A Hypothetical Conversation With Marla Gibbs

Marla Gibbs is one of the few original cast members that are still with us to this day. To this day, her most important role seems to be the one that also made her famous: the feisty maid Florence Johnston in The Jeffersons.

In one of her interviews, she says that she was actually working at the United Airlines when she was cast in the series. However, since the concept of the show was a relatively new one (a series centered on a high-class African-American family), she kept her job. Only later on she focused entirely on her acting career, when The Jeffersons proved to be a hit.

Speaking about the show, Marla Gibbs said that they wanted to make the audience connect with the characters, in other words to make the viewers see beyond the skin color. And they actually did that. However, as she later expressed herself, sometimes trying harder isn’t necessarily a good idea.

In her own words, she was a black maid of a black family, so it was obvious that some teasing and lots of racial slurs (when compared to other shows of the time) will be thrown around the set and on camera. And that was fine as far as she was concerned, especially since some limits were never crossed and especially since the cast was so funny about it (even if, at times, they weren’t too keen at speaking some words).

However, as Marla Gibbs recalls it, the producers wanted this aspect of the show to be diminished and to be removed completely from the series.

But then again, in my opinion, some of the best moments of the show come from this clash of mentalities (again, keeping the historical context in mind). After all, the story was about a family that has worked its way out of the ghetto. And, as Marla implied, money should never change who you are.

The mentality I am talking about is one Marla Gibbs herself recognizes: it was a mentality which confused service with servitude, but at the same time a mentality that doesn’t necessarily fall into labeling a racial group, into stereotyping it.

As said before, the show was about an African-American family that has worked its way up the social ladder. However, the deeper meaning was that everybody can do that, with hard work and dedication (an idea which wasn’t new at all at the time The Jeffersons was aired).

But in the moment you decide to remove one of the traits of the family, the show becomes something different, lacking some of its originality. The audiences already understood what was everything about. Changing something that works means to risk losing a part of the audience. And that actually happened, leading to the cancellation of the series.

But then again, Marla Gibbs said it the best: everything must change and you do what you can with the changes that are made. You can’t stop it. You can’t fight it. Everybody tries to go back to yesterday, but you can’t go back to yesterday. The only time there is, is now. So you have to stay in the now and you have to not judge so I don’t judge it. Somebody’s dream is coming true and I applaud them. My dreams came true and they applauded me. So things have changed. They cannot be the way they were.

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