Thursday, July 26, 2012

...Like George and Weezy

There were, at least to my memory, three black television shows that qualify as old school classics. Yes, I realize this leaves off What's happening? and Different Strokes, but the first really didn't resonate with me and the second was really more of a mixed show than just a black show. And I'm at the age where the Cosbys and the rest aren't old enough to old school. Five more years.

Those old school classics were the The Jeffersons, Sandford and Son and Good Times, in that order. And while Sandford and Good Times explored what it was to black in America in the 70's from what was the more common envisioined perspective assumed by the masses (i.e., struggling), the Jeffersons stood firmly on the other side of the fence. They were the pre-Cosby's, only with a bitter taste in the mouth east NY attitude. And at the center of it all, unabashed and unafraid was George Jefferson played by one Sherman Hemsley.

He wasn't particularly Sidney Poitier suave or Billy Dee handsome. But Sherman Hemsley did something I don't think either of those celebrated men could do: breathe an actual life into what was originally supposed to be an black upmarket Archie Bunker.  But even in an age where you had to go along to get along, even as George Jefferson grasped for next rung up, he realized that there was more to it than success. 

It was the 70's, so Sherman Hemsley played a minstrel to some degree. But he played it from the wrong angle. George was not only a braggadocio, he could back it up. He was the polar opposite of the long maligned image of Stepen Fechit.  George walked out of the tennis club that wanted him for a token member. If getting what he wanted meant meeting not as equals, then he would try another way. Sherman Hemsley's version of George was the next level we all aspired to: Bold, successful and upmarket... at least it was what we wanted before rap music showed up.

It's odd to say it this way. Sherman Hemsley passed. But George Jefferson died. And I hope he's gone on to that dee-luxe apartment in the sky.

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