>You don't recall anything about why John Amos got fired from the show, >or Ether Rolle saying she wanted her character to have a husband and >Father ? Eric Monte never "peddled" anything about that ? Yeah right
Disagreements over the creative direction of the show? Yes.
I never took those FAMOUS disagreements to mean they accused Lear of being just a plain racist, liar, hypocrite and thief. I took that that they had different ideas of where the show was going.
I recall that Lear did place a working father into the show and did change scripts based on actor input - but ultimately had a different direction for the show than what some of the biggest stars on the show wanted.
They fired Amos and leaned HEAVILY into JJ - which made the show much more like Happy Days. And then Ester Rolle left for two seasons and CAME BACK.
(It's not like What's Happening was leaning into hard social issues over and over.)
Swipe: So Good Times remains one of my favorite comedies of all time, because when it was at its best, it stood shoulder-to-shoulder with any of Norman Lear’s shows. You alluded earlier to some of the negative aspects of the show for you, but I’m wondering, overall, what your main recollection of the show is four decades later?
I remember — I couldn’t forget — the fact that Norman was probably the most courageous producer/writer/director that had come into television. I was very fortunate to get to work for him. We tackled subject matter that nobody touches today, things like seniors being forced to eat pet food because of financial constraints. J.J. getting shot by a gang member. You can’t open the paper today without seeing some subject we covered 40 years ago. I knew I was in a blessed situation. And also, I was carrying the weight of being the first black father of a complete family, and I carried that responsibility seriously. Maybe too much so. Norman thought I was taking on too much of a burden with it. But it was my responsibility. I knew that millions of black people were watching. I knew that my own father was watching. My own children were watching. And I was not going to portray something that was less than redeeming.
You were vocal when the show started moving in a different direction, playing to the popularity of Jimmie Walker’s character, J.J.
The writers began to lose focus on my other two children: Bern Nadette Stanis, who portrayed Thelma, and of course Ralph Carter, who portrayed Michael — the militant midget, we called him, because of his political convictions. With their aspirations to become a Supreme Court justice and a surgeon, I thought we could’ve gotten a great deal of mileage out of that. They chose to go for the obvious and the comedic. It started to dissipate into something I wasn’t terribly proud of. I thought there was a little too much buffoonery. And it wasn’t a matter of being jealous of . I love comedians; I love anyone who could make somebody laugh. But by the same token, I had these other two children in the family, and I felt it was doing a disservice to them and to the image of young people to say, “You guys don’t really matter. We’re more interested in seeing J.J. with a chicken hat on. At least that’s the way I saw it.
It’s what led to you getting fired from the show, right?
I was categorized by Norman as a “disruptive element.” When he made the call telling me I would no longer be with the show, he said that’s how I was described and assessed by the rest of the cast, and certainly the production company — a disruptive element. So they killed me off.
You weren’t alone in your concerns about the direction of the show, though. Based on everything I’ve read, Esther Rolle shared your sense of responsibility to put out the right image to viewers.
She’d come from very modest circumstances. I think Esther didn’t get her first pair of new shoes until she was 13 or 14 years old. She knew deprivation, and she knew hardship. So her reaction to playing that character was based in truth, as mine was. We always felt that we would be the ultimate litmus test for the veracity of the dialogue and the character situations. I remember having a with her, and telling her that we were going to have to stick together and make sure that what we felt about the characters, and their integrity as a family, became a bond with us. And she had no problem with that.
The show was built around a character she had first played on All in the Family, but from what I’ve read, she was very interested in having another strong adult character on the show to play opposite.
Were it not for Esther Rolle, quite frankly, I would not have gotten the job as James Evans. She insisted that she have a husband on the show. She did not want to perpetuate the negative stereotype of another matriarchal family. She told Norman, “I want a husband. I want a husband who works. And I don’t want him to be an alcoholic or druggie. I want a husband who’s going to be a family man.” And when I got to read for her, for Ms. Rolle and Norman, in his office, at the conclusion of the reading, she turned to Norman and said, “He’ll do just fine.” And that’s how I got the job as J.J.’s daddy. I thank Esther to this day for the opportunity.
If there was any upside to your exit from the show, it was that it gave Ms. Rolle one of her most iconic moments on the series— when she broke down in the kitchen after your death and screamed, “Damn, damn, damn!” I’ve always wandered if you watched that episode. It would’ve been strange to see your character mourned like that!
It’s a very rare experience. Not too many people get to see their own funeral. I saw the episode years and years ago. It’s still a mystery to me how my character died. It’s a matter of conjecture. Some people say he died on the Alaskan pipeline. Some say he died in a truck crash. All I know is that I died. And hopefully there was some insurance for the family.
Your departure from Good Times also made you available for Roots. It’s being remade for next year, and LeVar Burton is associated with it. Any feelings about whether this is a good idea?
All I know about it is that LeVar is onboard as a co–executive producer, and that Laurence Fishburne has been cast as the late Alex Haley. I’m curious about how they’re going to do the story this time. Are they going to do a replication of the original, or is it going to be a new script? I have faith it’s going to be done right, though, because it’s a Wolper project. Mark — David’s son — had the rare privilege of learning at his father’s knee what goes into a project to make it the resounding worldwide success that Roots became.
Ms. Rolle quit Good Times a year after you were fired, in part because she had many of the same concerns you did about the direction of the show. Did you ever talk to her about her decision to leave? She never expressed to me personally why she left the show. But it was obvious. And from what I was able to infer from the articles I read, she left the show after I’d been killed off the show. She thought it was going downhill into an area of buffoonery and away from what her intentions were initially. But the show suffered so badly in the ratings, they brought her back for one more year, and then the show ultimately went off the air.
You’ve put the whole experience behind you and made up with Mr. Lear, right?
I certainly did. It was a matter of me maturing, and the posttraumatic stress syndrome I’d suffered as a result of playing football and boxing. Once I’d matured, I’d realized the mistakes I’d made in addressing my grievances about scripts. Everything to me at the time was confrontational. I was younger, I was angry, I was mad at the world. I wanted to right every wrong with every line. And they got tired of it. I told Norman to his face, when I was at an event honoring him, “I would have fired me, too.” Because life’s too short to put up with somebody who’s unhappy on a job where they’re making an incredible salary and receiving the acclamation of millions. --
I didn't read "RACIST" in that I read "different" and even "wrong" but not racist. And never have a heard "lairs" and "thieves" from anyone other than Eric Monte.
Hey, you want to believe a Youtube video that's basically a transcript of Eric Monte saying that Norman Lear is lying thieving Jew who was destroyed his life because he was too black and talked too much - I don't see that from what I've heard.