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.
Eloise Gwendolyn Sanford
August 29, 1917
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Died||July 9, 2004 (aged 86)|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Resting place||Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Hollywood Hills, California, U.S.|
|Known for||Louise "Weezy" Mills–Jefferson on All in the Family and The Jeffersons|
William E. Richmond
(m. 1945; died 1960)
|Children||Two sons, including Sanford Richmond, and a daughter, Pamela Richmond Ruff|
|Awards||Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series (The Jeffersons; 1981)|
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. She also performed at amateur night at The Apollo Theater. After graduating 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. Sanford married house painter William Edward "Sonny" Richmond, with whom she had three children. Their marriage was tumultuous, and they later separated.
After separating from her husband, Sanford and her three children relocated to California in 1960. Soon after her arrival, she was asked to join the national production of Here Today by actress Tallulah Bankhead. In 1965, she made her Broadway debut in James Baldwin's The Amen Corner. This role led to her being cast in the 1967 film Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. In the film, she was credited as Isabell Sanford, playing the role of the maid "Tillie Binks," and earned her good reviews. 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, ultimately running for 11 seasons. For her role in 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.
After The Jeffersons' cancellation 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. 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, The Steve Harvey Show, and Hearts Are Wild. In 1996, she played 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 a cameo appearance in the film Sprung, and guest-starred in The Parkers, 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. In January 2004, Sanford received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her contribution to the television industry. She made her final television appearance the following month as an animated version of herself in The Simpsons episode "Milhouse Doesn't Live Here Anymore."
Sanford was married to house painter William Edward "Sonny" Richmond. The couple had three children—two sons (including Sanford K. Richmond) and a daughter (Pamela Richmond Ruff) before separating. 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. Sanford was a Democrat who attended an event with Dennis Weaver for presidential candidate Jesse Jackson in 1988.
In September 2003, Sanford underwent preventive surgery on her carotid artery. 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. She was interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles. For her contribution to the television industry, Isabel Sanford has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame located at 7080 Hollywood Boulevard.
|April 15 – June 26, 1965||The Amen Corner||Sister Moore|
|1967||Guess Who's Coming to Dinner||Tillie|
|1968||The Young Runaways||Sarah|
|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|
|1996||Original Gangstas||Gracie Bookman|
|1998||Jane Austen's Mafia!||Mrs. Louise Jefferson||Uncredited|
|2000||Click Three Times||Dorothy||Short|
|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|
|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|
- Robinson, Louie (January 1976). "The Jeffersons". Ebony. 31 (3): 114. ISSN 0012-9011.
- Shattuck, Kathryn (July 13, 2004). "Isabel Sanford, 86, Actress Who Portrayed Mrs. Jefferson". The New York Times. Retrieved February 24, 2013.
- McLellan, Dennis (July 13, 2004). "Isabel Sanford, 86; Won Emmy for Best Actress in a Comedy". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 24, 2013.
- "Isabel Sanford Biography". Biography. Retrieved February 24, 2013.
- Slater, Jack (September 1980). "The Real People Behind The Jeffersons". Ebony. 35 (11): 87–88. ISSN 0012-9011.
- "Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series". Bangor Daily News. July 13, 2004. p. B6. Retrieved February 24, 2013.
- "Isabel Sanford to star in new syndicated sitcom". The Washington Afro-American. September 6, 1986. p. 8. Retrieved February 24, 2013.
- "Sanford's 'Honeymoon Hotel' Does Slow Business". Los Angeles Daily News. January 14, 1987.
- Waltonen, Karma; Du Vernay, Denise (April 19, 2010). The Simpsons in the Classroom. McFarland. p. 61. ISBN 978-0786456925.
- "Stars in Politics". Getty Images. January 1, 1988.
- "Isabel Sanford dies in Los Angeles hospital". Today. July 12, 2004. Retrieved February 24, 2013.
- "Actress Isabel Sanford dead at 86". The Madison Courier. July 13, 2004. pp. B–4. Retrieved February 24, 2013.
- 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.
- "Hollywood Star Walk". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 24, 2013.