by Billy Ingram
A Harlem nightclub comedian since the Forties, Redd Foxx found television success late in life - he had two hit series and three failures during a twenty-year period.
Foxx became relatively well-known in 1955 with his hilarious party album 'Laff of the Party', wall to wall raunchy stories recorded before a live audience. "Laff' (and Redd's subsequent dirty joke LPs) sold over 15 million copies, but the comic saw little of the money: "I got robbed so bad", Foxx stated once, "I just didn't want to make anymore".
It was in the rowdy, smoky nightclubs that Redd Foxx defined the 'Fred Sanford' character he would make famous on TV in the Seventies - in fact, many of the show's character actors came from Redd's club days, including Slappy White and LaWanda Page (who had a particularly filthy act!).
A 'Tonight Show' appearance in the Sixties led to a few guest roles on TV and a part as the Junkman in the 1970 blacksploitation film 'Cotton Goes To Harlem'. Norman Lear saw the movie and cast Redd Foxx in his first sitcom for NBC.
Sanford and Son ('72-'77) centered around junk dealer Fred Sanford and his son living in Watts (Redd's real name was John Sanford, his brother was Fred). It immediately became one of the biggest shows on NBC during the dacron-polyester decade, and the second smash hit for executive producers Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin after 'All in the Family' scored big on CBS.
'Sanford and Son' landed in the top ten every week it was on the air, becoming the lynchpin of NBC's phenomenally successful Friday night schedule. Redd took to his new success by living large, exerting more creative control over the show, fooling around with other women and indulging his love of Las Vegas casinos.
Because he was unknown to TV audiences, Redd Foxx's contract didn't take into account what a big star he would become. Foxx had a bitter contract dispute with producers Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin, he felt he was being taken advantage of.
Foxx walked off the set and sat out a half-season in 1975, entering into a public dispute over the fact that NBC wouldn't give him a dressing room with a window. NBC said the star was out of line, that the issue was a smoke screen to get out of his contract and sign a better deal elsewhere.
Ratings stayed high when Foxx was out, hitting a peak in an episode that didn't even feature Fred Sanford.
Foxx gave in to producers and returned to work a few weeks later when they slapped an injunction on him, preventing him from working anywhere else.
For whatever reason (and the actor's drug and alcohol consumption was surely a factor), the network that capitulated to everyone from Bob Hope to Johnny Carson over the years refused to (or could not) make Redd Foxx happy.
DEATH OF REDD FOXX
Redd Foxx - a legendary Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe performer. He started in the small clubs and had a hit TV series in the 1970s, Sanford & Son.
Aunt Esther: Fred Sanford, the wrath of God will strike you down!
REDD FOXX QUOTES:
"I ain't afraid to give you one across the lips!"
"My name is Fred Sanford. That's S-A-N-F-O-R-D period."
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