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11 Deluxe Facts About The Jeffersons

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In January 1975, an All in the Family spin-off starring the Bunkers’ next-door neighbors, the Jeffersons, premiered. Not only did The Jeffersons spend more time on the air (11 seasons) than the series that spawned it, it also reigns as the second longest-running American television series with a predominantly African-American cast (in 2012, Tyler Perry’s House of Payne surpassed it—by one episode). Here are 11 things you might not have known about the classic series, which celebrated its 40th anniversary in January.

1. GEORGE CLEANED FLOORS BEFORE HE DRY-CLEANED CLOTHES.

George Jefferson was as opinionated as his former neighbor Archie Bunker, but he was also much smarter and more ambitious. When he received a $3200 insurance settlement after a car accident, he quit his job as the janitor at an apartment complex and used the cash to purchase a dry cleaning store. He eventually expanded that one outlet into a seven-store chain, which prompted his family’s move to a luxury apartment in a Manhattan high-rise.

2. THE FIRST GEORGE JEFFERSON WE MET TURNED OUT TO BE A FAKE.

Producer Norman Lear had pegged Sherman Hemsley from the very beginning to play George Jefferson. However, at the time All in the Family hit the airwaves, Hemsley was co-starring in Purlie on Broadway and was reluctant to break his contract. So Lear improvised and hired Mel Stewart as a sort of placeholder.

Stewart posed as George when he joined Louise for dinner at the Bunker home; it was later revealed that he was actually Henry Jefferson, George’s brother. Henry Jefferson appeared in a few more All in the Family episodes before Hemsley was able to assume his role as the Jefferson family patriarch.

3. ISABEL SANFORD WASN’T INTERESTED IN A SPIN-OFF SERIES.

When The Jeffersons was being pitched as a separate show, Sanford didn’t want to leave the already-successful All in the Family for an unproven series. However, casting director Jane Murray informed her that if The Jeffersons was in fact picked up, a new Louise would be cast in the role, and her character would be written out of All in the Family.

4. SANFORD WAS NONPLUSSED WHEN SHE FIRST MET THE ACTOR HIRED TO PLAY HER HUSBAND.

Isabel Sanford recalled during an interview with the Archive of American Television that she first met Sherman Hemsley when she reported to the studio for work one day. An assistant caught her attention and told her that this “young man” (Sanford is 21 years older than Hemsley) had an appointment to see director John Rich, and could she please take him upstairs with her and point him in the direction of Rich’s office? Sanford agreed and when she located Rich she was taken aback when he announced, “Isabel! This is your husband!”

Sanford eyed the “little man that she could squash like a bug” and wondered why the director thought anyone in the world would ever believe that the two characters would be a married couple. Of course, she was cheerfully proven wrong, because years after the show ended, she and Hemsley were often hired as a couple to appear in commercials and other TV shows.

5. HEMSLEY AND SANFORD HAD PET NAMES FOR ONE ANOTHER.

Hemsley (and most of the rest of the cast) referred to Sanford as "The Queen" because of her very regal carriage and aura of authority. She wasn’t a diva, Hemsley and Marla Gibbs have stated in interviews, she was just naturally the Queen Bee. For her part, Sanford usually called Hemsley "Neck" because she thought he was scrawny (at 135 pounds) and "all neck."

6. THERE WAS A REAL "WEEZY" IN HEMSLEY’S LIFE.

While growing up in Philadelphia, Hemsley had a crush on a young girl in his neighborhood named Louise, whom he nicknamed "Weezy." One day while filming an early episode he accidently addressed his TV wife as Weezy during a typical George outburst, and it became the character’s official nickname after getting the approval of both the executive producer and Sanford.

7. HARRY BENTLEY’S GLANDULAR DISORDER WAS DIAGNOSED BY AN AUDIENCE MEMBER.

Paul Benedict, who played the Jeffersons' neighbor Harry Bentley, was notable for his unusual features, including an oversized nose and jaw and disproportionately large hands and feet. He’d begun to develop that way in high school, while simultaneously suffering from excruciating headaches. No doctor had been able to pin down a cause until 10 years later, in 1964, when he was co-starring in a play with the Theatre Company of Boston. An usher brought him a note from an audience member who wanted to meet with him in the lobby. The fan identified himself as a radiologist and asked Benedict if he was under the treatment of an endocrinologist, because he exhibited the symptoms of acromegaly. Benedict did see a specialist shortly after that meeting, and a 20-minute surgical procedure arrested the condition before it could cause further damage.

8. MARLA GIBBS DIDN’T QUIT HER DAY JOB ... FOR TWO YEARS.

Marla Gibbs had been working as a reservation agent at United Airlines for 11 years (and acting in plays during her spare time) when she landed the role of Florence on The Jeffersons. The character wasn’t intended to be a recurring one, but Gibbs got such a positive audience response that she was called back again a few episodes later. She was eventually offered a contract, but it was for just seven episodes (at the time the Florence character had to alternate stage time with Zara “Mother Jefferson” Cully). Two years later Gibbs was still making the daily commute from the Sunset Boulevard studio after filming had wrapped on The Jeffersons to the Sixth Street United Airlines reservation office in downtown L.A. The producers were surprised when they found out; worried that she was stretching herself too thin, they suggested that she take a leave of absence from the airline. “Not unless you plan to pay me for it,” was her response. She was offered a full contract shortly afterward and said farewell to United.

9. THERE WERE TWO LIONELS.

Mike Evans was the original Lionel, having appeared as the character way back on the pilot episode of All in the Family. Once the Jeffersons moved to their deluxe apartment, however, Lionel’s role was gradually reduced in order to allow George and Louise more time (and plot lines) to interact with characters like the Willises, Mother Jefferson, and Florence. So Evans found a project to occupy his time—co-creating and writing for a new sitcom (actually a Maude spin-off) called Good Times. He left The Jeffersons after season two to dedicate his energy to Good Times and Damon Evans (no relation) was brought in as Lionel for four seasons.

10. THAT’S WILLONA FROM GOOD TIMES SINGING THE THEME SONG.

That booming voice belting out the lead vocals on the theme song belongs to actress Ja’net Dubois, who played neighbor Willona Woods on Good Times. She co-wrote the tune with legendary songwriter Jeff Barry (“Be My Baby,” “Then He Kissed Me”) who sang background vocals. The additional background vocals were provided by a 35-member gospel choir.

11. MR. WILLIS HAD THE LONGEST COMMUTE TO THE STUDIO.

Throughout the run of The Jeffersons, Franklin Cover maintained his home in New York City, where his wife and two children lived. He flew out to Los Angeles at the beginning of the week during the filming season and stayed at an apartment while he worked. He took the bus to the studio in the mornings, but TV wife Roxie Roker dropped him off on her way home in the evenings. Then he’d fly back to New York for the weekend and start the whole process again three days later.

BONUS:

Have you ever wondered what The Jeffersons sounded like in Italy? Wonder no more.

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10 Things You Might Not Know About Steve Martin
NBC Television/Courtesy of Getty Images
NBC Television/Courtesy of Getty Images

Is there anything Steve Martin can't do? In addition to being one of the world's most beloved comedians and actors, he's also a writer, a musician, a magician, and an art enthusiast. And he's about to put a number of these talents on display with Steve Martin and Martin Short: An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life, a new comedy special that just arrived on Netflix. To commemorate the occasion, here are 10 things you might not have known about Steve Martin.

1. HE WAS A CHEERLEADER.

As a yellleader (as he refers to it in a yearbook signature) at his high school in Garden Grove, California, Martin tried to make up his own cheers, but “Die, you gravy-sucking pigs,” he later told Newsweek, did not go over so well.

2. HIS FIRST JOB WAS AT DISNEYLAND.

Martin’s first-ever job was at Disneyland, which was located just two miles away from his house. He started out selling guidebooks, keeping $.02 for every book he sold. He graduated to the Magic Shop on Main Street, where he got his first taste of the gags that would later make his career. He also learned the rope tricks you see in ¡Three Amigos! from a rope wrangler over in Frontierland.

3. HE OWES HIS WRITING JOB WITH THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS TO AN EX-GIRLFRIEND.

Thanks to a girlfriend who got a job dancing on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, Martin landed a gig writing for the show. He had absolutely no experience as a writer at the time. He shared an office with Bob Einstein—better known to some as Super Dave Osborne or Marty Funkhauser—and won an Emmy for writing in 1969.

4. HE WAS A CONTESTANT ON THE DATING GAME.

While he was writing for the Smothers Brothers, but before he was famous in his own right, Martin was on an episode of The Dating Game. (Spoiler alert: He wins. But did you have any doubt?)

5. MANY PEOPLE THOUGHT HE WAS A SERIES REGULAR ON SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE.

Martin hosted and did guest spots on Saturday Night Live so often in the 1970s and '80s that many people thought he was a series regular. He wasn't. 

6. HIS FATHER WROTE A REVIEW OF HIS FIRST SNL APPEARANCE.

After his first appearance on SNL, Martin’s father, the president of the Newport Beach Association of Realtors, wrote a review of his son’s performance in the company newsletter. “His performance did nothing to further his career,” the elder Martin wrote. He also once told a newspaper, “I think Saturday Night Live is the most horrible thing on television.”

7. HE POPULARIZED THE AIR QUOTE.

If you find yourself making air quotes with your fingers more than you’d really like, you have Martin to thank. He popularized the gesture during his guest spots on SNL and stand-up performances.

8. HE QUIT STAND-UP COMEDY IN THE EARLY 1980S.

Martin gave up stand-up comedy in 1981. “I still had a few obligations left but I knew that I could not continue,” he told NPR in 2009. “But I guess I could have continued if I had nothing to go to, but I did have something to go to, which was movies. And you know, the act had become so known that in order to go back, I would have had to create an entirely new show, and I wasn't up to it, especially when the opportunity for movies and writing movies came around.”

9. HE'S A MAJOR ART COLLECTOR.

As an avid art collector, Martin owns works by Pablo Picasso, Roy Lichtenstein, David Hockney, and Edward Hopper. He sold a Hopper for $26.9 million in 2006. Unfortunately, being rich and famous doesn’t mean Martin is immune to scams: In 2004, he spent about $850,000 on a piece believed to be by German-Dutch modernist painter Heinrich Campendonk. When Martin tried to sell the piece, “Landschaft mit Pferden” (or "Landscape With Horses") 15 months later, he was informed that it was a forgery. Though the painting still sold, it was at a huge loss.

10. HE'S AN ACCOMPLISHED BLUEGRASS PERFORMER.

Many people already know this, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that he’s an extremely accomplished bluegrass performer. With the help of high school friend John McEuen, who later became a member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Martin taught himself to play the banjo when he was 17. He's been picking away ever since. If you see him on stage these days, he’s likely strumming a banjo with his band, the Steep Canyon Rangers. As seen above, they make delightful videos.

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10 Things You Might Not Know About Wine
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by Tilar J. Mazzeo

Between the vine and the liquor store, plenty of secrets are submerged in your favorite bottle of vino. Here, the author of Back Lane Wineries of Sonoma spills some of the best.

1. DIGITAL EYES ARE EVERYWHERE IN VINEYARDS.

Certain premium estates in Bordeaux and Napa are beginning to look a little more like an army base—or an Amazon.com warehouse. They’re using drones, optical scanners, and heat-sensing satellites to keep a digital eye on things. Some airborne drones collect data that helps winemakers decide on the optimal time to harvest and evaluate where they can use less fertilizer. Others rove through the vineyard rows, where they may soon be able to take over pruning. Of course, these are major investments. At $68,000 a pop, the Scancopter 450 is about twice as costly as a 1941 Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon!

2. THERE ARE ALSO LOTS OF COW SKULLS.

They’re not everywhere, but biodynamic farming techniques are on the rise among vintners who don’t want to rely on chemicals, and this is one trick they’ve been known to use to combat plant diseases and improve soil PH. It’s called Preparation No. 505, and it involves taking a cow’s skull (or a sheep’s or a goat’s), stuffing it with finely ground oak chips, and burying it in a wet spot for a season or two before adding it to the vineyard compost.

3. FEROCIOUS FOLIAGE IS A VINTNER’S FRIEND.

The mustard flowers blooming between vineyard rows aren’t just for romance. Glucosinolates in plants like radishes and mustard give them their spicy bite, and through the wonders of organic chemistry, those glucosinolates also double as powerful pesticides. Winemakers use them to combat nematodes—tiny worms that can destroy grape crops.

4. WHAT A CANARY IS TO A COAL MINE, ROSES ARE TO A VINEYARD.

Vintners plant roses among their vines because they get sick before anything else in the field. If there’s mildew in the air, it will infect the roses first and give a winemaker a heads-up that it’s time to spray.

5. VINTNERS EXPLOIT THE FOOD CHAIN.

A trio of wines
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Small birds like blackbirds and starlings can clear out 20 percent of a crop in no time. But you know what eats little birds? Big birds. Falconry programs are on the rise in vineyards from California to New Zealand. Researchers have found that raptors eat a bird or two a day (along with a proportion of field mice and other critters) and cost only about as much to maintain as your average house cat.

6. THE BIG PROBLEMS IN TASTING ROOMS ARE VERY SMALL.

Winemakers are constantly seeking ways to manage the swarms of Drosophila melanogaster that routinely gather around the dump buckets in their swanky showrooms. You know these pests as fruit flies, and some vintners in California are exploring ways to use carnivorous plants to tackle the problem without pesticides. Butterworts, sundews, and pitcher plants all have sweet-sounding names, but the bugeating predators make for terrific fruit fly assassins, and you’ll see them decorating tasting rooms across wine country.

7. WINE NEEDS CLEANING.

Winemaking produces hard-to-remove sediments. Filters can catch most of the debris, but winemakers must add “fining agents” to remove any suspended solids that sneak by. Until it was banned in the 1990s, many European vintners used powdered ox blood to clean their wines. Today, they use diatomaceous earth (the fossilized remains of hard-shelled algae), Isinglass (a collagen made from fish swim bladders), and sometimes bentonite (volcanic clay). Irish moss and egg whites are also fine wine cleaners.

8. ATOMS HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS.

About 5 percent of the premium wine sold for cellaring doesn’t contain what the label promises. So how do top-shelf buyers avoid plunking down serious cash on a bottle of something bunk? Most elite wine brokerages, auction houses, and collectors use atomic dating to detect fraud. By measuring trace radioactive carbon in the wine, most bottles can be dated to within a year or two of the vintage.

9. FINE WINES GET MRIs.

Even with atomic dating, there are certain perils involved in buying a $20,000 bottle of wine. Leaving a case in the hot trunk of your car is enough to ruin it, so imagine what can happen over a couple of decades if a wine isn’t kept in the proper conditions. Back in 2002, a chemistry professor at University of California at Davis patented a technique that uses MRI technology to diagnose the condition of vintage wines. Not planning any $20,000 wine purchases? This is still good news for the consumer. This technique may soon be used at airport security, meaning you’ll be able to carry on your booze.

10. THERE’S A TRICK TO AGING YOUR WINE.

If you end up with a bottle of plonk, Chinese scientists have developed a handy solution. Zapping a young wine with electricity makes it taste like something you’ve cellar aged. Scientists aren’t quite sure how it happens yet, but it seems that running your wine for precisely three minutes through an electric field changes the esters, proteins, and aldehydes and can “age” a wine instantly.

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