One of the most memorable characters in television history, The Jeffersons‘ Louise “Weezy” Jefferson was as kind-hearted as her husband George was hot-headed.
When she first auditioned on All in the Family, Isabel Sanford went for an entirely different role. While she eventually would land the part that defined her career, it was a process, as she explained.
Sanford was a big fan of ‘All in the Family’
While on the phone with a friend in 1971, Sanford told the Television Academy Foundation in 2002, she heard about the new comedy series All in the Family.
By May of 1971, The New York Times reported All in the Family was outranking “longtime favorites as Marcus Welby, M.D., Laugh‐In, Bonanza, Gunsmoke, and Lucille Ball.”
Sanford’s friend encouraged her to not miss the hilarious program the following week. She made sure to watch.
“I fell down laughing,” she recalled. “It was so funny.”
At the time, its creator Norman Lear told the Times he didn’t plan on changing the successful show, except “to use the Black neighbors more next year.”
As Sanford went on to explain, Lear was true to his word.
The role she originally auditioned for
Within days of watching the new CBS comedy, Sanford stated, her agent called to let her know she would be auditioning for a role on the very same show.
“He had me to read,” she remembered, “for Louise Jefferson’s sister.
“Soon after [watching All in the Family], I don’t know, a couple of days, my agent called and said, ‘Go, you have an audition. I went for this audition and Norman Lear auditioned me. This was before it was an empire,” the actor said, sweeping her hands in the air.
Louise’s sister, Sanford explained, was a role that could be missed if viewers blinked. The character in the episode titled “Lionel Moves Into the Neighborhood,” knocks on the Bunkers’ door, asking to borrow a pail to clean up the Jeffersons’ new home for them.
She finally got the job of Louise
Sanford assumed her appearance on All in the Family was a one-episode job. But Lear was so impressed with her that “they called me back again, ‘come back again.’”
The Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? star, who got her start in theater, wasn’t sure they really wanted her to return, recalling she told the show’s casting manager, “Do you know who you’re calling? This is Isabel Sanford.”
They replied, “‘Yes I know, they want to see you again.’”
She interviewed for the role of Louise Jefferson, but expressed her hesitation to director John Rich that viewers might be confused with who she really was: Louise’s sister or Louise?
Rich’s reply? “Well, who’s going to remember that?”
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