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Isabel Sanford (born Eloise Gwendolyn Sanford; August 29, 1917 – July 9, 2004) was an American stage, film, and television actress and comedian best known for her role as Louise "Weezy" Mills Jefferson on the CBS sitcoms All in the Family (1971–1975) and The Jeffersons (1975–1985). In 1981, she became the second black American actress to win a Primetime Emmy Award, and the first to win for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series.

Isabel Sanford
The Jeffersons Sanford Hemsley Evans 1974.jpg
Publicity photo of Isabel Sanford with
The Jeffersons co-stars, Sherman Hemsley and Mike Evans, circa 1974
Eloise Gwendolyn Sanford

(1917-08-29)August 29, 1917
DiedJuly 9, 2004(2004-07-09) (aged 86)
Resting placeForest Lawn Memorial Park, Hollywood Hills, California, U.S.
  • Actress
  • comedian
Years active1967–2004
Known forLouise "Weezy" Mills–Jefferson on All in the Family and The Jeffersons
William E. Richmond
(m. 1945; died 1960)
ChildrenSon, Sanford Richmond, one other son, and a daughter
AwardsPrimetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series (The Jeffersons; 1981)

Early lifeEdit

Sanford was born Eloise Gwendolyn Sanford in Harlem, New York City, to Josephine (née Perry) and James Edward Sanford. She was the youngest of seven children and was the only child to survive beyond infancy. Sanford's mother Josephine was devoutly religious and insisted that her daughter attend church every Sunday and occasionally made her attend on weeknights. As a teenager, Sanford aspired to be an actress, but her mother discouraged her dream, as she felt that show business was "the road to degradation". Sanford disobeyed her mother and began performing at local clubs.[1] She also performed at amateur night at the Apollo Theater.[2] After graduating from high school, Sanford joined Harlem's American Negro Theater and the Star Players. She made her professional stage debut in 1946 in On Strivers Row and appeared in several off-Broadway productions while also working as a keypunch operator at IBM.[2][3][4] Sanford married house painter William Edward "Sonny" Richmond with whom she had three children. Their marriage was tumultuous and they later separated.[2][5]


After separating from her husband, Sanford and her three children relocated to California in 1960.[5] Soon after her arrival, she was asked to join the national production of Here Today by actress Tallulah Bankhead.[2] In 1965, she made her Broadway debut in James Baldwin's The Amen Corner.The Original Cambridge Players taking a Los Angeles Premier of "The Amen Corner" to Broadway at the Ethel Barrymore Theater in April of 1965. Produced by Mrs. Nat Cole, ( Nat King Cole's Spouse), Directed by Frank Silvera, Scenic Design by Vantile Whitfield, Production Stage Manager: James Gelb; Stage Manager: Edmund J.Cambridge (ED) and Press Representative: Dorothy Ross

Cast : Art Evans, Gertude Jeanette, Amentha Dymally, Whitman Mayo, Beah Richards, Juanita Moore, Isabel Sanford, Frank Silvera and C.P. Walker. ( The Cambridge Players are lead by Film,Stage,TV Actor Kirk E. Kelleykahn. Founding Member Juanita Moore were friends with Marlon Brando and James Baldwin, It was Ms. Moore whom ask Mr. Brando to lend the Funds ($75) to Mr. Baldwin to write "The Amen Corner" Therefore The Legendary Cambridge Players were the First to take Mr. Baldwin's Novel to the Great White Way - Broadway. As Barry Jenkins was the First to Bring Mr. James Baldwin's Novel "IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK" to the Screen. Mrs. Sanford's role in "The Amen Corner" led to her being cast in the 1967 film Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.[4] In the film, she was credited as Isabell Sanford and portrayed the role of the maid Tillie Binks which earned her good reviews.[6] She caught the attention of major Hollywood players, including Norman Lear, who cast Sanford in the role of Louise Jefferson in All in the Family. Sanford and her TV husband, Sherman Hemsley, were so popular that Norman Lear decided to spin-off the characters into their own weekly series, The Jeffersons. Sanford was initially reluctant to commit to working on a weekly series, as she was already working steadily, but decided to accept the offer. The Jeffersons premiered in January 1975 and was an immediate hit with audiences, and ultimately ran for 11 seasons.[3] For her role on the series, Sanford earned five Golden Globe Award nominations, and seven Primetime Emmy Award nominations. She won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series in 1981, making her the first African American actress to win in that category.[6]

After The Jeffersons cancelation in 1985, Sanford continued her career with guest starring roles in television and film. In January 1987, she starred in her own sitcom Isabel's Honeymoon Hotel, which aired five days a week in syndication. The series was created to showcase Sanford's comedic skills, but it failed to attract an audience and was quickly cancelled.[7][8] In the 1990s, Sanford mainly appeared in television guest appearances and cameo appearances in movies. She appeared on Dream On, Living Single, Hangin' with Mr. Cooper, In the House, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman in a season-two episode entitled, "Seasons Greedings", The Steve Harvey Show, and Hearts Are Wild. In 1996, had a supporting role in the action movie Original Gangstas, starring blaxploitation film stars Fred Williamson, Pam Grier, Jim Brown, and Richard Roundtree.

Sanford later reprised her role as Louise Jefferson in a touring company of The Real Live Jeffersons stage show in the mid-1990s alongside Sherman Hemsley. Hemsley and she also made cameo appearances in films such as Sprung, The Parkers “Hands Off, Grandma” episode Mafia!, and two episodes of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. The two also appeared in a series of advertisements for Denny's and Old Navy.[3] In January 2004, Sanford received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her contribution to the television industry.[3] She made her final television appearance the following month as an animated version of herself on The Simpsons episode "Milhouse Doesn't Live Here Anymore".[9]

Personal lifeEdit

Sanford was married to house painter William Edward "Sonny" Richmond. The couple had three children, two sons, (Sanford K. Richmond) and a daughter, (Pamela Richmond Ruff) before separating.[2][5] After their separation, Sanford and the children moved to California in 1960, while Richmond remained in New York. Shortly after their arrival, Richmond died after being involved in an altercation.[5] Sanford was a Democrat who attended an event with Dennis Weaver for presidential candidate Jesse Jackson in 1988.[10]


In September 2003, Sanford underwent preventive surgery on her carotid artery.[2][11] In the ensuing months, her health steadily declined. She was hospitalized at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center on July 4, 2004, where she died five days later—a month before her 87th birthday. Her publicist attributed it to unspecified natural causes.[11][12] She was interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles.[13] For her contribution to the television industry, Isabel Sanford has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame located at 7080 Hollywood Boulevard.[14]

Broadway creditsEdit

Date Production Role
April 15 – June 26, 1965 The Amen Corner Sister Moore


Year Title Role Notes
1967 Guess Who's Coming to Dinner Tillie
1968 The Young Runaways Sarah
1969 Pendulum Effie
1969 The Comic Woman in Detergent Commercial
1970 The Red, White, and Black Isabel Taylor
1972 Stand Up and Be Counted Beverly Uncredited
1972 Every Little Crook and Nanny Prospective Nanny #1 Uncredited
1972 The New Centurions Wilma
1972 Hickey & Boggs Nyona's Mother
1972 Lady Sings the Blues The Madame
1972 Pete 'n' Tillie Maid Uncredited
1972 Up the Sandbox Maria
1974 The Photographer Mrs. Slade
1979 Love At First Bite Judge R. Thomas
1981 Desperate Moves Dottie Butz
1990 Pucker Up and Bark Like a Dog Joanna
1992 South Beach Mama
1996 Original Gangstas Gracie Bookman
1997 Sprung Sista #1
1998 Jane Austen's Mafia! Mrs. Louise Jefferson Uncredited
2000 Click Three Times Dorothy Short
Year Title Role Notes
1968 The Carol Burnett Show Sketch Performer Episodes #2.1, 2.9, 2.12, 3.8
1968 Bewitched Aunt Jenny Episode: "Samantha Goes South for a Spell"
1968 The Mod Squad Lillian Episode: "Love"
Credited as Isabell Sanford
1970 Daniel Boone Maybelle Episode: "Sunshine Patriots"
1971 The Bill Cosby Show Bertha Episode: "The Barber Shop"
Credited as Isabell Sanford
1971 The Interns Dr. Hearn Episode: "The Choice"
1971–1972 Love, American Style Various roles 2 episodes
1971–1975 All in the Family Louise Jefferson 26 episodes
1972 The Mary Tyler Moore Show Mrs. Wilson Episode: "His Two Right Arms"
1972 The Great Man's Whiskers Ella Television film
1972 Wait Till Your Father Gets Home Betsy Voice, Episode: "Help Wanted"
1973 Temperatures Rising Mrs. Noland Episode: "The Mothers"
1974 Kojak Grace Episode: "Die Before They Wake"
1978 Vega$ Mae Episode: "Milliken's Stash"
1975–1985 The Jeffersons Louise Jefferson 253 episodes
1979 Supertrain Reba Episode: "Pirouette"
1980–1983 The Love Boat Tanya, Isaac's Aunt 2 episodes
1984 Reading Rainbow Narrator Episode: "The Patchwork Quilt"
1986 Crazy Like a Fox 1 episode
1986 The New Mike Hammer Mama Vibes Episode: "The Duke Is Dead"
1987 Isabel's Honeymoon Hotel Isabel Scott Unknown episodes
1988 A Pup Named Scooby-Doo Additional voices Episode "A Bicycle Built for Boo!"
1993 Dream On Judge Isabel Kohner Episode: "Oral Sex, Lies and Videotape"
1993 Living Single Eunetta Ryan Episode: "Quittin' Time"
1994 Hangin' with Mr. Cooper Judge Episode: "The Courtship of Mark Cooper"
1994 Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman Ms. Duffy Episode: "Seasons Greedings"
1995 Roseanne Louise Jefferson, TV Mom #3 Episode: "All About Rosey"
1995 In the House Nanna 2 episodes
1995–1996 The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Louise "Weezy" Jefferson 2 episodes
1996 The Steve Harvey Show Mother Hightower Episode: "That's My Mama"
1997 Teen Angel Laurie Episode: "Sings Like an Angel"
1998 Pepper Ann Bernice Voice, Episode: "Cocoon Gables/Green-Eyed Monster"
1999 Jackie's Back Miss Krumes Television film
2001 The Parkers Evelyn "Nana" Smith Episode: "Hands Off, Grandma"
2002 The Young and the Restless Sylvia Episode #1.7534
2004 The Simpsons Herself Voice, Episode: "Milhouse Doesn't Live Here Anymore"
2004 Candid Camera Mrs. Jefferson Episode: "Mother's Day", (final appearance)

Awards and nominationsEdit

Year Award Category Title of work Result
1979 Primetime Emmy Award Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series The Jeffersons Nominated
1980 Primetime Emmy Award Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series The Jeffersons Nominated
1981 Primetime Emmy Award Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series The Jeffersons Won
1982 Primetime Emmy Award Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series The Jeffersons Nominated
1983 Primetime Emmy Award Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series The Jeffersons Nominated
1984 Primetime Emmy Award Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series The Jeffersons Nominated
1985 Primetime Emmy Award Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series The Jeffersons Nominated
1977 Golden Globe Award Best TV Actress - Musical/Comedy The Jeffersons Nominated
1978 Golden Globe Award Best TV Actress - Musical/Comedy The Jeffersons Nominated
1983 Golden Globe Award Best Performance by an Actress in a TV-Series - Comedy/Musical The Jeffersons Nominated
1984 Golden Globe Award Best Performance by an Actress in a TV-Series - Comedy/Musical The Jeffersons Nominated
1985 Golden Globe Award Best Performance by an Actress in a TV-Series - Comedy/Musical The Jeffersons Nominated
2004 TV Land Awards Favorite Cantankerous Couple The Jeffersons (Shared with Sherman Hemsley) Won


  1. ^ Robinson, Louie (January 1976). "The Jeffersons". Ebony. 31 (3): 114. ISSN 0012-9011.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Shattuck, Kathryn (July 13, 2004). "Isabel Sanford, 86, Actress Who Portrayed Mrs. Jefferson". The New York Times. Retrieved February 24, 2013.
  3. ^ a b c d McLellan, Dennis (July 13, 2004). "Isabel Sanford, 86; Won Emmy for Best Actress in a Comedy". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 24, 2013.
  4. ^ a b "Isabel Sanford Biography". Biography. Retrieved February 24, 2013.
  5. ^ a b c d Slater, Jack (September 1980). "The Real People Behind The Jeffersons". Ebony. 35 (11): 87–88. ISSN 0012-9011.
  6. ^ a b "Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series". Bangor Daily News. July 13, 2004. p. B6. Retrieved February 24, 2013.
  7. ^ "Isabel Sanford to star in new syndicated sitcom". The Washington Afro-American. September 6, 1986. p. 8. Retrieved February 24, 2013.
  8. ^ "Sanford's 'Honeymoon Hotel' Does Slow Business". Los Angeles Daily News. January 14, 1987.
  9. ^ Waltonen, Karma; Du Vernay, Denise (April 19, 2010). The Simpsons in the Classroom. McFarland. p. 61. ISBN 978-0786456925.
  10. ^ "Stars in Politics". Getty Images. January 1, 1988.
  11. ^ a b "Isabel Sanford dies in Los Angeles hospital". Today. July 12, 2004. Retrieved February 24, 2013.
  12. ^ "Actress Isabel Sanford dead at 86". The Madison Courier. July 13, 2004. pp. B–4. Retrieved February 24, 2013.
  13. ^ Kemp, Joe; Goldsmith, Samuel (July 7, 2009). "Michael Jackson will be buried among Tinseltown's legends at Forest Lawn". New York Daily News. Retrieved February 24, 2013.
  14. ^ "Hollywood Star Walk". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 24, 2013.

External linksEdit