Jeffersons’ Hemsley wants stardom for what it helps him do — for others
The Jeffersons is another hit from Norman Lear, and it has made stars out of its leading players — including Sherman Hemsley, who plays George Jefferson.
A lot of people are happy to see Hemsley make it because he’s one of those rare people who wants to be a star for what stardom will enable him to do for others.
“I’m glad for my success.” he says, “not for what it will buy me but for what it will let me do for other people. I want to help my mother and do things for lots of my old friends.”
He has lots of old friends. Over the years, like all of us, he’s made them but he doesn’t forget them. He even still keeps in touch with the friends he made in grade school back in Philadelphia and with the men he worked with in the Philadelphia and New York post offices.
He comes by his altruism naturally. He remembers his grandmother back in Philadelphia helping others. She died when he was 14, but he remembers her clearly.
“She was so full of love,” he says. “She used to take people in from off the street and feed them and let them stay. I used to say, ‘Why do you do that?’ and she would say, ‘Because they need something.'”
The Jeffersons: Love and friendship
He says that since then, the most important things in his life have been love and friendship. The hit CBS show is enabling him to practice love and friendship on a larger scale than ever before.
Hemsley grew up wanting to be an actor. But for a black boy at that time, “it seemed like just a foolish dream.” He did as much acting as he could as a schoolboy, but that’s all at the time.
He went to work in the Philadelphia Post Office. He took the midnight shift so he could act too, and did many plays in his hometown. Robert Hooks of New York’s Negro Ensemble Theater saw him and invited him to New York.
Hemsley made the switch, but conservatively got a transfer from the Philadelphia to the New York Post Office just in case. After a year, the acting had become more important than lugging sacks of mail, and he quit.
He came West with “Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope.” The show closed in San Francisco. He called Lear from there, and the casting director of the Lear operation said they’d been trying to find him. They had seen him on Broadway in “Purlie,” and wanted him to play Jefferson in All in the Family. So he had a job.
He did All in the Family until Lear decided to spin-off another series, and The Jeffersons was born.
Hemsley says his new show differs from the other black TV families, That’s My Mama and Good Times, in that The Jeffersons have more money. They are different people, and that makes a different show.