actor Sherman Hemsley is recognized mainly for his portrayal of
the feisty George Jefferson character in the hit television show
The Jeffersons, a program he starred in for ten years. Earlier
in his life he aspired to be an actor, but was too level-headed
to quit his job as a postal worker pursue his craft exclusively.
Holding onto his job, he managed to maintain affiliations with local
dramatic organizations, appearing in various children's theatre
productions. Eventually, Hemsley obtained a transfer to a position
with the post office in New York. Here, he became a member of the
famed Negro Ensemble Company. He began taking acting lessons, but
was becoming discouraged at his lack of progress. In 1969, however,
he earned the plum role of "Gitlow" in the highly successful, musical
version of Purlie Victorious.
1973 Hemsley was "Cat" in the successful stage play Don't Bother
Me I Can't Cope. It was during the run of this show that he
was "discovered" by independent producer Norman Lear. Lear, along
with his collaborator Bud Yorkin produced a string of hit television
shows during the 1970s, including Maude, Good Times and 1970s
television's most notable sitcom, All in the Family.
In 1973, Lear cast Hemsley to play the part of Archie Bunker's upwardly
mobile, and militantly black neighbor, George Jefferson. The response
to this character was so favorable that two years later, Hemsley
was cast in the spin-off series The Jeffersons. The Jeffersons
became a top-rated television program which aired on prime-time
television for ten years. The program focused on the lives of a
successful African-American couple, George and Louise Jefferson.
George Jefferson was a thriving businessman, a millionaire and owner
of seven dry cleaning stores. He lived with his wife in a ritzy
penthouse apartment on Manhattan's fashionable and moneyed East
The "George Jefferson," character was conceptualized as a black
equivalent of Archie Bunker. George was intolerant, rude, and stubborn;
he referred to White people as "honkies." He was a short, mean,
bigoted, popinjay who balked at manners. Louise, his long-suffering
wife, spent most of her time apologizing for her husband's behavior.
Florence, the housekeeper/maid, contributed a great deal of comic
relief with her continuous put-downs of George. She was not afraid
of his of angry outbursts; in fact she had little regard for him
or his tirades. She referred to him as "Shorty", and never missed
a chance to put George in his place.
The Jeffersons was one of three highly successful television
sitcoms featuring African-Americans in starring roles, in a mostly-black
cast program--the first since Amos 'n Andy; it was the first
television program to feature an interracial married couple; it
offered an uncommon albeit comic portrayal of a successful African
as a person is quite unlike the high-strung character he has popularized
on television. He is a private individual who has managed, even
with success to keep his affairs away from the glare of public scrutiny.
During the height of The Jeffersons popularity, he spoke
of his sudden fame, simply stating that he was, "just getting paid
for what I did for free in Philadelphia."
The Jeffersons was canceled in 1985, Hemsley went on to star
in the 1986 sitcom Amen. In typical Hemsley style he portrayed
a feisty Philadelphia church deacon, Ernest Frye. Like George Jefferson,
the Frye character was loud, brash and conceited. Though Amen
lasted only five years on prime-time television, Hemsley's career
continues to flourish. He has appeared as an occasional character
or guest in several television programs, including the long-running
Although known mostly for his television work, Hemsley acting credits
include the motion picture, Love at First Bite (1979) and
the made-for-TV version of Purlie (1981). Years after its
cancellation The Jeffersons still enjoys success in syndication.
Photo courtesy of Sherman Hemsley
HEMSLEY. Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A., 1 February
1938. Educated at the Philadelphia Academy of Dramatic Arts; studied
with Lloyd Richards in New York. Served in the U.S. Air Force. Worked
eight years for the U.S. Postal Service; active in the advanced
workshop of the Negro Ensemble Company in New York City; appeared
in various stage productions; starred in local television comedy
series Black Book in Philadelphia, Broadway debut in Purlie, 1970;
star, several television series since 1979; owner of Love Is, Inc.
production company. Member: Screen Actors Guild; Actors' Equity
Association; American Federation of Television and Radio Artists;
Vinette Carrol's Urban Arts Corps. Recipient: NAACP Image Award,
1976, 1987; Golden Globe Award; Hollywood Foreign Press Association
Award. Address: c/o Kenny Johnston, 6290 Sunset Blvd., Suite 403,
Hollywood, California 90028, U.S.A.
1973-75 All in the Family
1975-85 The Jeffersons
1991-94 Dinosaurs (voice)
1996- Goode Behavior
1985 Alice in Wonderland
at First Bite, 1979; Stewardess School, 1987; Ghost
People vs. Ranchman, 1968; Alice and Wonderland, 1969;
Purlie, 1970; I'm Not Rappaport, 1987
See also All
in the Family; Amen;