Good Times Trivia Trio No. 1

Marilyn and Alan Bergman, who wrote the lyrics for the Good Times theme song, were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1980.
Jimmie Walker’s denim hat was a mainstay in his wardrobe on the show for several seasons.
  • The theme song to Good Times was sung by Jim Gilstrap and Motown singer Blinky Williams with background vocals provided by a gospel choir. It was composed by Dave Grusin, with lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman. The Bergmans were an acclaimed songwriting team who, during their careers, received four Emmys, three Oscars, and two Grammys, and were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In addition to Good Times, the Bergmans penned the lyrics for TV shows like Maude and Alice, and numerous films including The Way We Were, In The Heat of the Night and The Windmills of Your Mind, for the movie The Thomas Crown Affair. The Bergmans were married for more than 60 years, until Marilyn’s death in January 2022.
  • For several seasons of Good Times, beginning with the first episode, Jimmie Walker almost constantly wore a floppy denim hat. According to Walker’s memoir, he bought the hat before he auditioned for a role as a street hood in Badge 373, a 1974 film directed by Howard Koch and starring Robert Duvall. Walker purchased the hat thinking it would make him look “more urban, more street.” He got the part. (But his lines were dubbed by an actor who sounded “blacker!”)
Ralph Carter starred in Raisin with Joe Morton.
  • Laurence Fishburne was originally cast as the youngest Evans child, Michael, but the producers really wanted Ralph Carter, who had a contract committing him to Raisin on Broadway; for his role in the musical, Carter was nominated for the 1974 Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical. (Here’s a clip of Carter performing the number “Sidewalk Tree” at the 1974 Tony Awards, where he was introduced by Esther Rolle.) Fishburne had participated in two weeks of rehearsals with the Good Times cast when Norman Lear bought out Ralph Carter’s contract – which meant that Fishburne was out and Carter was in.

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.