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15 Big Facts About Sanford and Son

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Based on the British series Steptoe and Son, Sanford and Son starred veteran comic Redd Foxx as Fred Sanford, a frequently-scheming junk dealer, and Demond Wilson as Lamont Sanford, his son and co-worker, and the family peacemaker. Here are some facts about the seminal series to read before "The Big One" strikes.

1. CLEAVON LITTLE WAS THE ONE WHO SUGGESTED REDD FOXX AS THE LEAD.

Cleavon Little (Blazing Saddles) was approached to work on the project, but had to say no because of prior commitments. He suggested Redd Foxx, his co-star in Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970). In the film, Foxx played a junk dealer.

2. DEMOND WILSON DIDN'T THINK THE SHOW WOULD LAST VERY LONG WHEN HE SIGNED UP.

Demond Wilson caught the attention of executive producer Bud Yorkin during a guest appearance on All in the Family in 1971, where he played a burglar who broke into Archie Bunker's house. "I thought about it long and hard and decided to take a chance," Wilson later said of saying yes to Sanford and Son. "Redd and I thought we could grab some quick cash, plus notoriety, then move onto the next project.” 

3. CBS PASSED ON THE SHOW, AND REGRETTED IT FOR YEARS.

Wilson and Foxx first met each other in Las Vegas, where Foxx was doing stand-up. Four days after their first reading together, they performed in front of the All in the Family cast, where a visiting NBC vice president witnessed the future and ordered a pilot. Yorkin claimed he was unable to get any CBS officials to watch Foxx and Wilson's rehearsals. "It was one of the stupidest things I did at CBS," the network's then-president Fred Silverman admitted. "We had All in the Family on the air and Bud and Norman [Lear] came in with the idea, and it was called Steptoe and Son. They failed to mention that Redd Foxx was on it, or that it was going to be a black show. They never said that. And they just described it and I said, 'Well, I don't understand, you are selling us a show we already have. I mean, we have All in the Family and this sounds like Archie and Meathead."

4. QUINCY JONES COMPOSED THE THEME SONG.

Quincy Jones was skeptical of Sanford and Son, because he had worked with Foxx decades earlier in shows, and recalled not one word out of the comedian's mouth being appropriate for NBC. "I just wrote what he looked like," Jones said about his composition "The Streetbeater," the series' theme song. "It sounds just like him, doesn't it?"

5. FOXX WORE MAKEUP TO LOOK OLDER.

Foxx, who was nicknamed "Chicago Red" because of his hair color, was only 49 years old when the series began; Fred Sanford was 65. He complained that a lot of people assumed he was Fred's age.

6. THE HEAVY SHOES WERE WHAT TRANSFORMED REDD INTO FRED.

"Just as soon as I put those big heavy shoes on and walk out there, I become Sanford—but not until then, not until I put my shoes on," Foxx said. "I can put the rest of the outfit on, but if I don't have those shoes on, I don't walk like him, and I don't think like him."

7. FRED SANFORD WAS NAMED AFTER REDD'S BROTHER.

It was the comedian's tribute to his brother, who had died five years before the show premiered. Lamont Sanford was named after Lamont Ousley, one of the two other teenagers who made up the washtub band Foxx formed when he dropped out of high school after just one year. The character Grady Wilson (Whitman Mayo) was named after Demond Wilson, whose full name is Grady Demond Wilson.

8. FOXX BASED THE HEART ATTACKS ON HIS MOTHER.

"Fred Sanford is Mary Sanford, who is my mother, but you can reverse personalities into male or female," Foxx told Sammy Davis Jr. on Sammy and Company. "My mother would do the same thing ... she would have heart attacks when I was a kid, I remember. When she wanted something done she could hardly breathe—she had emphysema, she had cancer, she had lumbago, she had whooping cough."

9. LAWANDA PAGE WOULD HAVE BEEN FIRED IF IT WASN'T FOR FOXX.

LaWanda Page was the only actress Foxx wanted to play Fred's sister-in-law, Esther. Page was too nervous to give an audition producers liked, but Foxx insisted. "They were going to let me go," Page told Jet magazine in 1977, "but Redd said, 'No, you ain't gonna let her go. That's LaWanda and I know she can do it! Just give me some time with her.'"

10. RICHARD PRYOR AND PAUL MOONEY CO-WROTE TWO EPISODES.

The legendary comedians co-wrote two episodes of Sanford and Son together during the show's second season, "The Dowry" and "Sanford and Son and Sister Makes Three."

11. FRED SANG ALONG TO THE INK SPOTS BECAUSE FOXX WAS A HUGE FAN.

Foxx was initially an aspiring singer. 

12. FOXX WALKED OFF THE SHOW DURING SEASON THREE.

For the final six episodes of the third season, Grady was put in charge of the business while Fred Sanford was in St. Louis attending his cousin's funeral because Foxx had walked off the show. Foxx and his physician claimed the actor was suffering from "nervous exhaustion, claustrophobia, and calcification between the fifth and sixth vertebrae in his back" thanks to the show, and his marriage of 17 years was falling apart because of his busy schedule. NBC and Tandem Productions claimed Foxx "appeared at the studio flaunting a pearl-handled revolver" and had already received a salary bump up to $25,000 an episode, from his initial $6000. Tandem Productions sued Foxx and Wilson—who had joined Foxx at the start of season four out of solidarity—for $10 million, claiming breach of contract.

13. THERE WAS A FAILED SPINOFF AND TWO FAILED REVIVALS.

Before Sanford and Son ended its run, Grady moved out of Watts and in with his daughter in Westwood in Grady (1975-1976), a spinoff that lasted just 10 episodes.

After Sanford and Son ended 1977, NBC tried to keep the party going without Foxx, who left to do a variety show on ABC, and Wilson, who refused to keep the show going due to a salary dispute. In Sanford Arms, Phil Wheeler (Theodore Wilson) moved into Fred and Lamont's house after the two moved to Arizona. Phil and his two teenage children attempted to turn the rooming house next door into a successful hotel. Grady, Bubba (Don Bexley), and Esther also appeared. It lasted for four episodes.

Sanford (1980-1981) brought back Foxx, but Wilson again refused to reprise his role. The events of Sanford Arms were ignored, and this time Lamont left to work on the Alaska Pipeline. He was replaced in the business by Cal Pettie (Dennis Burkley), an optimistic Texan. NBC canceled it after 19 episodes, burning off the final seven over the summer of 1981.

14. THE SANFORD AND SON SALVAGE TRUCK WAS PURCHASED FOR $3500.

Foxx had kept the 1951 Ford F1 at his own Las Vegas home after the original series ended, returning it briefly to NBC for Sanford. At an auction, Bill Milks bought it, and Donald Dimmitt of Dimmitt's Salvage in Argos, Indiana purchased it from Milks in 1987 for $3500.

15. WHEN FOXX SUFFERED A HEART ATTACK ON THE SET OF THE ROYAL FAMILY, HIS CO-STARS THOUGHT HE WAS DOING THE BIT FROM SANFORD AND SON.

Foxx collapsed on October 11,1991, during rehearsals for his new sitcom, The Royal Family. "They were rehearsing on the set and clowning around, and Redd was sort of breaking people up when he collapsed," a spokeswoman for the show told The Los Angeles Times. "They all thought he was joking around at first, and then they called the paramedics."

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The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day Marathon Is Back
Shout! Factory
Shout! Factory

For many fans, Mystery Science Theater 3000 is as beloved a Thanksgiving tradition as mashed potatoes and gravy (except funnier). It seems appropriate, given that the show celebrates the turkeys of the movie world. And that it made its debut on Thanksgiving Day in 1988 (on KTMA, a local station in Minneapolis). In 1991, to celebrate its third anniversary, Comedy Central hosted a Thanksgiving Day marathon of the series—and in the more than 25 years since, that tradition has continued.

Beginning at 12 p.m. ET on Thursday, Shout! Factory will host yet another Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day marathon, hosted by series creator Joel Hodgson and stars Jonah Ray and Felicia Day. Taking place online at ShoutFactoryTV.com, or via the Shout! Factory TV app on Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire and select smart TVs, the trio will share six classic MST3K episodes that have never been screened as part of a Shout! Factory Turkey Day Marathon. Here’s hoping your favorite episode makes it (cough, Hobgoblins, cough.)

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11 Bite-Sized Facts About Cannibal! The Musical
Troma Entertainment
Troma Entertainment

Back in their film school days, the creators of South Park made a twisted tribute to Rogers and Hammerstein. Cannibal! The Musical is (very) loosely based on the life of Alfred "Alferd" Packer, an American prospector who resorted to eating his travel companions in the harsh winter of 1874. Below, you’ll find a buffet of bite-sized facts about this weirdly upbeat black comedy. Bon appétit!

1. IT ALL STARTED WITH A GAG TRAILER.

In 1992, Trey Parker was studying film at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where pretty much everyone knows all about the legend of Alfred "Alferd" Packer. Indeed, when a new restaurant opened up on campus in 1968, the student body chose to name it after this famous man-eater. The restaurant’s slogan? “Have a friend for lunch.” As a joke, Parker rounded up some of his fellow film majors and spent three days shooting a phony trailer for a nonexistent movie called Alferd Packer: The Musical. Included in the ensemble was Matt Stone, with whom Parker would go on to create South Park.

Once the Alferd Packer promo was finished, those who worked on it weren’t sure if they could turn this concept into a feature-length picture. Fortunately, the trailer was a huge hit. “People thought it was really funny,” Parker told The Denver Post, “so we went around … and said, ‘So do you want to invest?’” Thanks (for the most part) to donations from a few CU grads with wealthy parents, Parker and his co-stars amassed a $100,000 budget.

2. LIANE THE HORSE WAS NAMED AFTER TREY PARKER’S EX-FIANCÉE.

At age 21, Parker was all set to marry his high school sweetheart. “We had plane tickets, the dress was bought, the church was paid for,” Parker shared on the DVD commentary. Then, about a month before the wedding, he caught his bride-to-be with another man. Devastated, Parker broke off the engagement and came up with an unusual way to get even. “I really wrote this movie for her,” he said.

A major character in Cannibal is Liane, Packer’s beloved horse, who leaves him for another rider. The two-timing equine was named after Parker’s former fiancée. Some artistic license was taken here, as there’s no proof that the real Packer ever owned a horse named Liane—or that he ever wistfully sang about being on top of her.

3. AN AVANT-GARDE LEGEND WAS CAST IN A MINOR ROLE.

World-renowned for his experimental filmmaking, the late Stan Brakhage taught off and on at the University of Colorado, where he met Parker and Stone. The two convinced him to appear in Cannibal! as George Noon’s father, who gets about two minutes’ worth of screen time.

4. PARKER’S DAD WAS IN IT, TOO.

Just like Stan Marsh’s dad in South Park, Trey Parker’s father, Randy, is a geologist. In Cannibal! The Musical, he portrays the Breckenridge judge who sentences Packer (played by Trey) to death.

5. “SHPADOINKLE” WAS MEANT AS A FILLER WORD.

In addition to penning the Cannibal! script, Parker also wrote the film’s musical numbers. The first of these is “Shpadoinkle Day,” an offbeat tribute to “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! Parker knew that the first verse had to include a positive, three-syllable word, but couldn’t think of any that fit. So he used the made-up term “Shpadoinkle” to plug the gap until he could come up with an alternative. However, the creative team liked “shpadoinkle” so much that it stayed put and became one of Cannibal’s running jokes.

6. THEY SHOT IN THE COURTROOM IN WHICH PACKER WAS ACTUALLY TRIED.

On April 6, 1883, Packer was put on trial at the Hinsdale County Courthouse in Lake City, Colorado. Over the next few days, he admitted to dining on two of his dead travel companions—one of whom he supposedly killed in self-defense (the other died of natural causes). Packer was found guilty of murder, but avoided the hangman’s noose by fighting for a second trial, which took place 30 miles away in Gunnison. This time, he was charged with five counts of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to 40 years in prison. However, while Packer languished behind bars, public opinion slowly turned in the cannibal’s favor. Under near-constant pressure from The Denver Post, Governor Charles S. Thomas pardoned Packer in 1901.

More than 90 years later, Parker filmed the trial scenes of Cannibal! The Musical at the still-standing Hinsdale County Courthouse. About halfway through the movie, the judge delivers a big speech in which he sentences Packer to death. His on-screen monologue was copied word-for-word from the court transcript of that 1883 Lake City trial.

7. AS THE MINERS SING “THAT’S ALL I’M ASKING FOR,” YOU CAN SEE PARKER MOUTH THE WORD “CUT.”

It goes by fast, but you can see Parker call "cut" to end the shot at the 3:06 mark in the clip above.

8. PARKER USED A PSEUDONYM FOR THE OPENING CREDITS.

Parker billed himself as "Juan Schwartz" in the cast of Cannibal because, according to the movie's website, "Trey doesn't like seeing one person's name plastered all over a movie's credits." Since he is properly credited as writer and director, he likely felt the additional acting credit was a bit too much. Incidentally, Packer called himself “John Shwartze” while evading the law before his arrest.

9. A FEW SONGS WERE DELETED.

The original cut of Cannibal! The Musical ran for two and a half hours, but thanks to some major-league editing, the runtime was reduced to a breezy 93 minutes. “There were fights about that from the get-go, but I give credit to Trey for being the toughest critic,” producer Jason McHugh told MovieMaker Magazine. “He had the maturity to know that a musical comedy about cannibals can’t be two and a half hours long.”

In the streamlining process, two musical numbers got the axe. The first was a quick little dirge called “Don’t Be Stupid,” wherein some nameless miners tell Packer’s group to postpone their journey until springtime. The other was “I’m Shatterproof,” a rap/funk song that Packer, hardened by his recent ordeals, delivers during a bar fight. Also deleted was a reprise of “When I Was On Top of You.”

10. COMEDY CENTRAL WOULDN’T BROADCAST IT.

Cannibal! was distributed by Troma Entertainment, an independent production company best known for creating The Toxic Avenger series. When South Park began to emerge as a major player on cable TV, Troma’s co-founder, Lloyd Kaufman, assumed that Comedy Central would jump at the chance to air some of Parker and Stone’s earlier work. Instead, the channel flatly refused to air Cannibal.

Kaufman was sent a rejection letter from Comedy Central, which read: “Thank you for submitting and re-submitting Cannibal! The Musical, but it is simply not up to our standards for broadcasting.” Troma forwarded a copy of this dispatch to Parker. Today, it’s prominently displayed in his office—at Comedy Central!

11. IT HAS BEEN TURNED INTO A STAGE MUSICAL ON MANY OCCASIONS.

Can’t get tickets to The Book of Mormon? Perhaps you can catch a live reenactment of Cannibal! The Musical instead. Since 1998, the movie has been seen more than 60 stage adaptations. There’s no “official” version of the theatrical show. As such, acting troupes that might be interested in performing Cannibal! have to write their own scripts based on the original movie. 

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