A YouTube video magically transported me back to what I was watching on Jan. 13, 1972. The clip from NBC’s “Flip Wilson Show” features Flip as a standup comedian being heckled unmercifully by guest Redd Foxx. At the end of the segment, Flip broke character to announce that Foxx would be starring in a new sitcom called “Sanford and Son,” beginning the next night.
I remember the plug. Unfortunately, I somehow missed that first episode, but I laughed myself silly over the second one. I love my sanitized 1960s sitcoms, but there was something earthier and more relatable about the denizens of that Watts neighborhood. (Herman Munster never got stripped for parts on Mockingbird Lane.)
I joined millions of other Americans in a Friday night ritual of watching the dreams and schemes of cantankerous junk dealer Fred G. Sanford (“that’s S-A-N-F-O-R-D period”) and his longsuffering son Lamont. For six seasons, the show provided stiff competition for high school athletic events. Between Fred calling Lamont “you big dummy” and sports fans calling the referee “you big dummy,” 1970s therapists put in oodles of overtime on Saturdays.
Countless “must see” programs from just three or four years ago have completely evaporated from my memory; but after five decades, I still find myself whistling the “Sanford” instrumental theme song by Quincy Jones and exclaiming, “Good goobily goop” or “Great googly moogly” like Fred’s friend Grady. I still haven’t verified the rumor that the Build Back Better plan includes funding for GSL (Grady as a Second Language) classes.
I am thankful that I have been able to share “Sanford and Son” reruns with my 17-year-old son Gideon. I am equally thankful that I still have him fooled about the clutter in my writing den. (“You’re right – it’s an intentional shrine to the Sanford living room. Yeah, that’s the ticket.”) Yes, it’s admirable that Amazon Prime makes “Sanford and Son” reruns available to new generations, but it’s certainly not the sort of show that could start from scratch in today’s environment.
In the old days, widower Fred would fake a heart attack and shout, “You hear that, Elizabeth? I’m coming to join you, honey.” In these post-organized-religion times, he would likely backpedal with, “Or maybe I’ll just become one with the universe. Or embrace the aura of this Louisville slugger or…anyway, don’t wait up.” Who wants focus groups insisting, “If Julio’s goat can’t learn to bleat an F-bomb or two, barbecue it”?
Nowadays we couldn’t simply enjoy Fred’s judgmental sister-in-law Aunt Esther calling him a “fish-eyed old fool” and pummeling him with her purse. No, the hosts of “The View” would have to label it a “mostly peaceful” purse pummeling and speculate about collusion between fish-eyed old fools and fish-eyed heathens.
Would we really want to hear Fred complaining to friend Bubba about the biggest disappointment in his life? (“And I found out I was groping the real Lena Horne. After I paid good money to meet a Lena impersonator in drag. The real Lena Horne. There ain’t enough muscatel and ripple in three states to kill that image.”)
Mark the date (Jan. 14) and give a little nod to the 50th anniversary of a classic. As Lamont would say, “That’s the way it used to be, Pop.” And it still is – here in my heart.
Danny Tyree, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate, welcomes email responses at firstname.lastname@example.org and visits to his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades.”