Oct 29, 2015

Movin' on Up: The Jeffersons

A spin-off of All in the Family, The Jeffersons set into the vacuum caused by the demise of Paul Sand in Friends and Lovers in January 1975.

It followed a nouveau-riche African-American couple, irascible George Jefferson (Sherman Hensley) and pragmatic Louise (Isabel Sanford), to a "deluxe apartment in the sky", where they were surrounded by wacky friends and neighbors: sarcastic maid Florence (Marla Gibbs), snobbish interracial couple Tom and Helen (Franklin Cover, Roxy Roker), looney Brit Mr. Bentley (Paul Benedict).

When I was in high school, it aired during a block of must-see Sunday night programs (Alice, One Day at a Time, Trapper John MD), so I watched quite often, though it had very little gay content (I preferred the strong gay content on What's Happening!!)


1. Virtually no beefcake.  As a teenager, I thought that George and Louise's college-age son Lionel (Mike Evans) was cute, but following the tradition of black beefcake, he always appeared fully clothed.  After a year, he was replaced by Damon Evans, who was rather too thin and fey for my tastes.









The most you could hope for was a hunky guest star, like Jay Hammer as Tom and Helen's son.












Or Ike Eisenmann as a teenage racist in extraordinary tight jeans, who has a change of heart after George saves his father's life.

2. Lack of bonding. Friendships on the show were always cordial and businesslike, never passionate.

3. No gay characters.  Apparently the network execs felt that seeing racial minorities was traumatic enough for Middle America, and gays would give them conniption fits. So no gay people were mentioned, although there was a male-buddy-is-now-a-woman plotline.






The lack of substantial gay content is surprising, considering that Paul Benedict and Damon Evans (left), both accomplished theatrical actors, were gay.  In an interview, Damon states that he didn't get along with the other cast members, except for Roxie Roker.

Sherman Hensley, who died last July, was probably gay, too; he was never seen with a woman and lived with his "roommate," Kenny Johnston, for over thirty years. But he refused to Say the Word.

He came from a generation of men who considered gayness "deeply personal," who didn't realize that Saying the Word could reduce homophobia, give gay kids a role model, and help them "move on up."