On this day in comedy on May 22, 2001 Actor, Whitman Blount Mayo passed away.
Best known to audiences as Grady Wilson, Fred G. Sanford’s friend from the 1970s NBC hit sitcom, Sanford and Son, Mayo was a seasoned show business pro when that opportunity came along. Following a stint in the Army during the Korean War, the veteran studied at various colleges in Southern California and got into acting by doing small parts in small movies. His first known film role was in 1966s The Black Klansman.
Mayo’s big TV break came while working in theater. Producer, Norman Lear saw him and asked Mayo to play the part of Grady on his sitcom. Mayo played the part on four shows. On the original Sanford and Son Grady was one of Fred’s (Redd Foxx) many buddies who came around. Grady would talk trash to Aunt Esther (LaWanda Page) and show a nurturing side to Lamont (Fred’s son played by Demond Wilson). When Foxx skipped shows while in contract talks, Mayo took over as that sage anchor of the show.
NBC liked Grady and gave Mayo his own show. Grady had the character living in Beverly Hills with his humorless daughter and her equally humorless husband. Grady didn’t last long, but Whitman Mayo did. He went right back to Sanford and Son where there was still plenty of humor. When it was canceled Mayo landed on another of the Sanford and Son spin-offs, Sanford Arms co-starring opposite Theodore Wilson (notice there are a lot of Wilson’s going around? The name of Grady Wilson came from Lamont Sanford’s real name Grady Demond Wilson.). The main problem with Sanford Arms was the fact that show had not a single Sanford (Foxx and Demond Wilson were gone) and thus did not last long either. However, that was not a problem for long. Redd Foxx returned as Fred G. Sanford for yet another spin-off, Sanford. It was Foxx, hefty actor, Dennis Burkley with Aunt Esther and Grady thrown in for good measure. Unfortunately, the show didn’t measure up with viewers and Sanford was the last of the spin-offs.
Whitman Mayo stayed active with a wide range of interests He did films (The Main Event, D. C. Cab, Boyz N the Hood). He did children’s programming (That’s Cat, Sesame Street). He guest-starred on sitcoms (Full House, Different Strokes, 227, Martin), opened a travel agency, taught drama at Clark Atlanta University and in 1996 caused a public search for him as part of a stunt Conan O’Brien pulled. He wanted Grady on his show and Mayo finally appeared on Late Night after weeks of the publicity stunt.
The beloved artist died of a heart attack at Atlanta’s Grady Memorial Hospital.
By Darryl “D’Militant” Littleton
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