On this day in comedy on February 1, 1938 comedic actor Sherman Alexander Hemsley was born in South Philadelphia!
Upon leaving the Air Force after a four-year hitch, Hemsley attended the Academy of Dramatic Arts in Philadelphia at night and worked for the Post Office during the day. He even kept his day job when he moved to New York and spent his evenings acting. One night on his thespian route (he was in Purlie), Hemsley was spotted by TV producer, Norman Lear. The hit maker wanted Hemsley for the role of George Jefferson, a neighbor of Archie Bunker’s on the CBS groundbreaking sitcom All in the Family. Hemsley was leery about leaving Broadway so Lear told him the part was his when his theater commitment was over. Two years later Hemsley took him up on his offer.
The Jeffersons became a spin-off from All in the Family and ran for 11 seasons and 253 episodes. The character of George Jefferson, an upwardly mobile black bigot who made his fortune in the dry-cleaning business was a persona America had never seen before and they couldn’t get enough. Along with Isabel Sanford, Frank Cover, Marla Gibbs, Roxie Roker and Paul Benedict, the sitcom lived beyond its broadcast tenure. Cast members; especially Hemsley and Sanford, reprised their roles on many other sitcoms in guest starring capacities as well as personal appearances at conventions.
Once The Jeffersons officially shut down production Hemsley bounced to the next show. This one had him playing a church deacon and co-starred Clifton Davis. Amen ran on NBC for five seasons and after that Helmsley took on the voice of a dinosaur in ABCs live action puppet show, Dinosaurs. That series ran for four seasons and after his trifecta Sherman Hemsley retired from television. He’d released two albums during his run; one a jazz LP and the other a collection of R&B tunes. So, with a career full of achievements, Sherman Hemsley spent the rest of his day’s guest starring, doing commercials and making cameos.
On July 24, 2012, Sherman Hemsley died from a cancerous lung at his home in El Paso, Texas. That same year he was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame.
By Darryl “D’Militant” Littleton
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