13 things you might not know about 'The Jeffersons'

Find out who rode the bus to work and who used to be a mailman.

Image: The Everett Collection

Every parent wants to see their child surpass them in success. But it is rare for a television series to see its spin-off become a bigger hit. All in the Family spawned a slew of spin-offs, everything from Maude to Gloria. Heck, even its spin-offs had spin-offs. But none were the juggernaut of The Jeffersons.

Kicking off in January 1975, as All in the Family was in the midst of its fifth season, The Jeffersons quickly became a hit. It was the No. 4 show on television in its inaugural year. The comedy about a laundromat entrepreneur who strikes it rich went on to air for a whopping 11 seasons. All in the Family only lasted nine.

Along the way, The Jeffersons, like most Norman Lear–developed shows, broke through boundaries and gave voice sects of America not often seen on television at the time.

Your level of television knowledge is going to be movin' on up after reading these fascinating facts about The Jeffersons.

1. Lionel was the first Jefferson to appear on television.

Lionel Jefferson (played by Mike Evans) pops up in the very first episode of All in the Family, "Meet the Bunkers." Louise, his mother, would turn up later that first season. George Jeffersons was mentioned repeatedly, but it would be a couple years before Sherman Hemsley appeared on the sitcom. Norman Lear was waiting for Hemsley to wrap up a role on Broadway.

Image: All in the Family / Sony Pictures Television

2. Sherman Hemsley used to be a mailman.

Before he became a successful actor, Hemsley worked as a postman in Philadelphia. Evan after he made the move to New York City to pursue his dream, he continued to work in a Post Office.

Image: AP Photo / Nick Ut

3. Franklin Cover took the bus to work.

That blue-collar work ethic carried through the entire cast. Franklin Cover, who portrayed the friendly Tom Willis, was far from a diva. He took a Los Angeles public bus to the studio every day. He didn't even own a car. Cover rented an apartment on Sunset Boulevard during production, and made his home in New York. Co-star Roxie Roker jokingly called Cover "the black woman's burden," as she would give him rides to his rental unit after taping.

Image: The Everett Collection

4. Hemsley was only 11 years older than the actor who played his son.

Yep, Hemsley (George) was only 11 years older than Mike Evans (Lionel).

Image: The Everett Collection

5. Isabel Sanford was the first black woman to win the Lead Actress in a Comedy Emmy.

For her role as Louise, Sanford became the first black woman to win the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. She was just the second black American actress overall to earn a Primetime Emmy award. 

Image: The Everett Collection

6. George Clooney starred in a sitcom related to 'The Jeffersons' called 'E/R.'

No, not that ER. In the 1984-85 season, CBS aired a forgotten comedy called E/R, starring Elliot Gould. It was a sort-of spin-off of The Jeffersons, as it featured Lynne Moody as Nurse Julie Williams, the niece of George and Louis Jefferson. Sherman Hemsley even appeared in the premiere. Later in its lone season, E/R featured a young hotshot actor named George Clooney.

Image: Sony Pictures Television

7. 'The Jeffersons' featured the first transgender character seen on a sitcom.

Norman Lear constantly smashed glass ceilings in his shows. His All That Glitters, an overlooked syndicated sitcom from 1977, featured the first recurring transgender character on American television. But it was not the first time he worked a transgender character onto his plots. In the Jeffersons episode "Once a Friend," George meets up with his old Navy pal, Eddie, who is now Edie.

8. Mike Evans was a writer and co-creator of 'Good Times.'

Mike Evans would leave The Jeffersons to work behind the camera for another show in the All in the Family family tree — Good Times. Evans worked as a creator and writer on that sitcom for a few seasons before returning to The Jeffersons. While he was away, Damon Evans portrayed Lionel Jefferson in seasons two through four.

Image: The Everett Collection

9. Ja'Net DuBois of 'Good Times' sang "Movin' On Up."

Speaking of Good Times, it was an actress from that sitcom — and oddly not The Jeffersons — who sang the infectious theme tune "Movin' On Up." DuBois played Willona Woods in 133 episodes of Good Times.

Image: The Everett Collection

10. Lenny Kravitz's mom starred on the show.

While we're on the topic of music, we should mention Lenny Kravitz. He is the son of Roxie Roker, who played Helen, wife of Tom Willis. In a 1980 issue of Ebony magazine featuring the cast of The Jeffersons on the cover, Roker explains her approach to mothering 16-year-old Leonard. "I take care of my kid in as normal a fashion as possible, as I think that is healthy," Roker said. "I cook the meals because I'm the momma." Lenny, her son with onetime ABC news editor Sy Kravitz, would go on to win four Grammy awards.

Image: The Everett Collection

11. The real-world address of their building is 185 E. 85th Street.

You can go visit the real Jeffersons apartment building in Manhattan. It's known as the Park Lane, built in the 1960s. Hard to miss those distinctive round balconies.

Image: Google Maps

12. There was no series finale.

The network pulled the plug without notice. Hemsley unceremoniously discovered his show had been canceled by reading the newspaper. Thus, there is only a final episode, "Red Robins," no true finale. George leads a troupe of girl scouts.

13. The Jeffersons later appeared on 'The Fresh Prince' and 'House of Payne.'

Fortunately, that was not the last we saw of George and Louise. In the 1996 series finale of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, the Jeffersons made a guest appearance and bought the Banks family home. Fifteen years later, Hemsley and Marla Gibbs (sassy house-servant Florence Johnston) would turn up on Tyler Perry's House of Payne. It was a passing of the torch in one regard. House of Payne would go on to become the longest-running American sitcom with a primarily black cast — beating out The Jeffersons by a single episode, 254–253.

Image: Warner Bros. Television Distribution

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