Black and Blue: The Redd Foxx Story (excerpt)
Black and Blue: The Redd Foxx Story by Michael Seth Starr tells the remarkable story of Foxx, a veteran comedian and “overnight sensation” at the age of 49 whose early life was defined by adversity – and his post-Sanford and Son years by a blur of women, cocaine, endless lawsuits, financial chaos, and a losing battle with the IRS. Interviews with friends, confidantes, and colleagues provide a unique insight into this generous, brash, vulnerable performer – a man who Norman Lear described as “inherently, innately funny in every part of his being.”
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Casting an Americanized version of “Steptoe and Son” proved to be more of a challenge than [Norman] Lear and [Bud] Yorkin bargained for. With Lear focusing most of his attention on “All in the Family,” Yorkin brought in sitcom veteran Aaron Ruben (“The Phil Silvers Show,” “The Andy Griffith Show,” “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.”) to help develop “Steptoe.” The problem was, they just couldn’t find the right combination of actors to play the bickering, yet loving, father and son—and they couldn’t decide on the characters’ ethnicity. Initially, the show was going to be set in New York. “Mainly, we had in mind Jewish or Italian actors, since most of the junk peddlers in New York are of that origin,” Ruben said. “But we couldn’t find the right characters—those wonderful old-timers are all gone, and you’re not going to bring [Jimmy] Cagney out of retirement, either.”
Yorkin and Ruben spent several months in mid-1971 shooting several “Steptoe” pilots with different sets of actors. One version featured Lee Tracy and Aldo Ray as father and son; in another version, veteran stage actor Barnard Hughes played the Irish father and Paul Sorvino his son, who favored his mother’s Italian heritage. Bardu Ali later claimed that Stepin Fetchit and Flip Wilson filmed a “Steptoe” pilot, but there’s no record of that ever occurring. Yorkin and Ruben did approach Cleavon Little, who had a small role in “Cotton Comes to Harlem,” to gauge his interest in shooting a pilot. Little was interested, but had other commitments to fulfill, so he recommended someone he thought would be perfect for the role of the curmudgeonly father: Redd Foxx.
Michael Seth Starr has covered television for the New York Post since 1995. He has written biographies of Peter Sellers, Art Carney, Joey Bishop, Bobby Darin, and Raymond Burr and has appeared frequently on TV, including Good Morning America, The Today Show, The Joy Behar Show, Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, The Early Show, Entertainment Tonight, and Access Hollywood.
Posted on October 11, 2011, in Comedy, Film & TV and tagged Applause Books, Black and Blue, comedian, excerpt, Michael Seth Starr, New York Post, Redd Foxx, Sanford & Son, Sanford and Son, The Today Show. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.