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Sanford and Son

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Sanford and Son
Based onSteptoe and Son
by Ray Galton
Alan Simpson
Developed byBud Yorkin
Norman Lear (uncredited)
StarringRedd Foxx
Demond Wilson
Theme music composerQuincy Jones
Opening theme"The Streetbeater"
ComposerQuincy Jones
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
No. of seasons6
No. of episodes136 (list of episodes)
Executive producersBud Yorkin
Norman Lear (uncredited)
ProducersAaron Ruben (1972–1974)
Bernie Orenstein and Saul Turteltaub (1974–1977)
Production locationsNBC Studios
Burbank, California
Camera setupMulti-camera
Running time22–24 minutes
Production companyTandem Productions
Original release
ReleaseJanuary 14, 1972 (1972-01-14) –
March 25, 1977 (1977-03-25)

Sanford and Son is an American sitcom television series that aired on NBC from January 14, 1972, to March 25, 1977. It was based on the British sitcom Steptoe and Son, which initially aired on BBC1 in the United Kingdom from 1962 to 1974.

Known for its racial humor, running gags, and catchphrases, the series was adapted by Norman Lear and considered NBC's response to CBS' All in the Family. Sanford and Son has been hailed as the precursor to many other black American sitcoms. It was a hit through its six-season run, finishing in the Nielsen top ten for five times.

The series follows Fred G. Sanford, known for his bigotry and cantankerousness, and Lamont Sanford, his long-suffering, conscientious, peacemaker son. Both characters are occasionally involved in get-rich-quick schemes to pay off their various debts.

The show also includes characters Aunt Esther, Grady Wilson, Bubba Bexley, and Rollo Lawson.


Fred (seated) and Lamont Sanford

Sanford and Son stars Redd Foxx as Fred G. Sanford, a widower and junk dealer living at 9114 South Central Avenue in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, and Demond Wilson as his son Lamont Sanford. In the show, Fred moved to South Central Los Angeles from his hometown St. Louis during his youth.

After the show premiered in 1972, newspapers touted Foxx as NBC's answer to Archie Bunker, the bigoted white protagonist of All in the Family. Both shows were adapted by Norman Lear from BBC programmes. Sanford and Son was adapted from Steptoe and Son and All in the Family from Till Death Us Do Part.

An earlier pilot for an American version of Steptoe and Son was produced by Joseph E. Levine in 1965. It starred Lee Tracy and Aldo Ray as Albert and Harold Steptoe. This version was unscreened and did not lead to a series. The pilot was released on DVD in the UK in 2018.



Fred Sanford[edit]

Fred G. Sanford (Redd Foxx), is a sarcastic, streetwise, irascible schemer whose frequent get-rich-quick ideas routinely backfire. His son Lamont longs for independence but loves his father too much to move out and leave him unsupervised. Though each owns an equal share in the business, Lamont often finds himself doing all the work and demanding that his father contribute to the effort, which he rarely does. Fred frequently insults his son, usually calling him a "dummy". Despite their disagreements, the two share a close bond and regularly come to each other's aid.

Fred's wife Elizabeth died before the events of the series, around 1950. In a running gag in the series, during times of distress, Fred looks up (as to heaven) with his hand across his chest, faking a heart attack and saying, "This is the big one, Elizabeth! I'm coming to join ya, honey," but Lamont knows that it is merely a dramatic ploy. Fred raised Lamont alone and misses Elizabeth deeply.

Fred Sanford was named after Foxx's real-life brother Fred Sanford Jr.[1]

Lamont Sanford[edit]

Demond Wilson plays Lamont Sanford, Fred's son who has little patience for his father's antics. Lamont sometimes receives his comeuppance for disdaining his father's habits. He is occasionally shown as naïve and foolish, for example, being cheated by a group of card sharps and falling for a scam involving an antique commode. Lamont continuously seeks to rise above his station and experience life outside of the junkyard.

Fred says that his son was named for Lamont Lomax, a pitcher for the Homestead Grays. In one episode, Lamont asks why he has no middle name, and Fred tells him that Lamont is his middle name because Fred and Elizabeth had never decided on a first name. However, in the third episode of the first season, Lamont's full name is revealed to be named Lamont Grady Sanford.


Esther Anderson[edit]

Esther Anderson (LaWanda Page), also known as "Aunt Esther", is the Bible-toting sister of Fred's late wife Elizabeth. Esther is a staunchly religious, rather humorless character, though she is very kind and loving towards her nephew Lamont. Fred and Esther dislike each other intensely, and Fred's trademark response to Esther's entrance is to make an exaggerated grimace followed by colorful insults ("I thought I already flushed my toilet"). Esther first appears in the second-season episode "The Big Party", and eventually replaces her sister Ethel (Beah Richards), the first main in-law character.

Woodrow "Woody" Anderson[edit]

Woodrow "Woody" Anderson, also known as "Uncle Woody" by Lamont, is Aunt Esther's husband. He owns a hardware store not far from the Sanford home. Woody is easygoing, but to deal with Esther's domineering personality and Bible-thumping rants, he often partakes of alcohol and appears on the show somewhat tipsy. Woody was played by DeForest Covan in the character's first appearance only. In subsequent appearances, he was played by Raymond Allen, who also simultaneously played Ned the Wino on Good Times.

Grady Wilson[edit]

Grady Wilson (Whitman Mayo) is Fred's good-natured, simple-minded best friend, who appears regularly on the show. Grady's catchphrase is "Good Googley Goo". He utters this when something good happens or he is in a pleasant mood. Grady is Fred's "sidekick" and often is involved in various get-rich-quick schemes concocted by Fred. In the episode "Hello Cousin Emma, Goodbye Cousin Emma", it is revealed that Grady grew up on the South Side of Chicago and in his youth was a lady's man with the nickname "The Sheik of Drexel Avenue". The character eventually was spun off into his eponymous TV series in December 1975.

Bubba Bexley[edit]

Bubba Bexley (Don Bexley) is another of Fred's friends who appears frequently, alternating with Grady as Fred's best friend. Bubba is known for his infectious belly laugh and jovial personality. Bubba is primarily a straight man to set up punchlines for Fred. His loud greeting of "Hey Fred!" drives Fred and Lamont crazy. His function in several episodes is to encourage Fred's get-rich-quick schemes, as when he tells Fred to fake having whiplash after a white man in a Cadillac hits Fred while he is in the pickup truck. In the episode "Lamont Goes African", Bubba reveals that he is originally from Memphis, Tennessee.

Rollo Lawson[edit]

Rollo (pronounced "Rah-lo") Lawson (Nathaniel Taylor) is Lamont's best friend. Fred often makes disrespectful remarks towards Rollo, usually stating that he thinks Rollo is a criminal, as Rollo has spent time in jail. For example, in the episode "Lamont Goes African", when Rollo introduces Lamont to his African cultural heritage, Fred thinks it to be a scam and says, "If there was money to be made, Rollo would become an Eskimo."

Donna Harris[edit]

Donna Harris (Lynn Hamilton) is Fred's on-again, off-again girlfriend who later becomes his fiancée. She works as a practical nurse. Donna is an amiable, even-tempered lady who takes in stride Fred's shenanigans and occasional trysts. She is also more sophisticated in contrast to Fred's rather blunt and boorish personality. In the early episodes, Lamont dislikes Donna, referring to her as “The Barracuda,” and constantly tries to instigate a breakup between Fred and Donna. However, by the middle of the third season, Lamont seems to warm up to Donna and the two later become friends.

Julio Fuentes[edit]

Julio Fuentes (Gregory Sierra) is the Sanfords' Puerto Rican next-door neighbor who appears in seasons 2–4. When Julio moves in next to the Sanfords in the second-season episode "The Puerto Ricans are Coming!", Lamont quickly befriends him. Fred, however, takes an immediate dislike to Julio and remarks,"There goes the neighborhood." Despite Julio's friendliness, Fred often makes insulting ethnic jokes about Julio and openly wishes he would return to Puerto Rico, even though Julio is originally from New York City.

Ah Chew[edit]

Ah Chew (Pat Morita) is a Chinese-American (and, in one episode, a Japanese-American) friend of Lamont whom Fred belittles every chance he gets. Fred insults Ah Chew on numerous occasions using clichéd Oriental jokes. Fred befriends Ah Chew in a fifth-season episode because Fred wants to use him as a cook when he opens "Sanford and Rising Son", a Japanese restaurant in the Sanford house. Despite this arrangement, Fred still hurls verbal abuse at Ah Chew. In the fifth-season episode "Sergeant Gork", Morita portrays Colonel Hiakowa, in a flashback where Fred tells Roger, Lamont's fiancée's son, of his supposed heroism in World War II.

Officer Howard "Hoppy" Hopkins[edit]

Officer Howard "Hoppy" Hopkins (Howard Platt) is a police officer who occasionally shows up at the Sanfords' residence. Hoppy often incorrectly uses 'jive' slang, which Smitty corrects — e.g., "cold" instead of "cool," “torn off” instead of “ripped off” or "right up" instead of "right on". Of all the officers, Hoppy is the most jovial. He will crack a bad joke or pun and laugh at it, although no one else does. He will also occasionally break into a song.

Later in the series' run, the officers often appear individually. Unlike Ah Chew and Julio, Hoppy remains free of Fred's usual insults. In one episode, "This Little TV Went to Market", Officer "Jonesy" Jones (Bernie Hamilton) appears with Hoppy in place of Smitty. In the sixth-season episode "The Hawaii Connection", Smitty appears with his slow-witted new partner, Percy (Pat Paulsen). In "The Reverend Sanford", comic Freeman King appears as a police officer named Jim, presumably standing in for Smitty, but without Hoppy or any other partner.

Officer "Smitty" Smith[edit]

Officer "Smitty" Smith (Hal Williams) is a police officer who occasionally shows up at the Sanfords' residence, always accompanied by another officer as his partner who delivers punchlines to Williams's straight-man set-up lines. He typically has to interpret for Fred when his cop partner uses police jargon, or correct his unhip white partner as to the proper jive pronunciation.

Officer "Swanny" Swanhauser[edit]

Officer "Swanny" Swanhauser (Noam Pitlik) is Officer Smitty's original partner, who is replaced early in the second season with Officer Hopkins. Swanny, like Hoppy, is a white man and has a similar personality, but his demeanor is somewhat more serious and humorless. He’s strictly by the book, consistently using proper police jargon. Fred and Lamont often appear confused after he speaks and turn to Smitty who translates it into jive. Like Hoppy, Swanny never is insulted racially by Fred.

May Hopkins[edit]

May Hopkins (Nancy Kulp) is Officer Hopkins' prim and proper mother who appeared in the fifth season. She is a retired store detective who rents a room at the Sanford Arms next door. Landlord Fred often insults her when she pays a visit. Much like her son, Mrs. Hopkins incorrectly uses jive slang, but the more experienced Hoppy corrects her.

Janet Lawson[edit]

Janet Lawson (Marlene Clark) is a divorcée Lamont begins dating in the fifth season. Janet also has a young son, Roger (Edward Crawford). The Lawsons appear occasionally until Lamont and Janet break up in the sixth and final season, due to the return of Janet's ex-husband.


Melvin (Slappy White) is an old buddy of Fred's who appears in the first season. He appears in one second-season episode as well.

Leroy & Skillet[edit]

Leroy & Skillet (Leroy Daniels & Ernest 'Skillet' Mayhand) are a rambunctious pair of Fred's friends who like to play poker, billiards, or joke around. They appear in the second and third seasons.

Otis Littlejohn[edit]

Otis Littlejohn (Matthew "Stymie" Beard) is a friend of Grady's who appears in the third and fourth seasons.

George "Hutch" Hutton[edit]

George "Hutch" Hutton (Arnold Johnson) is an elderly tenant of the Sanford Arms who appears in season five. When he and Fred first meet, Hutch admits to serving a lengthy sentence in prison to avoid his ugly sister-in-law. This immediately endears him to Fred. Fred is then disgusted when Hutch joins Aunt Esther's Bible study group.

Dr. Caldwell[edit]

Dr. Caldwell (Davis Roberts) is the Sanfords' family doctor who shows up in several early episodes. He often enters the Sanford residence with an alarming cough, and his credentials as a doctor are highly questionable. Upon being asked if he is a doctor, he says, "On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I'm a doctor. The other days I work in the post office". His other reply to being asked if he is a doctor is that it depends on who's asking. If you're asking him, he says he is a doctor, but when asked who says he's not a doctor, his reply is "The state of California". In other instances, he replies that he's a doctor "in some states".

His diagnoses are based upon little to no examination and he claims to specialize in whiplash. He usually doesn't know the answers to any of the questions posed to him and also agrees with opposing statements. He asks Fred "Do you know how many doctors are afraid to say, 'I don't know", to which the doctor replies "I don't know." He calls his practice "Caldwell & Caldwell" simply because the phone is in his father's name.

Nelson B. Davis[edit]

Nelson B. Davis (James Wheaton) is a mortician who visits the Sanford residence several times in the second season, at one point to look at some caskets that Lamont picked up at an auction. With a deep voice and a spooky laugh, he often makes odd quips about his unusual profession: "You must excuse my cold hands: 'Cold hands, warm chapel.'"; "It's been a slow week, business is dead"; "I must be getting back to my place now. Like everybody else, I'm a working stiff."; "Burial insurance is something that everybody digs."

Reverend Trimble[edit]

Reverend Trimble (Alvin Childress) is the soft-spoken minister of the Central Avenue Baptist Church who is enlisted by the Sanfords in seasons one and three to officiate weddings. In both instances, the families end up in a screaming match over petty disagreements, and end up storming out of the building in anger while the Reverend stands by in stunned silence.

Frances Victor[edit]

Frances Victor (Mary Alice) is Fred's younger sister. She appears in two episodes, the first one being in season four, when she marries Rodney Victor. Fred raised Frances himself after their parents both died.

Rodney Victor[edit]

Rodney Victor (Allan Drake) is Fred's brother-in-law. He first appears in the fourth-season episode "My Brother-In-Law's Keeper", in which he has just married Fred's sister, Frances. Rodney is cheerful and affectionate, and always wants to hug Fred when they meet; Fred rebuffs him, because Fred dislikes Rodney for being white. Rodney appears in three episodes across seasons 4–6.


  • Frank Nelson appears as various comic foils to Fred in the fifth and sixth seasons using his catchphrase, "ee-Yesssss?"
  • Fritzi Burr appeared as various comic foils to Fred from the fourth season to the sixth. Burr was sister-in-law to co-producer Saul Turteltaub.
  • Norma Miller appeared in 3 episodes, usually as an unsightly woman to Fred.
  • Danny Wells appeared in multiple episodes playing various fast-talking characters of low morals.
  • Roy Stuart played in 3 episodes. His best-known TV character was Corporal Boyle on Gomer Pyle, USMC.
  • Ron Glass was in 2 episodes. Glass went on to star in TV's Barney Miller.
  • Dick Van Patten appeared as Mr. Hamblin, a repossessor sent to the Sanford residence by a collection agency, in the first season.

Special guests[edit]

Special guests in the show included B.B. King, George Foreman, The Three Degrees, Della Reese and Lena Horne.

Foxx also invited many of his friends who were fellow performers to appear in cameos or guest appearances, including Scatman Crothers, Cha Cha Hogan, Dap Sugar Willie, Sam Theard and Timmie Rogers.[2][3][4]


SeasonEpisodesOriginally airedRankRating
First airedLast aired
114January 14, 1972 (1972-01-14)April 14, 1972 (1972-04-14)625.2
224September 15, 1972 (1972-09-15)March 16, 1973 (1973-03-16)227.6
324September 14, 1973 (1973-09-14)March 29, 1974 (1974-03-29)327.5
425September 13, 1974 (1974-09-13)April 25, 1975 (1975-04-25)229.6
524September 12, 1975 (1975-09-12)March 19, 1976 (1976-03-19)724.4[a]
625September 24, 1976 (1976-09-24)March 25, 1977 (1977-03-25)2720.3

Reception and cancellation[edit]

Sanford and Son was enormously popular during most of its run and was one of the top 10 highest-rated series on American television from its first season (1972) through the 1975–76 season.

Sanford and Son put enough of a dent into the audience of ABC's The Brady Bunch to drive it off the air in 1974. Sanford and Son peaked at No. 2 in the Nielsen ratings during the 1972–73 season and the 1974–75 season, and the series was second only to All in the Family in ratings during those years. By the 1974–75 season, Sanford and Son's lead-in helped the entire NBC Friday night lineup place in the coveted bracket of the Top 15 shows (Chico and the Man, following Sanford and Son at 8:30 p.m., ranked No. 3 for the season, while the police dramas The Rockford Files and Police Woman, which aired later in the evening, ranked at No. 12 and No. 15 respectively).[citation needed]

The show's ratings dipped substantially in its final season, though it was still quite popular at the time of its cancellation.

In 2007, Time magazine included the show on its list of the "100 Best TV Shows of All Time".[5]


Sanford and Son was a ratings hit through its six-season run on NBC. Despite airing in the so-called Friday night death slot, it managed to peak at No. 2 in the ratings (behind All in the Family, and ranked less than one ratings point behind All in the Family during the 1974–75 season).

Season Time slot (ET) Rank Rating Households
1971–72 Friday at 8:00-8:30 PM No. 6 25.2 15,649,200
1972–73 No. 2 27.6 17,884,800
1973–74 No. 3 27.5 18,205,000
1974–75 No. 2 29.6 20,276,000
1975–76 No. 7 24.4 (Tied with Rhoda) 16,982,400
1976–77 Friday at 8:00-8:30 PM (Episodes 1, 3–11, 13–25)
Friday at 8:30-9:00 PM (Episode 2)[6]
Tuesday at 8:00-8:30 PM (Episode 12)[7]
No. 27 20.3 14,453,600

Production notes[edit]

The series was produced by Norman Lear's and Bud Yorkin's Tandem Productions, which was also responsible for All in the Family. The two shows were both based on popular British sitcoms and both were pioneers of edgy, racial humor that reflected the changing politics of the time. Both series also featured outspoken, working-class protagonists with overt prejudices. However, Sanford and Son differed from All in the Family and other Norman Lear shows of the era in that it lacked the element of drama. Sanford and Son helped to redefine the genre of black situation comedy.

Because of Lear's commitments to his other concurrent series, and the distance between NBC Studios in Burbank where Sanford and Son were taped and the Hollywood locations of other Tandem shows, such as All in the Family, Maude, The Jeffersons, and One Day at a Time, which were recorded at CBS Television City or Metromedia Square, he did not have as much day-to-day involvement with Sanford and Son as with the other Tandem series, leaving the show-running to Yorkin.

While taping episodes for the 1973–74 season, Redd Foxx walked off the show in a salary dispute, though he cited health issues. His character was written out of the series for the remaining six episodes of the season, and it was explained that Fred Sanford was away in St. Louis attending his cousin's funeral, with friend Grady (Whitman Mayo) in charge of the home. Foxx, who had been earning $19,000 per episode, equivalent to $130,408 in 2023, sought a 25% ownership stake in the series. Tandem Productions fought back with a $10 million lawsuit. The dispute was resolved in June 1974, with Foxx receiving $25,000, equivalent to $171,589 in 2023, per episode, to equal Carroll O'Connor's All in the Family pay, plus 25% of the producers' net profits.

Although Foxx was still absent for production of the first three shows of Season 4, NBC aired his return as the season premiere and delayed showing the previously taped episodes. In 1977, rival network ABC lured Foxx away with a large sum to host his variety show, The Redd Foxx Comedy Hour, ending Sanford and Son, which had been gradually declining in the ratings. The media reported that the dispute between Foxx and NBC was over the lack of a dressing-room window.

An exterior shot of the NBC Burbank lot was featured in the Season 5 episode "Steinberg and Son". The storefront, seen only in the opening credits, stood at 10659 West Magnolia Boulevard in North Hollywood, nearly 16 miles from the Sanfords' fictitious 9114 South Central Avenue address in Watts. This same storefront, minus the "Sanford and Son" sign, can also be seen in Emergency! in a 1973 episode titled "Alley Cat".

The pickup truck depicted in the series is a 1951 Ford F1. It was purchased at auction after the series ended and was later leased back to NBC for the spin-off shows Sanford Arms and Sanford. It has changed hands a few times over the years, eventually purchased by a real-life junk dealer, Donald Dimmitt of Dimmitt's Auto Salvage, in Argos, Indiana. In 2014, the truck was purchased from Dimmitt's by Tim Franko and Jeff Canter, owners of BlueLine Classics, a classic car dealership in North Royalton, Ohio, who restored the truck to its true condition as seen on the TV series and currently display it in the dealership's showroom.[citation needed] It has since been on display in locations within Cleveland.

Theme music[edit]

Titled "The Streetbeater", the theme music was composed by Quincy Jones through A&M Records and released on record in 1973.[8] Although the song did not reach Billboard status, it has maintained mainstream popularity and is featured on Jones's greatest-hits album.[9] The song has been featured on series such as Scrubs and The Simpsons.[10]

Spin-offs and 1980–1981 revival[edit]

After the series was canceled in 1977, a short-lived continuation featuring the supporting characters titled Sanford Arms aired. Whitman Mayo starred in a short-lived spin-off series, Grady, during the 1975–1976 season.

In 1980–1981, Foxx attempted to revive the show with another short-lived series titled Sanford, but Demond Wilson refused to reprise his role as Lamont Sanford for the new series.

Home media[edit]

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment released all six seasons of Sanford and Son on Region 1 DVD between August 2002 and June 2005, with a Complete Series box set following in 2008.

DVD Name Ep # Release Date
First Season 14 August 6, 2002
Second Season 24 February 4, 2003
Third Season 24 October 7, 2003
Fourth Season 25 March 30, 2004
Fifth Season 24 September 14, 2004
Sixth and Final Season 25 June 7, 2005
Complete Series 136 October 28, 2008


  1. ^ Tied with Rhoda


  1. ^ Starr, Michael Seth. Black and Blue: The Redd Foxx Story, Applause Theatre & Cinema Books, p. 1. ISBN 978-1557837547.
  2. ^ Fearn-Banks, Kathleen; Burford-Johnson, Anne (2014). Historical Dictionary of African American Television. Historical Dictionaries of Literature and the Arts. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 411. ISBN 978-0-8108-7917-1. Retrieved June 27, 2023.
  3. ^ "Cha Cha Hogan". IMDb. Retrieved June 27, 2023.
  4. ^ Brock, Jerry (2015). "Baby Doll Addendum and Mardi Gras '49". The Jazz Archivist: A Newsletter of the William Ransom Hogan Jazz Archive. 28. Tulane University Libraries. Retrieved June 27, 2023.
  5. ^ "All-TIME 100 TV Shows". Time. Retrieved May 31, 2022.
  6. ^ "TV Listings for September 24, 1976". TV Tango. Retrieved January 1, 2017.
  7. ^ "TV Listings for December 7, 1976". TV Tango. Retrieved January 1, 2017.
  8. ^ "Sanford & Son Theme (The Streetbeater) by Quincy Jones".
  9. ^ "Manhattan by Quincy Jones @artistdirect".
  10. ^ "Songfacts - Sanford & Son Theme (The Streetbeater) by Quincy Jones".

External links[edit]