Season One – Junior Gets a Patron (March 22, 1974)

“As long as you’re living under my roof, you’re not going to do but one thing, and that’s OBEY.”

The action in this week’s episode kicks off when J.J. reveals to his parents that he has a patron who is helping him purchase art supplies and is providing a space where J.J. can paint. The patron is local businessman and boutique owner Leroy Jackson, who just happens to be a former friend of James’s. Twenty years earlier, before James and Florida got married, James and Jackson had planned to go into business together; James gave Jackson $250, but Jackson gambled and lost the money at the races. When Jackson shows up at the Evans home, James refuses to listen to anything that he has to say and throws him out of the apartment. J.J.’s angry response to his father’s action leads to an argument and J.J. winds up leaving home, moving into the storage room above Jackson’s boutique. James stubbornly maintains his viewpoint, even as Thelma and Michael express how much they miss their brother, and despite Florida’s pleas for J.J. to be allowed to return. After a few days, Florida – under the guise of going to church – secretly goes to visit J.J. While she’s there, James shows up as well, claiming that he’s looking for a missing shirt. While they’re there, Leroy Jackson enters and insists on saying to James what he wanted to tell him 20 years earlier: that he’s sorry. Ultimately, the apology is accepted, Jackson vows to continue helping J.J. with his painting endeavors, and James tells J.J. he can come back home.

James Evans. Unreasonable again, naturally.

I’m beginning to see a pattern that, as much as I’ve watched this show over the decades, I never really noticed until I started analyzing each episode for this blog. James is consistently depicted as obstinate, illogical, quick-tempered, and unreasonable, while Florida is even-tempered, rational, patient, and sensible. This episode is no different. Don’t get me wrong – James’s stubbornness has always been an unmistakable character trait; I suppose I just didn’t realize how frequently it played into the plots of the various episodes.

J.J. winds up in the storage room over a boutique because his father can’t get over a 20-year grudge.

Here, James places a 20-year-old feud above the well-being and potential success of his oldest son (not to mention the child who is most in need of a leg up), while not only Florida but both of the younger children try in vain to point out the error of his ways. Florida, in fact, literally tells her husband, “You did the wrong thing.” The episode even features a scene with James interacting with God – and coming out with egg on his face. After Florida insists that the Lord will punish him for his disrespect, James gives God 10 seconds to show him a sign. Before the time is up, James’s watch stops working!

Although James continues to maintain his stance against J.J. returning home, the admonitions of his family obviously get through to him, as evidenced by his showing up at J.J.’s temporary home with a flimsy excuse. It’s clear that James is concerned about his son and wants him back, but it’s not until after Jackson apologizes and shakes James’s hand that he pushes his pride aside and relents.

Pop Culture References:

Miss Black America and Moms Mabley

Cheryl Browne Hollingsworth was the first black woman to participate in the Miss America pageant.

The episode opens with J.J. sleeping on the couch. His face first indicates that he’s enjoying his dream, but his expression then changes to one of distaste. When he awakens, he explains to Florida that he was dreaming that he’d been commissioned to paint the winner of “Miss Black America” in the nude – but the winner was Moms Mabley!

Miss Black America was a beauty pageant created in 1968 as the answer to the Miss America pageant; at that time, there had never been a black Miss America contestant. In the early years of the Miss America pageant, one of the rules stated that contestants “must be of good health and of the white race.” Even though this rule was abandoned in the 1940s, there wouldn’t be a black contestant until 1971, when Cheryl Browne Hollingsworth represented the state of Iowa in the pageant. The Miss Black America pageant was produced by Philadelphia businessman J. Morris Anderson; the first pageant was held in Atlantic City on the same day as the Miss America event. The Miss Black America pageant was held every year until 1996. It started again in 2010, and was held sporadically in the years since, with the last pageant, as of this writing, taking place in 2018.

J.J. dreamed about painting
Moms Mabley in the nude.

Moms Mabley was a popular black comedian born Loretta Mary Aiken in 1894. She began her career in vaudeville, gaining popularity as “Jackie Mabley” on the Chitlin’ Circuit, a collection of venues that catered to black performers and audiences. She adopted the name “Moms” in the 1950s and took on the persona of a toothless older woman, performing in a bucket hat, housecoat, and colorful knee socks. She went on to play such venues as Carnegie Hall and on television shows like The Smothers Brothers, The Ed Sullivan Show, and The Pearl Bailey Show. She died of heart failure in 1975.

The “Ugly” Green Giant

When Thelma almost uses a tube of J.J.’s green paint as her shampoo, he jokes that if she were shorter, she would have been the first black leprechaun. Thelma counters by telling J.J. that if she spilled some paint on him, he would be known as the “ugly Green Giant,” and adds, “Ho, ho, ho.” This is a reference to the Green Giant frozen vegetable products, which had a series of popular commercials featuring the company’s brand mascot, the Jolly Green Giant. The giant never spoke, except to say, “Ho, ho, ho.”

Guest Stars

Edmund Cambridge (Leroy Jackson)

Cambridge was a talented, award-winning director, actor, and instructor.

A native of Harlem, New York, Edmund James Cambridge, Jr., was born on September 18, 1920, and, according to legend, got his first taste of show business by sneaking out of his house at the age of 15 to perform at Smalls Paradise nightclub. In Los Angeles during the early 1960s, Cambridge founded the Cambridge Players, a performing troupe whose membership included Juanita Moore, Helen Martin, Esther Rolle, Isabel Sanford, and Beah Richards. The troupe produced the James Baldwin play The Amen Corner, which premiered on Broadway in 1965.

A few years later, Cambridge became a founding member of the Negro Ensemble Company; one of the group’s first plays, Ceremonies in Dark Old Men, was directed by Cambridge and landed him a Drama Desk Award. He also co-founded the Kilpatrick-Cambridge Theater Arts School in Los Angeles in 1971. Around this time, he made his television debut on the short-lived drama series Bracken’s World, and during the next few decades, he would go on to appear on such television series as Kojak, Adam-12, Family Matters, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and The Bernie Mac Show. He was also seen in big screen features like Friday Foster (1971) and Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991). Between appearances in front of the camera, Cambridge (who was a cousin of stand-up comedian and actor Godfrey Cambridge) continued his stage work; in 1984, he directed the original production of 227, a play by Christine Houston that later became the popular NBC television show of the same name starring Marla Gibbs.

The Jeffersons was one of the many series on which Cambridge appeared.

A longtime resident of Los Angeles, Cambridge died in 2001 of complications from a fall he suffered while visiting relatives in Harlem. He was 80 years old. The eulogy for his funeral service was conducted by actress Della Reese; Cambridge had been a member of Della Reese’s church, Understanding Principles for Better Living.

Other stuff:

In this episode, we see the brief revival of the show’s early depiction of J.J. as a thief. It comes up when Florida shares with James her concern about how J.J. has been getting new art supplies. (“I hope he hasn’t been finding things again,” she says.)

I’ve been wondering . . . did James ever get his money back from Leroy Jackson? He certainly should have received more than Jackson’s heartfelt apology. Given Jackson’s suit and coat, his sharp shoes, and that rock on his finger, he’s obviously not hurting for money. While he was handing out “I’m sorrys,” maybe he should have also been passing out some Benjamins.

As soon as James heard the last name “Jackson,” he immediately thought it was his ex-friend. Hmmm.

I always found it funny that James merely had to hear that the last name of J.J.’s patron was Jackson, and he immediately jumped to the (correct) conclusion that it was Leroy Jackson, his ex-pal. I could understand his suspicions being aroused if the man’s last name were, say, Boykin or McCullough or Underwood. But Jackson? That was quite a leap.

This episode contains the first time that we see some real sibling support between J.J. and Thelma – the two are usually at each other’s throats, trading insults like they were baseball cards. When James tells Leroy Jackson to leave, Thelma implores, “Daddy, don’t throw him out – he wants to help J.J.’s career!” And later, after Jackson departs, Thelma chastises her father, telling him that this was a big chance for J.J.: “The people could have discovered his talent! (Even J.J. is shocked, asking, “Do my ears deceive my face?”)

Incidentally, the business that James and Leroy Jackson planned to go into is never named.

~ ~ ~

The next episode: Junior the Senior . . .

Season One — Sex and the Evans Family (March 15, 1974)

“Pretty heavy stuff!”

The sixth episode of the series (my favorite, by the way) centers on two primary plot points: (1) Thelma, who is 16, has an upcoming date with a 21-year-old, and (2) Wedged between the cushions of the family sofa, Florida finds a manuscript titled “Sexual Behavior in the Ghetto.” Neither James nor Florida is pleased with the age gap between Thelma and her date, but this issue fades in significance to Florida when she finds the document. Even though J.J. denies ownership, Florida is certain that this “trash” belongs to her oldest son, and shares this with James when he arrives home. Florida is dismayed to find that James is not only unconcerned but seems rather delighted: “A boy his age wanting to know about these things is the most normal thing in the world,” he says. “And he ain’t a boy no more – shucks, he’s a man!” But minutes later, when Thelma reveals that the document is hers, James does a complete about-face, becoming nearly apoplectic, labelling the document a “filthy piece of trash,” and reviving his objection to her dating an older boy.

Eddie Conroy explains.

As it turns out, the document is the thesis written by Thelma’s date, Eddie Conroy, who is pursuing his master’s degree. In fact, when Eddie arrives for the date, he clarifies that the thesis is what brought him and Thelma together; he interviewed her as part of his research regarding attitudes and sexual behavior among ghetto residents. This information infuriates James even more, but he’s radically mollified when he hears Eddie’s conclusion, that “in homes with a solid family foundation, especially a strong father figure, the incidence of unwanted pregnancies is almost non-existent.” Content with Eddie’s explanation, James is now happy to allow Thelma to go out with him.

“Sex and the Evans Family” is another episode where the audience is shown the disparity between the temperaments and belief systems of Florida and James. While Florida is appalled at the idea of J.J. reading this material, James sees it as inconsequential, other than as a reason for approving of, and even esteeming, his son. (“You dog, you,” James admiringly says to him, not once but twice!) In contrast, when the document is shown to belong to his daughter, James’s attitude is completely different, and he seems to be unable to understand why Florida sees this double standard as an issue. Ever the voice of reason, Florida consistently combats James’s skewed declarations; when he justifies his stance by saying that boys don’t get pregnant, Florida counters with, “No, but they’re usually somewhere around the scene of the crime.”

“Boys don’t get pregnant.”

James’s reactions are clearly based on emotion, while Florida’s are rooted in practicality. One of the best lines that demonstrate James’s stance comes when he is talking to Thelma about the “sexual behavior” document. James asks his daughter what has gotten into her lately, “going out with 21-year-old men and reading stuff like that.” Thelma responds that there’s nothing wrong with dating a 21-year-old, and she asks him, “What’s wrong with reading stuff like that?” And James’s answer? “Because it’s stuff like that!” Which, really, is no answer at all. It is, instead, on the level of that tried and true parental response: “Because I said so.” Ironically, even when James is satisfied with allowing Thelma to go out with Eddie, it’s not because of any assurance he has received regarding Eddie’s character or intentions, but because of the complimentary language about fathers that is contained in Eddie’s thesis.

Pop Culture References:

Richard Roundtree

“You see, that cat Shaft is a bad mother . . .”

J.J. is preparing for a date and Florida points out that it is his fourth date that week (each one with a different girl), calling him the “Richard Roundtree of the projects.” Richard Roundtree was the star of the 1971 hit film Shaft and its sequels, Shaft’s Big Score (1972) and Shaft in Africa (1973), and according to the hit soundtrack by Isaac Hayes, Shaft was “a sex machine to all the chicks.”

When You’re Hot, You’re Hot

When Florida comments on his numerous dates, J.J. responds, “What can I say, Mama? When you’re hot, you’re hot!” This could be a reference to the popular 1971 country song by Jerry Reed called “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot,” that crossed over to the Top 40 pop chart. It describes a game of craps being played in a back alley.

Gas Rationing

After J.J. makes the aforementioned remark about being hot, he adds, “Right now, the two things most demand around here are me and gasoline.” This is another reference to the country’s gas problem, previously discussed in the pop culture section in my post on Season 1, Episode 3.

Lena Horne, Stormy Weather, and Show Me the Way to Go Home

Lena on the screen singing “Stormy Weather.”

Florida and Willona are reminiscing on the boys they dated when they were Thelma’s age, and Florida shares that her “dreamboat” was too fast for her. He took her to see a Lena Horne movie, she recalls. “While Lena was on the screen singing ‘Stormy Weather,’” she says, “I was in the balcony singing ‘Show Me the Way to Go Home.’” Lena Horne was a popular black singer and actress, whose career spanned seven decades, beginning in the 1940s. In 1943, she starred in an all-black film called Stormy Weather, in which she sang the title song. “Show Me the Way to Go Home” was a well-known song written in 1925. Interestingly, the following year, the song would reach a wide audience with the release of the Steven Spielberg hit, Jaws (1975); it was sung in a scene by stars Roy Schneider, Richard Dreyfuss, and Robert Shaw, just before their boat was attacked by the shark.

The Exorcist

After James reacts to finding out that the document is Thelma, Florida expresses her confusion. “A little while ago when you thought it was J.J. reading this stuff, it was hallelujah time,” she says. “Now that you find out that it’s Thelma’s, you want to call in the Exorcist.” The Exorcist was a hit movie released in 1973 that concerned a little girl being possessed by a demon. In order to save her, her mother contacts an exorcist, which is a Catholic priest who is tasked with investigating cases of possible demonic influence or possession. (Incidentally, I saw The Exorcist in the movie theater when I was 11 years old, after weeks of bugging my mother to take me. It was the scariest movie I’ve ever seen. I still haven’t quite recovered.)

Keep on Truckin’

When J.J. is finished preparing for his date, he tells his family, “Well – I gots to keep on truckin’!” The phrase “Keep on truckin’” was first popularized in 1968 – it appeared in a one-page cartoon by artist Robert Crumb, which was published by Zap Comix. The cartoon showed several men swaggering down a variety of vistas. (Crumb was inspired by the 1936 song by Blind Boy Fuller called “Truckin’ My Blues Away.” The first line on this song is “Keep on truckin’ mama, truckin’ my blues away.”) The phrase became well-known (especially among hippies – who Crumb reportedly despised) and Crumb’s drawing was extensively used on all kinds of merchandise. Crumb sued numerous times over the image being used without his permission, and in 1977, it was ruled he would retain possession of the copyright.

In August 1973, Eddie Kendricks (a founding member of The Temptations, who’d embarked career two years earlier) released “Keep on Truckin’” – the song reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B Singles Chart and was Kendricks’s only number one solo record. Here’s Eddie Kendricks singing the hit in 1974 on The Midnight Special television show.

Tony (Richard Beymer) and Maria (Natalie Wood) sang “Tonight” in the 1961 version of West Side Story.


Just before J.J. leaves, he tells his family not to wait up for him, because he expects to have a long evening. Then he sings: “Tonight, tonight, won’t be just any night…” This line is from the song “Tonight,” in the musical West Side Story, which premiered on Broadway in September 1957, and was made into a film in 1961. It was remade by director Steven Spielberg in 2021.

Male Chauvinist

James allows J.J. to go out on a date, but does not want Thelma to go on hers. Thelma wants to know why J.J. can go out, but she can’t, and James responds, “Because he ain’t my daughter. I ain’t gotta worry about him.” Thelma rejoins that her father is “nothing but a male chauvinist!” This is a term that was popularized by feminists in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It refers to men in positions of power who believed in the male superiority and demonstrated that belief through their words and behavior.

Let’s Make a Deal

The original host of Let’s Make a Deal was Monty Hall.

When Thelma’s date arrives to pick her up, James blocks his entrance, causing Eddie to ask if he is at the Evans apartment. James tells him, “Well, it ain’t Let’s Make a Deal.” This was the first time that Let’s Make a Deal was mentioned on Good Times, but it would not be the last. Let’s Make a Deal is a TV game show that originated in 1963 on NBC-TV; contestants dressed up in costumes and compete to win cash and prizes. The show aired until 1968, then moved to ABC-TV, where it remained until 1976. The show was revived on CBS-TV in 2009, with Wayne Brady as host, and as of this writing, it’s still on the air.

Guest Star

Philip Michael Thomas (billed as Philip Thomas)

Thomas skyrocketed into stardom with his role on Miami Vice.

Perhaps best known for his role on the popular 1990s television series Miami Vice, Thomas was born on May 26, 1949, in Columbus, Ohio, and grew up San Bernadino, California. As a child, he expressed an interest in acting and participated in the theater group in his church. After graduating from high school, he enrolled in Oakwood College, an HBCU in Huntsville, Alabama, and two years later, he transferred to the University of California, Riverside. While a student there, he landed a part in the San Francisco production of Hair and quit school a short time later to pursue acting full time.  A few years later, in fall 1971, he made his Broadway debut in the Pulitzer Prize-winning play No Place to Be Somebody in a cast that included Mary Alice and Julius Harris (who would both be Good Times guest stars in later seasons); the play ran for 39 performances at the Morosco Theater.

In the 1970s, Thomas’s career took off on both the big and small screens; he made his feature film debut in 1971 in Come Back, Charleston Blue (the sequel to Cotton Comes to Harlem), sporting a huge afro and a snazzy wide-lapel suit in his role as an inner-city minister. In addition to his role as Eddie on Good Times, some of his other television credits during the 1970s included Police Woman, Medical Center, Wonder Woman, Starsky and Hutch, and the mini-series Roots: The Next Generations. He also starred with Irene Cara in the feature film Sparkle (1976). His most popular role came in 1984, when he was cast as Detective Ricardo Tubbs, opposite Don Johnson in Miami Vice. Produced by Michael Mann, the hit series ran until 1989 and was a standout for its fashions, music, and ultra-cool vibe. During the run of Miami Vice, Thomas also branched out into singing, releasing two albums and this music video. (Incidentally, after Thomas rose to “overnight” fame due to his role on Miami Vice, he coined the now well-known acronym EGOT [Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony] when he stated his desire to achieve the EGOT within five years.)

Thomas in more recent years.

After Miami Vice left the air, Thomas continued appearing in various productions, and notably served as the voice of Lance Vance for the Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and Vice City Stories video games. In addition, in 1993, he co-wrote the tune that was chosen as the theme song for the city of Miami. The following year, he signed with the Psychic Reader’s Network (which later became Access Resource Services, and then Traffix, Inc.) and became the spokesperson for the Philip Michael Thomas International Psychic Network; he appeared in numerous televisions ads and infomericals like this one. In the late 1990s, Thomas was replaced by Youree Dell Harris – better known as Miss Cleo. Thomas sued, charging Traffix with breach of contract, and in 2002, he was awarded $1.48 million, plus $780,000 in interest.

According to the Internet Movie Database, Thomas is still acting, and will appear in two films slated for release in 2023, both written and directed by Karmyn Jones: Whealthy and Wise, co-starring Clifton Davis (of That’s My Mama and Amen fame) and No Family Without Blood, in a cast that includes Chicago native Chance the Rapper.

Other stuff:

J.J. and his afro pick.

When J.J. is first seen, he is combing his hair with what was known as an afro pick. The handle of J.J.’s kind of pick was divided in two, so the user could grip the handle while picking their hair, and fold the two sides down and make it more compact when it was not in use. (Or stick the pick in their hair, as J.J. does.) One side of this pick was red and the other was green, representing two of the three colors of the Pan-African flag; these colors were introduced by Marcus Garvey. Red represented the blood that was shed for liberation, and green was for the abundant natural wealth of Africa. (Incidentally, my brother had a pick just like this in the 1970s.)

There’s a scene where Thelma wants to know if her mother is ironing her dress, and Florida informs her that she’s just getting started. “Someday when I want a vacation,” Florida tells Willona, “I’m going to take a job as a maid.” This is a likely allusion to the job Florida had working for Maude Findlay (Bea Arthur) and her family on the TV show, Maude.

It’s revealed in this episode that Florida and James have been married for 18 years. It also comes out that James is three years older than Florida.

The references to Florida’s weight continue. While Florida and Willona are discussing their dating lives as teens, Florida comments that “that was a lot of years and 50 pounds ago.” Willona then remembers that Florida used to be known as “the girl with the dangerous curves.” Florida slaps herself on the rear and remarks, “Well, the curves are still here. But they’ve widened the road a little.” Har har.

The iron rest can be seen on the edge of the ironing board, right next to the iron.

As a seller of vintage items on Etsy (shameless plug!), I was interested to see that Florida was using an iron rest while she was doing her ironing. An iron rest is the same shape as the flat surface of the iron, and allows you to set the iron flat on the board instead of resting it on the heel of the iron. They aren’t often seen these days, but they’re beneficial because the iron is steadier than if it were resting on the heel, especially if the ironing board is wobbly. Also, it leads to less strain on the wrist, since you don’t have to twist the iron onto its heel. (Before I noticed the iron rest, I thought this was a goof in the episode, because Florida had the iron on the board for so long on the flat part!)

~ ~ ~

The next episode: Junior Gets a Patron . . .

Season One – Michael Gets Suspended (March 8, 1974)

“I know how old you are. You mess with me and I’ll tell it.”

This week’s episode focuses on Michael, who has been suspended from school after referring to President George Washington as a “white racist” because he was a slave owner. The suspension will be lifted if Michael apologizes to his teacher, but he refuses, insisting that he’s quitting school to get a job. (“I’m not going to school just to learn what they teach,” he says.) Although the family tries to hide Michael’s misdeeds from James, he quickly learns of the suspension when he comes home from work and threatens to give Michael “a whipping [he’s] going to remember for the rest of [his] life” if he doesn’t return to school. Before dispensing the promised punishment, James has a one-on-one talk with Michael, where he explains to his son the importance of school and the reason for the spanking he’s going to deliver. Repeatedly laying across his father’s lap in preparation, Michael tells James that one of his heroes, Crispus Attucks, “wasn’t afraid when his turn came.” This comment results in a black history lesson, with Michael sharing information about several black notables with whom James wasn’t familiar. When Florida enters the room, planning to bring a stop to Michael’s punishment, she’s surprised to see her husband and son hugging and laughing. Florida helps Michael to understand the value of school, flaws and all: “School ain’t perfect,” she tells him. “But that’s no call to drop it. It’s got a lot of good in it. You take that good. And use it.” James apologizes to Michael for his intention to spank him, and Michael decides that if his father can apologize to him, then he can return to school and apologize to his teacher.

“Why, you militant midget, you!”

Florida’s thoughtfulness and wisdom as a mother is once again on display in this episode. When she sizes up the situation involving Michael’s suspension, she doesn’t scold or punish him but, instead, talks to him like an equal, calmly addressing each of his arguments. (My own rather militant daughter didn’t buy into Florida’s contention that all presidents are for all the people, not just some of the people, but then again, neither did Michael.) In sharp contrast, James’s immediate reaction was to literally whip Michael into submission. To his credit, James certainly wasn’t eager to spank Michael, although it was obvious he thought that was the right thing to do; he insisted on talking to him first, though, showing Michael the callouses on his hands and telling him that he never wanted Michael’s hands to look like that. “That’s why I don’t take no excuses when you mess up in school,” James says. “I’d rather you be a little bit hurt now than hurt for the rest of your life. Do you understand?” It’s a touching, heartfelt sentiment that James shares with his son, letting Michael know that he wants better for him than what his own life has been. James also shows depth of feeling when he apologizes to Michael for his initial reaction, demonstrating to his son yet another quality of a real man.

Pop Culture References:

Billy Dee Williams

Billy Dee Williams and his wife, Teruko.
(Sorry, Thelma.)

When Willona enters the episode, she gives Thelma a copy of Essence magazine which, she informs Thelma, contains an article on Billy Dee Williams and how happy he is with his wife. (“What a hip life that must be,” Thelma says, “married to Billy Dee!”) Williams (who has a twin sister, and whose birth name is William December Williams) was a popular performer who rose to fame in the early 1970s with roles in films like Brian’s Song (1971) and Lady Sings the Blues (1972). He would go on to play Lando Calrissian in the Star Wars series and star in such hits as Mahogany (1975) and The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings (1976), in addition to numerous other feature film and television appearances. The Essence magazine article was referring to Williams’s 1972 marriage (his third) to Teruko Nakagami. The couple remain married to this day. (Williams and Nakagami filed for divorce in 1993, but they later reconciled.)

Essence Magazine

Essence magazine began publication in May 1970 as a lifestyle magazine targeting black women. After starting out with 50,000 copies a month, the magazine grew to a circulation of 1.6 million. (During the magazine’s first three years, its editorial director was Gordon Parks, photographer and director of such films as The Learning Tree [1969] and Shaft [1971].) In the 2000s, the magazine was sold to Time, Inc, but it was acquired in 2017 by Essence Ventures LLC, an independent black-owned company.

Stepin Fetchit and Rochester

Stepin Fetchit with his Cadillac Phaeton.

Florida shares that when she was younger, she dreamed of marrying Errol Flynn, a movie star popular in swashbuckling films from the 1930s and 1940s. When Thelma points out that Flynn was white, Florida explains that her options were either Errol Flynn and Clark Gable (another white star, famous for playing Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind) or Stepin Fetchit and Rochester. “Somehow, the sword seemed more dashing than the broom,” Florida says. Stepin Fetchit was the stage name of Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry; he began his career in vaudeville but is best known for his feature film roles where he invariably played lazy half-wits – or maybe “half-wits” is giving these characters too much credit.

Vintage souvenir postcard of
Eddie “Rochester” Anderson’s house.

Rochester, born Edmund Lincoln Anderson, was known for his distinctive gravelly voice and also had his roots in vaudeville – he frequently played servants on the big screen, but his characters weren’t as subservient and cringe-worthy as some other black performers of the day. In the late 1930s, he joined Jack Benny’s radio show as Benny’s personal valet, Rochester Van Jones, a character he continued to portray when Benny moved to television. The character was so popular that Anderson became known thereafter as Eddie “Rochester” Anderson. (Even though Florida leaned more toward Flynn and Gable, it’s worth noting that Perry was the first black actor to become a millionaire, and Anderson was paid $100,000 a year on Benny’s show, making him the highest paid black actor of that time.)

Nat Turner

Willona refers to Michael as “an 11-year-old Nat Turner.” Turner was an American slave from Virginia who, in August 1931, led the only effective, sustained slave revolt in U.S. history. Turner killed the family of his owners and, along with a group of approximately 40 other slaves, eventually killed 55 whites. Turner was eventually captured and hanged.

Rona Barrett

In addition to her TV appearances, Barrett had a series of gossip magazines.

Willona is leaving the Evans apartment as James arrives home from work; he expresses his appreciation at her departure, adding that he is in “no mood to listen to the Rona Barrett of the projects this morning.” Rona Barrett was a well-known gossip columnist whose career started in 1957 when she went to work for New York’s Bell-McClure Syndicate, which distributed columns, feature articles, fiction, and comic strips to newspapers throughout the country. In 1966, she began broadcasting Hollywood gossip on ABC television station in Los Angeles, appearing on ABC’s five owned and operated stations nationwide, and she joined Good Morning America in 1975. She retired in 1991. (Interestingly, her reports occasionally got her in hot water with her subjects; Frank Sinatra put her on his enemies list after she criticized his relationships with his children, and she reported offended Ryan O’Neal to the point where he sent her a box containing a live tarantula.)

Food Prices

When Florida and James and James are arguing about Michael’s suspension, the conversation takes a detour, resulting in Florida reciting a litany of her day to James, which included grocery shopping. She tells him, “While they got the whole world watching the price of gas, they are sneaking food prices up again.” In 1971, during Richard Nixon’s first presidential term, he imposed a wage and price freeze to combat the high cost of food. When he won re-election in 1972, he put an end to the freeze, and prices began skyrocketing again. To put this in perspective, today, the average American spends less than 10 percent of their income on food; in the 1970s, the average was closer to 15 percent.

Other stuff:

This Ernie Barnes work is similar to the painting by J.J. in this episode.

This episode contains the first close-up of a painting by Ernie Barnes, who was responsible for creating most of J.J.’s artwork in the show.  (The Black Jesus from Episode Three, though, was not painted by Barnes.) Barnes was born in Durham, North Carolina, and was interested in art from an early age; he was continually drawing in sketchbooks and by the time he entered first grade, he was familiar with the works of such famed artists as Toulouse-Lautrec, Rubens, and Michelangelo. Barnes majored in art at North Carolina College at Durham (now North Carolina Central University), played football throughout his college years, and became a professional football player upon his graduation. He never stopped drawing, however; during off-seasons with the San Diego Chargers, he illustrated articles for the San Diego magazine, and while playing with the Denver Broncos, he was frequently fined for drawing during team meetings. When he retired from professional football in the mid-1960s, he was hired by the owner of the New York Jets to be the team’s official artist. It was just the beginning of what would become an illustrious and much-admired (and much-imitated) art career. One more note about Barnes’s paintings – his subjects always have their eyes closed.

Yet another reference to Florida’s weight appears in this episode.  When Willona says that she is too young to remember anything before the Korean War, Florida threatens to reveal Willona’s age to the children, and Willona rejoins by indicating that she will reveal Florida’s weight. “My lips are sealed,” Florida says. (Ugh.) Speaking of the age issue, this exchange brings up the first baffling reference to the ages of the three older characters in the series. By listening to this conversation, one would deduce that Willona is younger than Florida because, if Florida’s children know their mother’s age (which Florida says they do), and Willona and Florida are the same age, then the children would also know Willona’s age. Hmm. Later episodes muddle this theory. More on that in future posts . . .

Who’s the guy in the poster above James’s head?

We get our first look at Thelma’s room in this episode (the boys don’t have their own room; they sleep on the pull-out sofa in the living room). Thelma’s walls are decorated with numerous posters of black celebrities of the day, including Sylvester Stewart, better known as Sly Stone (from Sly and the Family Stone), Stevie Wonder, Bill Cosby, Jimi Hendrix (I think), and several others. (There’s also a poster of a white singer with brownish-red hair and a beard singing at a microphone. If anyone knows who he is, please share with the group!)

This episode contains another reference to Michael’s ambition to become a lawyer and, eventually, sit on the Supreme Court. If you know, you know . . .

During his discussion with Michael about black history, James refers to black people as “spooks,” incredulously asking Michael, “A spook sailed with Columbus?” and later querying Florida, “Baby, did you know a spook sailed with Columbus?” I know that there was a book and subsequent feature film called The Spook Who Sat By The Door, but I have never in my whole entire life heard a black person refer to our race or an individual as “spooks” in this manner. Have you? Is it just me?

Although I don’t necessarily think of this episode as one of my favorites, it contains numerous lines that are well-written and brilliantly delivered. My favorite scene takes place in Thelma’s room, where the older children first try to convince Michael to back down from his stance and then, failing this, give him tips on how to weather the upcoming whipping from their father. The scene is chock full of humor, but it has moments of sweetness as well, especially when Thelma tells Michael that before commencing with the whooping, their father will solemnly tell him, “This hurts me more than it hurts you.” She then looks at Michael, narrows her eyes with steely determination and says, “Make him believe it.” And she punctuates her advice with a kiss on Michael’s cheek – a loving gesture that I always felt was not expected by Ralph Carter; he looks so pleased and surprised. It makes me smile every time I see it.

~ ~ ~

The next episode: Sex and the Evans Family. (It’s my favorite episode, y’all!)

Season One – Episode Three: Too Old Blues (February 8, 1974)

James and Florida search the want ads for “equal opportunity”

In this episode, James has just received word that he has passed the written aptitude test for a union apprentice training program and is scheduled for an interview. If he’s accepted, he’ll earn $2.50 an hour as an apprentice, and upon completion of the program, he’ll receive $4.25 an hour. Before leaving for his interview, James tells Florida to use their rent money for a party to celebrate his new job. During the interview, while going over James’s application, the interviewer discovers a computer error; the application states that James is 31 years old, but he’s actually 41. Because the government-funded apprentice program is for men ages 18 to 35, James is too old to be accepted. When James arrives home, the party he requested is in full swing, complete with guests. He looks sheepish as he’s serenaded by the group’s rendition of “He’s a Jolly Good Dude,” and his discomfort grows as Thelma and J.J. talk about all the things they’d like to buy with James’s new salary. He finally shares that he didn’t get the job, but Florida offers words of support and encouragement, leading James to philosophically conclude: “So I missed out. What’s the big deal? What would it have meant anyhow? Some more spending money, fancy clothes, nicer place to live? What do I need with a union job for when I have you and these kids?” He and Florida embrace, but James rather plaintively adds, “But it sure would’ve been nice.”

James isn’t pleased to learn that he’s “too old.”

Between the laughs, and the surfeit of pop culture references (see below), this episode serves to underscore the close-knit, caring nature of the Evans family. There’s the excitement and pride over James’s new employment prospects but, more importantly, it’s the family’s reaction when they learn that he didn’t get the job. After James shares his disappointing news with the partygoers, he leaves the room with Florida, and the three children commiserate in their own little group. “Whoever said he was too old don’t know Daddy,” J.J. offers, and Michael adds, “I’d like to see the dude who called him too old. I’d tell him about some of those not-too-old whippings he’s laid on me.” Thelma has the last word: “Daddy ain’t too old. He could do that job at the union. He could do anything anybody gave him a chance to.” And even though James expresses concern that he has disappointed Florida, she bolsters his spirits with her uplifting response: “James, you always see this family through,” she tells him. “You can do it.” The episode sees the family experience a hopeful start only to plummet back to earth in worse shape than they’d been before, but the message is that together, they will always find a way.

Pop Culture Connections

Energy Crisis

While hugging Florida (more on this below under “Other Stuff”), James states that he doesn’t have to worry about “that energy crisis” because he has his “own personal heating system” (meaning Florida.) The energy crisis James is referring to was caused by the action taken by the Arab members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, who imposed an embargo against the United States. This was in retaliation for the U.S. decision to re-supply the Israeli military and to gain leverage in the post-war peace negotiations. Embargoes were also enacted against other countries who supported the Israelis, including the Netherlands and South Africa. As a result of the embargo, the U.S. saw skyrocketing prices for gasoline and fuel oil. The embargo, which started in October 1973, ended in March 1974, about a month after the episode aired.

Wilt Chamberlain

Before joining the NBA, Chamberlain played for the Harlem Globetrotters.

After the “personal heating system” comment, Florida observes that a good looking man like James could have married any woman in Chicago, and he responds, “True. But I married you.” Florida rejoins, “If that’s a compliment, I’m Wilt Chamberlain.” Chamberlain was a seven-foot, one-inch basketball star who joined the National Basketball Association (NBA) in 1959, when he signed on with the Philadelphia Warriors (which later relocated to California to become the San Francisco Warriors). During his career, he would also play for the Philadelphia 76ers and the Los Angeles Lakers and would play on two NBA championship teams. Chamberlain retired from basketball in 1973.

Meat Shortage

At breakfast, Thelma complains about the family eating oatmeal again, and Florida tells her that she should be grateful for the oatmeal or any other food on the table. “Remember,” she adds, “this family got through the meat shortage without even knowing there was one.” The term “meat shortage,” while commonly used at the time, is a misnomer. In the early 1970s, there was a blight in corn crops that started in Florida and spread north and west, resulting in an increase in corn prices. Concomitantly, livestock producers began to cut back on their herds, leading to a reduction in beef production and a spike in beef prices. This led to price gouging and even a meat boycott; there was no shortage, per se, but meat was inordinately expensive. After a few years, the blight faded, corn prices fell, livestock was rebuilt, and prices returned to normal.

Ozzie and Harriet

This ain’t the Evans family.

When Thelma and J.J. argue about the amount of time she spends in the bathroom, James complains about the frequency of the arguments between the siblings and Florida remarks, “Let’s face it, James – this family ain’t Ozzie and Harriet.” The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet was an ABC-TV sitcom that aired from 1952 to 1966 and starred the real-life family of actor/bandleader Ozzie Nelson, his wife, singer Harriet Nelson, and their sons, David and Ricky. The series was typified by the family’s wholesome relationship and homespun lifestyle.

Aristotle Onassis

For his celebration party, James tell Florida that he wants barbecued chicken and ribs, champagne, and music, and jokes that she can hire The Temptations. “Hold on there, Onassis,” Florida says. “What do I use for money for this orgy?” Florida was referring to Aristotle Socrates Onassis, the Greek shipping magnate who was, at that time, one of the wealthiest men in the world. In 1968, he married Jacqueline Kennedy, the widow of President John F. Kennedy. Onassis died in 1975 at the age of 69.

Rodney Allen Rippy

Everybody knew who this kid was, back in the day.

In an allusion to J.J.’s penchant for thievery, Willona refers to him as “Rodney Allen Ripoff.” This is a takeoff of the name of a child actor who became popular in the 1970s for his appearances in commercials for fast-food chain Jack-in-the-Box. (Jack-in-the-Box was the first fast-food restaurant to popularize drive-thru ordering via a two-way intercom system. These restaurants featured a clown head on top of an intercom, with a sign that read, “Pull forward. Jack will speak to you.”) Rippy would later guest on numerous television shows, present with Michael Jackson and Donny Osmond at the American Music Awards, and sing “Take Life a Little Easier,” a record released by Bell Records in 1973 based on one of Rippy’s Jack-in-the-Box commercials.

Diana Ross

While joking about the type of party he wants for his celebration, James tells Florida not to book The Temptations but, instead to hire “The Supremes – and WITH Diana Ross!” The Supremes was an all-girl musical group that was popular during the 1960s, comprised originally of Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, and Florence Ballard. (Ballard was fired from the group in 1967 and replaced by Cyndy Birdsong.) Almost from the beginning, Ross emerged as the main singer, and in 1970, she left the group to pursue a solo – and wildly successful – career.

Soul Train

Soul Train was a product of Chicago.

Thelma is responsible for providing the music for the party that her father requested – she explains to Florida that she;s gotten albums by Isaac Hayes, The Jackson Five, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, and Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. Florida quips, “When he said ‘music,’ he didn’t expect you to hijack Soul Train.” Soul Train was a popular musical variety show that premiered on WCIU-TV in Chicago in 1970, created by Don Cornelius, who was also the show’s executive producer and host. Airing live on weekday afternoons and sponsored by local Chicago-based retailer Sears, Roebuck and Company, the show featured acts by popular R&B and soul acts, and local teens and young adults were shown dancing to the music – the first episode on August 17, 1970, featured Jerry Butler, The Chi-Lites and The Emotions as guests. The program was an immediate hit, attracting the notice of another Chicago company, the Johnson Products Company, which co-sponsored the show’s expansion into syndication. Seven other cities purchased the program: Atlanta, Birmingham, Cleveland, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia, and by the end of its first season, the show was airing in 18 additional markets. In October 1971, when the program moved into syndication, it began airing weekly and its home base moved to Los Angeles. Cornelius moved west as well, but for a while, a local version of Soul Train continued to air in Chicago, with Cornelius briefly hosting both programs before focusing solely on the Los Angeles show. The show’s Chicago version continued to air every weekday afternoon until June 1976, hosted by dancer Clinton Ghent, who’d been a part of the show since its inception, and reruns were shown every Friday until 1979. The show was known for two long-running elements: the Soul Train scramble board, where two contestants would unscramble letters to spell out a famous group or singer, and the Soul Train line, a take-off of the 1950s dance, The Stroll. Here, dancers would line up in two lines opposite each other, and dance two at a time down the center of the makeshift aisle. Don Cornelius stopped hosting the syndicated version in 1993, and the show was cancelled after the 2005-2006 season.

Ambassador East

Willona likened the Evans’s decor to the grand ballroom at the Ambassador East.

Willona commends Florida on the decorations for the party, telling her that it looks like the Grand Ballroom at the Ambassador East. This was a popular hotel in Chicago that opened in 1926 in the Gold Coast area, near the city’s Magnificent Mile district. It was featured in the 1959 Alfred Hitchcock film North by Northwest, starring Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint, and the hotel’s Pump Room was a magnet for stars including Frank Sinatral, Elizabeth Taylor, and Natalie Wood. It was purchased in 2010 by Ian Schrager, an entrepreneur best-known for being co-founder and co-owner of New York’s Studio 54 nightclub. Schrager renamed the hotel the Public Chicago. The hotel changed hands a few more times and is now known as the Ambassador Chicago, under the Hyatt brand.

What You See is What You Get

Willona also has complimentary words for Michael’s outfit for the party, and jokes that he’ll have to fight off the girls. Michael rejoins, “Well, what they see is what they gonna get,” accompanied by a little swaying type of dance movement and a snap of his fingers. This is reminiscent of a catchphrase and movement used by comedian Flip Wilson in drag as “Geraldine Jones,” a sassy, independent, sexy, and feisty female character that he popularized on his NBC television show in the early 1970s. Also, in 1971, the R&B group The Dramatics released a hit song, “Whatcha See is Whatcha Get.”

Guest Stars

Interviewer: Woodrow Parfrey

Parfrey played the man who interviewed James for the apprentice program. Born Sydney Woodrow Parfrey on October 5, 1922, this prolific actor of stage, screen, and TV was orphaned in his teenage years and worked as a car mechanic before entering the military. He was captured by the Germans in World War II, and upon his release from the Army following the war, he took an aptitude test which indicated that he would be proficient in the acting field. He performed in a variety of stage productions during the 1940s and 1950s, including the Broadway production of Room Service, which closed after only 16 performances despite a cast that included Jack Lemmon and Everett Sloane.

He focused primarily on TV and film beginning in the 1960s; his television credits included appearances on a wide variety of popular shows including Gunsmoke, Perry Mason, Hazel, Quincy, and the pilot for The Waltons, titled The Homecoming: A Christmas Story. On the big screen, he was in such hits as Planet of the Apes (1968), Dirty Harry (1971), Papillion (1973), and The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976). Sadly, Parfrey suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of 61 – the same age his father was when he died.

Monty: Stymie Beard

Beard played one of the guests at James’s “celebration” party; he had one line: “Florida, I couldn’t be happier if it was MY wife who got a job!” You can read more about Beard in the post on the first episode of the series.

Other stuff:

Although this was the third episode filmed, it was actually the first one to air.

This is the first episode that makes a reference to Florida’s weight (a running gag that lasted for too long, in my opinion). James gives Florida a hug from behind and remarks, “Gorgeous hunk o’ woman here.” Florida laughingly replies, “I don’t know about the gorgeous, but I’m sure a lot o’ hunk.”

There isn’t an overabundance of lines or situations in Good Times that are cringe-worthy to me, but they do exist and this episode contains the first. James says that he married Florida because she was pregnant but adds that he’s only joking. Michael and J.J. are seated at the dining table nearby and J.J. says, “You mean y’all waited for the preacher to say the word before y’all had me? Don’t spread it around – my friends will never stop jiving me!” So, in other words, most of the families in the community are single-parent households, with an absentee father and children born, as they say, out of wedlock – and this is so much the norm that J.J.’s friends would make fun of him if they knew that his parents were married before he was born. This is patently insulting – and not the last time this type of characterization will come up in the series.

This episode contains numerous references to J.J. being a thief, which was first mentioned in the pilot. J.J. is heading downstairs to get the family’s mail, and Florida warns him not to take any mail that doesn’t belong to them. “I don’t take things, Mama,” J.J. says, “I find them.” Florida admonishes him, saying that God didn’t intend for man to steal, and J.J. asks, “Then how come he gave us more pockets than hands?” Later, when James learns how much he’ll make if he’s accepted into the apprentice program, J.J. remarks, “We gonna be so rich and have so much money, I won’t have to find my art supplies no more!” Before the party begins, Florida sends .J.J. and Thelma to buy potato chips from the local store, and when Thelma asks why she has to go along, Florida explains: “I want the potato chips bought, not found.” And upon his return with the chips, J.J. remarks that he’d been in the store numerous times, but “that’s the first time I’ve ever been involved with a cash transaction.” (Ugh. Talk about overkill!)

We learn in this episode that James dropped out of school after the sixth grade, and that he served in the Korean War. We also learn the name of Willona’s ex-husband: Alvin. That name would change later in the series, though.

Florida is back to conversing with God in this episode – after James leaves for his interview, she looks heavenward and expresses her thanks to the Lord, adding, “In my heart I always knew you was the biggest equal opportunity employer of them all!”

The next episode: God’s Business is Good Business . . .

The Pilot: Getting Up the Rent (February 22, 1974)

The family’s foundation: Florida and James.

And so it begins . . .

The first characters introduced in the series are Thelma (Bern Nadette Stanis), who is cooking breakfast in the kitchen, and Michael (Ralph Carter), who enters the apartment after playing with a friend. (Incidentally, during his first-scene argument with his never-seen pal, Michael tells him, “You make me sick sometimes.” This struck me as such an authentic line – it’s something that I used to say as a child.)

With Thelma and Michael’s first few lines, the show sets up two long-running character traits: Thelma is not exactly a culinary whiz, and Michael is a pro-black, anti-establishment militant. In fact, the show economically illustrates these two characteristics when Michael, peering into Thelma’s pot on the stove, comments, “Black is beautiful, Thelma, but not when it’s oatmeal.” And their older brother, J.J. (Jimmie Walker), before he is even seen, is established by Thelma as a loafer (“Where’s that big string-bean brother of yours? He was supposed to help me set the table, make the beds, and clean up!”). The matriarch of the family, Florida (Esther Rolle), is recovering from a recent operation to have her appendix removed, we meet her husband James (John Amos) when he comes home after working all night, and Florida’s best friend and neighbor Willona (Ja’ Net DuBois) pops in to share the news about her latest date.

J.J. offers to sell his first painting to help pay the rent.

Written by the show’s co-creator Eric Monte, and directed by Donald McKayle and Perry Rosemond, the episode’s plot centers around an eviction notice that the family received for non-payment of rent; two previous notices were received during Florida’s hospital stay, and with the movers arriving to remove the contents of the apartment, the family is desperate to raise the money they need. Each of the family members tries different means of getting the money – Florida tries to sign up for welfare benefits, the children hatch a “department store hustle,” and James (against Florida’s wishes) uses his skills in shooting pool. Ultimately, James’s method is successful, but he pretends that a friend gave him the money – and Florida pretends that she doesn’t know the truth.

“Getting Up the Rent” was the first episode taped and was the actual series pilot, but it wasn’t aired first – that distinction went to “Too Old Blues.” Instead, “Getting Up the Rent” was the third episode to be broadcast.

The pilot was full of promise, and did an admirable job of establishing the personas of each of the main characters: strong, faith-filled Florida; proud, dedicated, and no-nonsense James; streetwise, artistically gifted J.J.; family-focused but sharp-tongued Thelma; budding militant Michael; and loyal, quick-with-a-quip Willona. I was never pleased with the depiction of J.J. as a hustling, “light-fingered Louie” but, to their credit, the producers/writers pivoted from this characterization after the first few episodes.

The family that stays together.

The episode brought the Evans’s poverty into sharp focus – it can’t get much worse than getting evicted from your home, and it’s made clear that James had the choice of paying for their shelter or paying for his wife’s life-saving operation. With James working two jobs and bringing home just six dollars after working all night, and the family keeping their savings in a shoe box, there’s no question about the family’s financial situation. But the pilot also managed to showcase the close-knit nature of the Evans family and the deep love and respect that existed between Florida and James. There was James’s tender reaction to Florida apologizing for the cost of her recent operation. And the children’s willingness to chip in their meager contributions to help with the rent. And Michael vehemently refusing to allow J.J. to sell his first painting (“The only way anyone gets this painting is over my dead body!). They were small but effective touches which helped established a foundation that would last throughout the run of the series. Finally, the cast demonstrated a unique and instant chemistry – they felt like a real family and fostered a feeling of audience affection and recognition from the very start.

Pop Culture Connections

A little more than a year after Thelma was seen reading an Ebony magazine in the show’s pilot, the cast appeared on the magazine’s cover.

Ebony Magazine

As Thelma is preparing the oatmeal in the first scene, she’s reading Ebony, a monthly magazine which covers entertainment, politics, fashion, and beauty that pertain to the Black community. The magazine was founded in 1945, ceased publication of the print format in 2019, and relaunched in a digital format in 2021.

Detroit Automobile Recall

After J.J. makes a crack about Thelma’s looks, she counters by telling him, “If you were born in Detroit, you would have been recalled for being dangerously ugly.” In 1973, the year before the series started, more than 3.7 million vehicles were recalled by General Motors, which is headquartered in Detroit. The vehicles, from the Buick, Chevrolet, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac lines, were recalled because stones from unpaved or gravel roads could get caught in the engine compartment, which could affect the driver’s ability to steer. At the end of 1973, another 22,000 cars from these four lines were recalled due to safety defects that could cause the rear wheels to lock.

President Richard Nixon

The family is facing a possible eviction, but Michael tells his mother that Monty – a friend of James’s who works for the administration of the projects – has assured the family that “everything would be okay.” Florida responds, “That’s the same Monty that said Nixon was going to be poor folks’ best friend.” At the time that the episode aired, Richard Nixon was the president of the United States. In the wake of the Watergate scandal, he would resign from office later that year, on August 9, 1974.

Marshall Field’s

Downtown Chicago, at Randolph and State Streets. You can see the famed clock from Marshall Field’s on the right.

J.J. concocts a scheme for he and his siblings to get the rent money by going to Marshall Field’s; Thelma will pretend to faint from malnourishment in the hopes that passersby will donate the needed funds. Marshall Field’s was a large, upscale department retailer in Chicago whose flagship store was located in the city’s downtown area. The store was founded in the 1800s and remained a Chicago staple until 2006, when it was taken over by Macy’s and renamed.

O.J. Simpson

James arrives home (and for some reason, knocks on the door instead of using his key), and grouses about the amount of time Florida takes to let him in. “If you wanted somebody fast,” Florida responds, “you should have married O.J. Simpson.” In December 1973, Simpson, a member of the Buffalo Bills football team, became the first National Football League (NFL) player to rush more than 2,000 yards in a single season. This would be the show’s first reference to Simpson, but not the last – which is always a bit jarring, given what would happen about 20 years hence.

Ain’t Got a Pot or a Window . . . “

Trying to help the family get the money for the rent, Willona takes Florida to the welfare office (that’s literally the sign on the door: WELFARE OFFICE), but James’s meager income is too high to qualify. Before they leave, they’re approached by a buffoon in a maroon velvet suit who tries to hit on them; Willona dismisses him by observing that he “ain’t got a pot or a window.” She’s referring to a popular saying that means a person is financially bereft; the entire expression is that the person doesn’t have “a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of.”

Running Jokes

I don’t take things – I FIND them . . .”

The pilot episode sets up J.J. as not only lazy, but also a thief. When Florida expresses concern about the overdue rent money, J.J. tells her that he has numerous ways of getting hold of the needed cash, and Florida insists that she doesn’t want him to steal. “I wouldn’t do that, Mama,” J.J. says. “I may just find seventy dollars.” This characterization would last only a few episodes.

“’Boy’ is a white racist word.”

“Don’t call me ‘boy.'”

The pilot also saw Michael’s first insistence that the word “boy” is a “white racist word.” He offers this nugget when Florida admonishes J.J. about stealing and adds, “I hope I’m coming through to you, boy.” Later in the episode, Michael gives the same rebuke to his father when James calls him a boy. This budding catchphrase for Michael didn’t last long, though. But there was a different catchphrase that was, well . . .


J.J. used the exclamatory word in the first episode that would become his trademark and a popular catchphrase that would be forever associated with the show. He uses it to indicate his enthusiastic approval upon learning that his father plans to get the rent money by hustling pool games. J.J. would go on to use “Dy-No-Mite,” in one way or another, in every episode for the next few seasons. Every. Episode.

Guest Stars

Tom: Hal Williams

Halroy Candis Williams was born in Columbus, Ohio, on December 14, 1938, and started acting in local community theater. After working as a postal worker and a corrections officer, Williams moved to Los Angeles in the late 1960s to pursue his acting career and signed on with the California Youth Authority to pay the bills while he went on auditions. Williams was able to devote his time to acting full time in 1970, when he landed roles in three TV productions: a TV movie and two series, Dan August and That Girl. Williams went on to play Officer “Smitty” Smith on the Sanford and Son TV series, Harley Foster on The Waltons, Sgt. Ted Ross on the film Private Benjamin (1980) and the subsequent TV series based on the movie, and Lester Jenkins on 227. As of this writing, he is still performing; his most recent appearance was earlier in 2022 in the TV series The Mayor. In this episode, Williams played Tom, one of the two men who arrive at the Evans apartment to remove their belongings.

Monty: Stymie Beard

Matthew “Stymie” Beard in his first of several Good Times appearances.

Matthew “Stymie” Beard played Monty, a friend of James’s. He was born in Los Angeles on New Year’s Day 1925, one of 14 children. After playing a few uncredited bit parts in movies like Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1927) and Showboat (1929), he was signed by Hal Roach at the age of five to appear in the Our Gang Comedies. Beard’s Our Gang name was originally Hercules, but director Robert McGowan changed it because Beard was known to “stymie” him by wandering around the lot. Beard reportedly was given his trademark bowler hat by comic actor Stan Laurel, of Laurel and Hardy fame.

“Stymie” when he was in Our Gang.

He remained with Our Gang until, at age 10, he was too old, and he later appeared in small parts in such films as Captain Blood (1935), Jezebel (1938), and The Return of Frank James (1940). During his teen years, however, he developed a heroin habit and wound up spending a number of years in jail. He later got clean and sober and returned to acting in the 1970s on TV shows including Sanford and Son, Maude, and Different Strokes. Beard suffered a stroke a few days after his 56th birthday and died of pneumonia on January 8, 1981.

Eddie: Ernie Banks

Ernie Lee Banks played the other employee of the project who showed up to evict the Evans family. Banks was born in Franklin, Virginia, on April 3, 1935. His appearance on Good Times was his acting debut. Later that year, he was also seen in two blaxploitation movies from 1974: Black Godfather and Baby Needs a New Pair of Shoes. He went on to appear in such films as Bulworth (1998); TV series including The Jeffersons, NYPD Blue, and ER; and the 1978 miniseries King, where he portrayed Rev. Ralph Abernathy. Banks also released a record in 1990 called Are You Ready to Be Loved? He died in his hometown of Franklin on August 13, 2006, at the age of 71.

Trivial Stuff

  • The Evans family lives on the 17th floor. (J.J. distributes the mail to his siblings and tells them he’s just been down 17 floors to get it.)
  • We learn that Michael plans to be a lawyer. He offers to give his father the two dollars he’s been saving for law school.
  • In order to get the money for the rent, James wins it by playing pool. He has his own pool cue, and it’s made clear that he used to “hustle” pool for money in the past. This is never referenced again in the series.
Florida talks to Jesus. (More on Jesus in the next episode. . .)
  • This episode contains a heavy emphasis on Florida’s spirituality, including Florida praying aloud, more than once, to her picture of Jesus on the wall.
  • J.J. is referred to as “James Junior” by both Thelma and Florida throughout the episode. After the pilot, he would be known only as J.J.
  • At the start of the episode, J.J.’s head was bare. But with about six minutes remaining, he was seen sporting the blue jean cap that would become a staple in his wardrobe over the next few seasons.

The next episode: Black Jesus . . .

The Cast: Esther Rolle

Periodically, I will shine the spotlight on each of the principal cast members of Good Times. Fittingly, I’m starting out with the matriarch of the family, played by Esther Rolle. The top-billed actress portrayed Florida Evans, wife of James (John Amos) and mother to James, Jr. (Jimmie Walker), Thelma (Bernadette Stanis), and Michael (Ralph Carter). She was on the show for five of its six seasons.

The actress of stage, screen, and TV was born Esther Elizabeth Rolle on November 8, 1920, in Pompano Beach, Florida, the 10th of 18 children of Bahamian immigrants Jonathan Rolle, a vegetable farmer, and his homemaker wife, Elizabeth. Jonathan’s talent for telling stories may have served as the inspiration for Rolle and her older siblings to start their own drama troupe, which performed around the state during the 1930s.

After Esther’s graduation from high school, she attended Spelman College (my alma mater!) in Atlanta for a year, then moved to New York, where her two older sisters were working to get their acting careers off the ground. (One of her sisters, Estelle Evans, would later appear as the housekeeper in To Kill a Mockingbird [1962], and the other, Rosanna Carter, would be seen in films like The Brother From Another Planet [1984] and She-Devil [1987]. Carter would also play a featured role in the first episode of Good Times’ second season, and Evans would play a small role in the seventh episode of season three.)

In New York, Rolle attended Hunter College, then transferred to The New School and, later, to Yale University in nearby New Haven. Although Rolle was more interested in writing than acting, one of her teachers suggested that she take drama classes and turn her talents toward the stage. To pay for her education and make ends meet, Rolle worked in the New York City garment district. She also joined the dance troupe run by African musician Asadata Dafora, remaining with the group for more than 10 years. (While she wasn’t performing, Rolle found time for a private life; in 1955, she married Oscar Robertson who, according to Internet sources, “pressed slacks in a dry cleaner.” They remained married until 1975.)

Rolle performed with the Shogola Oloba dance group for more than a decade.

In the 1960s, Rolle appeared in numerous stage productions as one of the original members of the Negro Ensemble Company; others in the company included Rosalind Cash, Moses Gunn, Denise Nicholas, and Clarice Taylor. Also during this period, Rolle made her big screen debut in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) and later appeared in films including Nothing But a Man (1964), The Learning Tree (1969), and Cleopatra Jones (1973). She also continued her stage work, and in 1970, she was singled out in the Boston College newspaper, The Heights, as “especially striking” in a play by Jean Genet called The Blacks. The following year, she landed her first TV gig, on the ABC soaper One Life to Live, and in 1972, while appearing in Melvin Van Peebles’s play Don’t Play Us Cheap, she was asked to audition for the role of a maid, Florida Evans, on the CBS-TV show Maude. Rolle won the part, and a successful year later, she took on the starring role in the spinoff of Maude, Good Times. According to all sources, Lear originally wanted the character of Florida Evans to be the single mother of three children, but Rolle refused to sign on with the series unless her character had a husband. “I only took my part with provisions that Good Times would have a complete Black family – with a father image,” Rolle told Ebony magazine in 1978. “I had a good father. I wanted the characters to portray a family as mine did.”

Rolle in a Negro Ensemble production.

During the run of Good Times from 1974 to 1979, Rolle released an album called The Garden of My Mind (1975), on which she performed spoken word backed by gospel singers; portrayed Lady Macbeth in an off-Broadway version of Macbeth (1977); played a housekeeper in the TV movie Summer of My German Soldier (1978), earning an Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie; and was featured in the made-for-TV movie I Know Where the Caged Bird Sings (1979). After Good Times ended, she continued dividing her performance time between stage, film, and TV, most notably the Bill Duke-directed TV adaptation of A Raisin in the Sun (1989), in which she played the family matriarch Lena Younger; Driving Miss Daisy (1989), where she was seen as a maid; Rosewood (1997), directed by John Singleton; the TV miniseries Scarlett (1994); and the Broadway production of Horowitz and Mrs. Washington, where she starred opposite Sam Levene.

In 1981, Rolle starred in the pilot for an NBC crime drama called Momma the Detective (also known as See China and Die, for some reason), where she played a housekeeper with a penchant for crime solving. Unfortunately, the series never materialized. (It’s a shame, too. I think this could have been another good part for Rolle – check out the pilot for yourself and see what you think.) She was even featured in a series of psychic hotline commercials during the late 1990s, which ended with her signature directive, “Tell them Esther sent you.” (That last one wasn’t exactly the pinnacle of her career, but hey – you do what you gotta do.) Off-screen, Rolle became the first woman to win the NAACP chairman’s Civil Rights Leadership Award in 1990, honored for raising the image of blacks through her work on the stage and in TV and movies. And the following year, she was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame.

One of Rolle’s last performances was in Down in the Delta (1998), directed by Maya Angelou. By now, her health had started to fail, and on November 17, 1998, Rolle died of complications from diabetes; she was buried at the Westview Community Cemetery in Pompano Beach. Even years after her death, however, she continues to be remembered and honored. In 2017, her life and career were spotlighted in an exhibit in her hometown of Pompano Beach, Florida, and in March 2022, the Broward County (Florida) African American Research Library and Cultural Center presented a stage production titled Head Above Water: The Life of Esther Rolle. (When Rolle died, she left her career memorabilia, including her Good Times scripts, to the library.) She may be gone, but she’ll never be forgotten.

Incidentally, Rolle had her share of conflicts with the producers and writers of Good Times (more on that in a later post), but near the end of her life, she still maintained positive memories of her experience and the impact of the series. “I loved Good Times,” she said in 1997. “Later it got to be not so much fun, but I loved what it did for others as much as for me. . . . I’m proud of that.”

My ‘Good Times’ Journey Begins . . .

I watch Good Times every day. Every single day. I’ve done it for years. I laugh at the same jokes in the same places, I make the same mental observations, I say the same dialogue along with the characters. I’m not claiming to be the biggest Good Times fan in the world – but I’ll wager that I’m up there in the top 10. So it was almost inevitable for me to devote a blog to this unforgettable show.

A situation comedy set in my hometown of Chicago, Illinois, Good Times premiered on February 8, 1974, and ran for six years on CBS-TV. I can’t say with certainty what it is about this show that captured and kept my fascination over all these decades – there are so many reasons. It shines a light on real-life issues, from teen pregnancy to drug use to crime. It showcases a variety of up-and-coming performers, including Debbie Allen, Rosalind Cash, Lou Gossett, and Philip Michael Thomas. It incorporates the pop culture of the day. And it’s well-written and legitimately funny. Beyond these tangible features, Good Times simply feels like family; these were people I knew.

The beginning: All in the Family.

Before Good Times, there were only a handful of television shows that featured black people. The 1950s gave us The Amos and Andy Show, Beulah, and The Jack Benny Program, and in the 1960s and early 1970s, there was Room 222, Julia, I Spy, Roll Out, The Flip Wilson Show, Sanford and Son, and The Bill Cosby Show (the one from the late 1960s where he played a physical education teacher named Chet Kincaid).

In 1971, television producer Norman Lear created All in the Family. Previously, Lear (a former writer for The Martin and Lewis Show, and director of two feature films) had created only one television show – a western called The Deputy featuring Henry Fonda that ran from 1959 to 1961. All in the Family starred Carroll O’Connor as rabid bigot Archie Bunker, and Jean Stapleton as Archie’s long-suffering wife. When it aired in January as a mid-season replacement show on CBS, it took a while for it to find its audience, but by the 1971-1972 season, it was a solid hit. In September 1972, All in the Family saw its first-spinoff, Maude, starring Bea Arthur as Archie’s outspoken, liberal cousin-in-law. On Maude’s third episode, she hired a maid: Florida Evans (Esther Rolle). The popularity of this intelligent, fearless, slightly imperious, and often impertinent black character earned Rolle her own spinoff, Good Times, in 1974.

Maude hires Florida.

There were a few tweaks between Florida on Maude and Florida on Good Times. On Maude, Florida lived in New York with her husband, Henry (John Amos), who worked as a fireman, while the Evans family on Good Times lived in a housing project in Chicago, Florida’s husband’s name was James, and James often worked several jobs to make ends meet. On Florida’s first episode on Maude, there’s a reference to the two of them drinking a few martinis at lunch, but on Good Times, Florida doesn’t drink alcohol. And on Maude, Florida and Henry have been married for 24 years, but on Good Times, they celebrate their 20th anniversary.

Good Times was created by writer Eric Monte, who also wrote for such series as The Jeffersons and What’s Happening, as well as the screenplay for the film Cooley High (another production set in Chicago – Monte’s hometown), and Michael Evans, best known for portraying Lionel on All in the Family and, for several years, on another spinoff, The Jeffersons. Originally, the show was slated to be called The Black Family, with the family’s last name being Black. (Get it?) Later, the creators decided to change the last name of the family to Evans and they renamed the show Good Times.

Florida and the former Henry, now James.

The show was a hit from the start, and in its second season, it trounced its main competition, ABC’s Happy Days, knocking it out of the top 30 shows. In that season, Good Times climbed to number seven in the ratings. After the second season, though, ratings started to dip, and after Amos’s character was killed off at the end of the third season, things would never be the same.

This blog, Ain’t We Lucky We Got ‘Em’, is my love letter to Good Times. I will provide a look at each of the show’s 133 episodes, as well as delve into the pop culture of the 1970s, which is significantly interwoven throughout so many of the episodes. I’ll also periodically offer other features, including trivia quizzes, my favorite episodes, and more.

I hope you’ll join me on this journey.