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day permlink Tuesday, 13 July 2004

permlink Isabel Sanford - 'Weezie' brought love, dignity to role
Isabel Sanford, who died Friday at 86, did not have a lot of well-known roles on her résumé. But her one, big, ground-breaking TV part was enough to endear her to anyone who loves classic sitcoms which means anyone who ever saw her play George's beloved wife, Louise, in The Jeffersons.

But no, not "Louise." Such is the power of TV that we knew her for the rest of her life as "Weezie," the affectionate nickname that her otherwise cantankerous husband bestowed upon her...

...There was nothing novel in the setup of The Jeffersons. They were poor fish swimming in newer, richer waters, an age-old story... What was new, however, was what was important: dignity and race. Sanford brought strength, sweetness and an undercurrent of sex to the role: Weezie wasn't fooled by George, but she loved him just the same and was obviously attracted to him.

As for race, building The Jeffersons around a black family allowed the show to humorously explore topics never before seen on TV, and seldom seen since. And everything wasn't black and white: George and Louise represented splits in the African-American community, from their opposing take on their neighbors' interracial marriage (another TV breakthrough) to their treatment of their black maid, Florence (Marla Gibbs).

The role led to another too-long-delayed and too-seldom-repeated TV milestone. It made Sanford the first black woman to win the best-actress Emmy for a sitcom.

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