Ordinarily I post celebrity death notices over in Scuttlebutt, but Sherman Helmsley deserves a bit more than that. He passed away today at the age of 74. Helmsley is best known for portraying George Jefferson on the comedy All in the Family and then the spin-off hit, The Jeffersons, both of which ran during the 1970s on CBS.
In the story arc of both shows, which I watched growing up, Jefferson starts out as a small businessman living modestly in a working class neighborhood. A black man, his next door neighbor is the, shall we say politically incorrect, Archie Bunker, who is white. Archie is a factory man and a vocal Republican, but not really a self-starter when it comes to work. Or fatherhood. His daughter goes rogue and marries a hippie whom Archie nicknames “Meathead,” and hijinx ensue.
It’s George Jefferson, the black family man who could be every bit as politically incorrect as Archie, who is the self-starting entrepreneur. He works hard building his dry cleaner business without any government help and hits it big. In The Jeffersons he and his family move from Queens to a Manhattan skyscraper. The show’s theme song says nearly all you need to know about Jefferson’s philosophy:
Well we’re movin on up, To the east side.
To a deluxe apartment in the sky.
Movin on up
To the east side.
We finally got a piece of the pie.
Fish don’t fry in the kitchen;
Beans don’t burn on the grill.
Took a whole lotta tryin’
Just to get up that hill.
Now we’re up in the big leagues
Gettin’ our turn at bat.
As long as we live, it’s you and me baby
There ain’t nothin wrong with that.
Today the song would probably be banned by the networks for catering to stereotypes, but it carries a great message. The best lines: “Took a whole lotta tryin’, just to get up that hill” and “As long as we live, it’s you and me baby and there ain’t nothin wrong with that.”
That’s the nuclear family powering the American dream. The networks tend to air bed-hopping sitcoms and lousy reality shows now, and hardly ever do we get such a clear salute to traditional values. It stands up in sharp contrast to something President Obama said a couple of weeks ago when he said “If I do something and it doesn’t work, I don’t do it again.” George Jefferson was a Democrat, but he would have had nothing to do with such a quitter, and would have thought very little of Obama’s “You didn’t build that!” Roanoke speech. There aren’t many Democrats left who haven’t gone over to the dark side of socialism.
RIP, Sherman Helmsley. The big TV networks don’t air characters like George Jefferson much anymore, and there are very few actors around who would be capable of playing George with such nuance and humor.