same,” Walker joked in the promotional video. “But it’s gonna be Dy-No-Mite!” Despite attracting 200 backers on Kickstarter, the project fell short of its fundraising goal and has not been produced. Yet…
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