Tuesday, April 11, 2017

BOTNS Special Investigation: Was Redd Foxx really going to play Jethro Simpson on "Diff'rent Strokes"?

On our season 2 premiere, we discussed the report that Whitman Mayo, who is so stellar as con man and would-be Jackson adopter Jethro Simpson, was filling in for former Sanford and Son co-star Redd Foxx. I was skeptical and couldn't find much to support this online tidbit, so I instructed our famous crack research team to explore the issue.

According to Black and Blue: The Redd Foxx Story by Michael Seth Starr, this story is...TRUE! Yes, as effective as Mayo is in his guest shot on the two-part 'The Adoption," he stepped in at the last minute only after Foxx bailed.

Foxx became a sensation on NBC as Fred Sanford, but after numerous contract disputes (and sometimes missing episodes that would then be built around Mayo's Grady character), he jumped to ABC to lead a variety show (It was the 1970s, after all). When that tanked, another pilot failed, and ABC severed ties with him, Redd was having problems with the IRS--as in, he had a problem paying his taxes, and the IRS had a problem with that--he was looking for cash.

Starr writes that NBC "extended an olive branch" to its former star by offering him the role of Jethro Simpson. Foxx agreed, and NBC brass actually discussed making the character a regular or at least a recurring role if the episode turned out well. Only one problem: Foxx didn't bother to show up, calling in sick, and Mayo got the call.

Can you imagine Foxx and Gary Coleman as regular co-stars? I can, and I kind of like it.

Starr continues that later, Redd passed Todd Bridges at the studio and saw he was holding a motorcycle helmet the Strokes producers had given him for Christmas. When Foxx discovered that they only gave him the helmet--no motorcycle--he was "pissed," as Starr succinctly describes, and returned after a week "pushing a gas-powered three-wheeled motorbike" and telling Bridges, "I bought you something."

Was Foxx in one of those cantankerous/generous moods? What if he had run into Conrad Bain in the studio hallway that day? I picture Foxx coming into the studio a week later with a horse to go along with a new polo mallet Bain was carrying. "Hey, Connie, I bought you something."

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