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10 Things You Might Not Know About Good Times

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Good Times was a spinoff of a spinoff that premiered on CBS in February 1974. It was the first primetime sitcom featuring an African American family, and during its six-season run it tackled such serious problems as gang violence, unemployment, discrimination, poverty, and child abuse. But despite the sometimes heavy subject matter, there was always laughter and love among the close-knit Evans family. Were things just as cozy backstage between the performers? Not always …

1. “LIONEL JEFFERSON” HELPED TO CREATE IT

Michael Evans, who played Lionel Jefferson on All in the Family at the time, had heard through the grapevine that CBS was interested in producing a series about a black family. He approached Norman Lear and asked if he could try his hand at pitching a script. Lear gave him the OK, and Evans collaborated with his friend, Eric Monte. They wrote a script that featured the Black family: father John, mother Mattie, and children J.J., Thelma, and Michael. Lear liked the concept, but he wanted the family to be fatherless. Monte and Evans objected to the change, and the project was put on the back burner.

2. IT WAS A SPINOFF OF MAUDE, WHICH WAS A SPINOFF OF ALL IN THE FAMILY.

The All in the Family spinoff Maude became a ratings hit in 1972 and Lear smelled another spinoff in the making. He decided that Esther Rolle, who played Maude’s housekeeper Florida Evans, could carry a series on her own. So The Black Family pilot script was resurrected and used as the basis for the new series. But Lear was still adamant that there should be no father in the picture. Rolle stood her ground and refused to sign on for the project unless the “James” character was included.

“I couldn’t compound the lie that Black fathers don’t care about their children,” Rolle later explained of her stance. Producers agreed to her demand and hired John Amos, who’d appeared occasionally on Maude as Florida’s husband (although his name was “Henry” at the time) to continue his role.

3. PRODUCERS BELIEVED THAT RALPH CARTER WOULD BE THE SHOW’S BREAKOUT STAR.

Ralph Carter's credit from 'Good Times'
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The next actor to be hired after Rolle and Amos was 12-year-old Ralph Carter, who was cast as the youngest son, Michael. Michael was nicknamed the “Militant Midget” by James because of his outspoken views on anything to do with politics or civil rights. Producers believed that Carter would be the “breakout” character of the show, not only because he was cute and looked younger than his age, but also because it would be humorous yet poignant that a child would be espousing such zealous viewpoints. Carter was appearing on Broadway in the musical Raisin when he caught the eye of Good Times’s producers, and Lear bought out the remainder of his contract to enable him to appear on the series (as evidenced in the ending credits of the first season).

4. JIMMIE WALKER’S POPULARITY WITH AUDIENCES MADE HIM LESS POPULAR WITH HIS CASTMATES.

Jimmie Walker was a stand-up comic who had been headlining comedy clubs across the country for several years when he landed a job at CBS as the warm-up act for the short-lived James Coco sitcom Calucci’s Department. It was there that Lear happened to catch his act and offered him the role of J.J. He had no acting or television experience, but he had impeccable comic timing and an expressive, fluid face, so he quickly became an audience favorite. And the more laughs he got, the more jokes the writers threw his way, which didn’t endear him to Rolle or Amos.

5. JOHN AMOS WAS DEEMED A "DISRUPTIVE ELEMENT."

While Amos admired Walker as a comedian, he was unhappy about the amount of attention the J.J. character was getting versus the other two children. “Michael aspired to be a Supreme Court Justice and Thelma wanted to be a surgeon, but all the emphasis was on J.J. and his chicken hat and him saying ‘dyn-o-mite’ every third page,” he said in an interview with the American Archive of Television. He also admitted that he wasn’t the most diplomatic person in those days and that the producers “got tired of having their lives threatened over jokes.”

Amos apparently complained one too many times, because he received a phone call from Lear advising him that he was considered to be a “disruptive element” and his services were no longer required. To explain the absence of Amos, the first episode of season four showed Florida receiving a telegram informing her that James had been killed in an automobile accident while en route to Mississippi, where he’d just landed a promising new job.

6. ESTHER ROLLE ALSO GREW DISENCHANTED WITH THE SERIES’ EVOLUTION.

Rolle was similarly disenchanted with the way J.J. was evolving. “He’s 18 and he doesn’t work,” she told Ebony Magazine in September 1975 of Walker’s character. “He can’t read and write. He doesn’t think. The show didn’t start out to be that."

Fed up with the turn the series had taken, in the midst of season four she demanded a raise along with better scripts. She also voiced her dismay that the writers had given Florida a new love interest (Moses Gunn as Carl Dixon) so quickly after James’s death. The producers responded by asking the writers if they could write scripts that didn’t include the mother. So Florida married Carl and the couple moved to Arizona, where the weather would be better for his newly diagnosed lung cancer. Willona Woods, the gossipy neighbor and family friend, was suddenly promoted to the new maternal figure for the Evans children.

7. JANET JACKSON JOINED THE CAST, BUT STRUGGLED THROUGHOUT HER RUN.

In an effort to transform Willona from sassy swinging single to a believable surrogate mother, the writers decided she needed a child of her own. They forewent the traditional nine-month gestation period and instead added Janet Jackson as Penny Gordon, an abused child who is abandoned by her birth mother and adopted by Willona. Jackson was 11 years old when she started on the show and has since stated that she was unhappy during her entire run. She’d begun maturing at an early age, so the wardrobe department had to bind her chest with strips of gauze before each taping.

8. THE SHOW PRODUCED MORE THAN ONE TEEN IDOL.

Walker was the breakout star of the show, but both Carter and BernNadette Stanis (who played Thelma Evans) achieved bona fide teen idol status thanks to their exposure on Good Times, and were in steady competition with the Jackson brothers and Diana Ross in the Hollywood gossip columns. Carter launched a successful singing career during his spare time, and Stanis became a poster favorite and regular magazine cover girl.

9. WALKER RECRUITED A FEW SOON-TO-BE-FAMOUS FACES.

Walker didn’t forget his friends once his television career took off; in fact, he hired several of them who were still struggling comedians to write material for his stand-up act. Two of those pals were Jay Leno and David Letterman. Walker finagled a small guest spot on Good Times for Leno during season three. Years later, after Good Times had been cancelled and Letterman was the star of Late Night, Walker could still phone Letterman at any time and get a spot on his show. “Obviously David Letterman’s a major star,” Walker told The A.V. Club. “He’s got billions of dollars, what does he need Jimmie Walker for? But David told me, ‘You’re my friend, I will always have you on my show, ‘til the last breath in my body goes.'"

10. ESTHER ROLLE RETURNED FOR THE FINAL SEASON.

Following the death of James Evans and Florida’s sudden move to Arizona, audience interest in Good Times began to wane. Eventually, producers decided that Amos and Rolle may have been right—that losing the “family” element of the series may have lost them some viewers as well. So they went back to Rolle and asked her to return; she repeated her previous requirements—more money and better scripts—and the producers agreed. Unfortunately, it was a bit too late. The series ended with its sixth season.

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15 Things You Might Not Know About Chewbacca
ANTONIN THUILLIER, AFP/Getty Images
ANTONIN THUILLIER, AFP/Getty Images

Even if you don't know the name Peter Mayhew, you surely know about Chewbacca—the seven-foot tall Wookiee he has played onscreen for over three decades. In honor of Mayhew’s birthday, here are 15 things you might not know about Han Solo's BFF.

1. HE WAS INSPIRED BY GEORGE LUCAS'S DOG.

The character of Chewbacca was inspired by George Lucas’s big, hairy Alaskan malamute, Indiana. According to Lucas, the dog would always sit in the passenger seat of his car like a copilot, and people would confuse the dog for an actual person. And in case you're wondering: yes, that same dog was also the inspiration behind the name of one of Lucas’s other creations, Indiana Jones.

2. HIS NAME IS OF RUSSIAN ORIGIN.

The name “Chewbacca” was derived from the Russian word Sobaka (собака), meaning “dog.” The term “Wookiee” came from voice actor Terry McGovern; when he was doing voiceover tracks for Lucas's directorial debut, THX 1138, McGovern randomly improvised the line, “I think I just ran over a Wookiee” during one of the sessions.

3. HE'S REALLY, REALLY OLD.

In Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Chewbacca is 200 years old.

4. PETER MAYHEW'S HEIGHT HELPED HIM LAND THE ROLE.

Peter Mayhew
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Mayhew was chosen to play everyone’s favorite Wookiee primarily because of his tremendous height: He's 7 feet 3 inches tall.

5. HIS SUIT IS MADE FROM A MIX OF ANIMAL HAIRS, AND EVENTUALLY INCLUDED A COOLING SYSTEM.

For the original trilogy (and the infamous holiday special), the Chewbacca costume was made with a combination of real yak and rabbit hair knitted into a base of mohair. A slightly altered original Chewie costume was used in 1999's The Phantom Menace for the Wookiee senator character Yarua, and a new costume used during Episode III included a specially made water-cooling system so that Mayhew could wear the suit for long periods of time and not be overheated.

6. ONE OF STANLEY KUBRICK'S CLOSEST CREATORS DESIGNED THE COSTUME.

Chewbacca's costume
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To create the original costume for Chewbacca, Lucas hired legendary makeup supervisor Stuart Freeborn, who was recruited because of his work on the apes in the “Dawn of Man” sequence in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. (Freeborn had also previously worked with Kubrick on Dr. Strangelove to effectively disguise Peter Sellers in each of his three roles in that film.) Freeborn would go on to supervise the creation of Yoda in The Empire Strike Back and Jabba the Hutt and the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi.

Lucas originally wanted Freeborn’s costume for Chewie to be a combination of a monkey, a dog, and a cat. According to Freeborn, the biggest problem during production with the costume was with Mayhew’s eyes. The actor’s body heat in the mask caused his face to detach from the costume's eyes and made them look separate from the mask.

7. FINDING CHEWBACCA'S VOICE WAS BEN BURTT'S FIRST ASSIGNMENT.

The first sound effect that director George Lucas hired now-legendary sound designer Ben Burtt for on Star Wars was Chewbacca’s voice (this was all the way back during the script stage). During the year of preliminary sound recording, Burtt principally used the vocalization of a black bear named Tarik from Happy Hollow Zoo in San Jose, California for Chewbacca. He would eventually synchronize those sounds with further walrus, lion, and badger vocalizations for the complete voice. The name of the language Chewbacca speaks came to be known in the Star Wars universe as “Shyriiwook.”

8. ROGER EBERT WAS NOT A FAN.

Roger Ebert was not a fan of the big guy. In his 1997 review of the Special Edition of The Empire Strikes Back, Ebert basically called Chewbacca the worst character in the series. “This character was thrown into the first film as window dressing, was never thought through, and as a result has been saddled with one facial expression and one mournful yelp," the famed critic wrote. "Much more could have been done. How can you be a space pilot and not be able to communicate in any meaningful way? Does Han Solo really understand Chewie's monotonous noises? Do they have long chats sometimes? Never mind.”

9. HE WAS ORIGINALLY MUCH MORE SCANTILY CLAD.

In the summary for Lucas’s second draft (dated January 28, 1975, when the film was called “Adventures of the Starkiller, Episode I: The Star Wars”), Chewbacca is described as “an eight-foot tall, savage-looking creature resembling a huge gray bushbaby-monkey with fierce ‘baboon’-like fangs. His large yellow eyes dominate a fur-covered face … [and] over his matted, furry body he wears two chrome bandoliers, a flak jacket painted in a bizarre camouflage pattern, brown cloth shorts, and little else.”

10. HIS DESIGN WAS BASED ON RALPH MCQUARRIE'S CONCEPT ART.

Chewbacca’s character design was based on concept art drawn by Ralph McQuarrie. Lucas had originally given McQuarrie a photo of a lemur for inspiration, and McQuarrie proceeded to draw the character as a female—but Chewbacca was soon changed to a male. McQuarrie based his furry design on an illustration by artist John Schoenherr, which was commissioned for Game of Thrones scribe George R.R. Martin’s short story “And Seven Times Never Kill a Man.” Sharp-eyed Chewbacca fans will recognize that Schoenherr’s drawing even includes what resembles the Wookiee’s signature weapon, the Bowcaster.

11. HE WON A LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD.

Fans were angry for decades that Chewie didn’t receive a medal of valor like Luke and Han did at the end of A New Hope, so MTV gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1997 MTV Movie Awards. The medal was given to Mayhew—decked out in full costume—by Princess Leia herself, actress Carrie Fisher. His acceptance speech, made entirely in Wookiee grunts, lasted 16 seconds. When asked why Chewbacca didn’t receive a medal at the end of the first film, Lucas explained, “Medals really don’t mean much to Wookiees. They don’t really put too much credence in them. They have different kinds of ceremonies.”

12. HE HAS A FAMILY BACK HOME.

According to the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special, Chewbacca had a wife named Mallatobuck, a son named Lumpawaroo (a.k.a. “Lumpy”), and a father named Attichitcuk (aka “Itchy”). In the special, Chewie and Han visit the Wookiee home planet of Kashyyyk to celebrate “Life Day,” a celebration of the Wookiee home planet’s diverse ecosystem. The special featured appearances and musical numbers by Jefferson Starship, Diahann Carroll, Art Carney, Harvey Korman, and Bea Arthur, and marked the first appearance of Boba Fett. Lucas hated the special so much that he limited its availability following its original airdate on November 17, 1978.

13. MAYHEW'S BIG FEET ARE WHAT KICKSTARTED HIS CAREER.

Mayhew’s path to playing Chewbacca began with a string of lucky breaks—and his big feet. A local London reporter was doing a story on people with big feet and happened to profile Mayhew. A movie producer saw the article and cast him—in an uncredited role—as Minoton the minotaur in the film Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. One of the makeup men on Sinbad was also working on the Wookiee costume with Stuart Freeborn for Star Wars and suggested to the producers that they screen test Mayhew. The rest is Wookiee history.

14. MAYHEW KEPT HIS DAY JOB WHILE SHOOTING STAR WARS.

Peter Mayhew
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During the shooting of Star Wars, Mayhew kept working his day job as a deputy head porter in a London hospital. Though he was let go because of his sudden varying shooting schedule at Elstree Studios, he was eventually hired back after production wrapped.

15. DARTH VADER COULD HAVE BEEN CHEWBACCA.

Darth Vader
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David Prowse, the 6’5” actor who ended up portraying Darth Vader—in costume only—originally turned down the role of Chewbacca.  When given the choice between portraying the two characters, Prowse said, “I turned down the role of Chewbacca at once. I know that people remember villains longer than heroes. At the time I didn’t know I’d be wearing a mask, and throughout production I thought Vader’s voice would be mine.”

Additional Sources: Star Wars DVD special features
The Making of Star Wars: The definitive Story Behind the Original Film, J.W. Rinzler

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Shopping Malls Might be Dying, But Miami Is Planning to Build the Largest One in North America
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Shopping malls and the "American Dream" are two things that are often said to be dead or dying, but one developer sees it a little differently.

Part shopping outlet and part theme park, American Dream Miami is slated to become the largest mall in North America when it opens in Miami-Dade County, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports. Indeed, "mall" might not be the best word for this mega-complex. In addition to retail outlets, plans are in the works for an aquarium, water park, ski slope, live performing arts center, Ferris wheel, submarine ride, skating rink, and 2000 hotel rooms.

The project is being developed by Triple Five Group, which operates the Mall of America in Minnesota and the West Edmonton Mall in Canada—currently the two current largest shopping and entertainment centers on the continent. It also owns the American Dream Meadowlands in New Jersey.

This announcement comes at a time when shopping malls are being shuttered across the country. More than 6400 stores closed last year, and another 3600 are expected to go out of business this year, according to Business Insider.

American Dream Miami will cost $4 billion and cover 6.2 million square feet. Developers hope it will attract tourists as well as local thrill seekers who want a closer entertainment option than Disney World and Universal Studios in Orlando. Developer Eskandar Ghermezian was reportedly inspired by a comment made by his daughter, who complained there was nothing to do in the area when it rained.

Critics of the project, however, called it "American Nightmare," arguing it would harm the environment and cause traffic congestion. The developer still needs to obtain several permits before construction can begin.

[h/t Sun-Sentinel]

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