Isabel Sanford was an American actress, best known for her role as Louise "Weezy" Jefferson on the hit television sitcoms All in the Family and The Jeffersons. Before landing her star-making role, she received wide praise for her part as the outspoken housekeeper in the 1967 film Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? After the famed sitcoms ended, she continued to act and the show remained in syndication.
Actress Isabel Sanford was born Eloise Gwendolyn Sanford on August 29, 1917, in New York, New York. As Louise Jefferson on the hit comedy The Jeffersons, Sanford won over television audiences and critics alike. She had always dreamed of a career as an actress while growing up in New York City's Harlem neighborhood.
While she had some theater and singing experience over the years, Sanford did not make her stage debut until 1946 and her Broadway debut occurred nearly 20 years later with a supporting role as Sister Moore in the 1965 production of The Amen Corner by James Baldwin. This led her to the part of Tillie, the outspoken housekeeper in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? (1967). Directed by Stanley Kramer, the film examined the drama surrounding an interracial relationship when a white daughter, played by Katherine Houghton, brings her African-American fiancé, played by Sidney Poitier, to meet her father and mother, played by Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, respectively.
Around this time, Isabel Sanford also made numerous television appearances on such shows as Bewitched, The Mod Squad and The Carol Burnett Show. In 1971, she landed a role on All in the Family, a controversial comedy created by Norman Lear. Sanford and Sherman Hemsley played Louise and George Jefferson, neighbors to Edith and Archie Bunker, played by Jean Stapleton and Carroll O'Connor, respectively.
While the characters of Edith and Louise became friends, Archie and George clashed. Both characters were blustery and opinionated. Audiences liked the Jeffersons so much that they got their own series in 1975. George found success with a chain of dry cleaning stores and the family, including son Lionel, moved to New York City's East Side "to a deluxe apartment in the sky," as the show's theme song went.
On the air for 11 seasons, The Jeffersons broke new ground in many ways. It was one of the few shows to have a predominantly African-American cast and focused on an affluent black family. It also didn't shy away from racial issues. Their neighbors included a mixed-race couple Tom and Helen Willis—the first depiction of a white and black couple on prime time television—played by Franklin Cover and Roxie Roker.
One of the show's strengths, however, was its ability to translate color barriers. Viewers of all races tuned in to see what was happening with the Jeffersons. Sanford was nominated seven times for her portrayal of the quick-witted Louise, winning the Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series once in 1981.
Even after the show ended its run in 1985, The Jeffersons remained popular in syndication. Isabel Sanford remained active during the next three decades, taking on a variety of projects. She guest starred on such television shows as Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer, Dream On, Living Single, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and Roseanne. In the later part of her career, she teamed up with Hemsley once again for a series of commercials. She even lent her voice to an episode of the animated series The Simpsons.
Sanford died on July 9, 2004, in Los Angeles, California. Earlier that year, she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a sign of her lasting importance in the field of acting. Sanford had three children from her first marriage to William Richmond.
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