On this day in comedy on June 14, 1931, Actress, Singer, and Producer Marla Gibbs (Margaret Theresa Bradley) was born in Chicago, Illinois
Gibbs seemed an unlikely artist. After high school, she went to business school and became a United Airlines reservations agent in Detroit, Michigan. Retaining her job for security, she relocated to Los Angeles with her family and got into acting. She plied her craft in theater and made her celluloid debut in Blaxploitation flicks. Gibbs was featured in the cinematic classics, Sweet Jesus, Preacher Man and Black Belt Jones. They were roles that would’ve been considered ‘exposure’ at the time, but they exposed her enough to be cast in the new Norman Lear sitcom, The Jeffersons.
The groundbreaking and controversial CBS hit, All in The Family spawned a spin-off which proved to be just as controversial. The Jeffersons was about loud-mouthed, bigoted, self-made and newly rich black guy, George Jefferson, who thanks to his thriving dry-cleaning business, moved on up and out of the neighborhood inhabited by the likes of Family’s equally bigoted, but white, Archie Bunker. George, his wife, Louise (“Weezie”) and son, Lionel copped themselves a deluxe apartment and that meant they needed a maid. Enter, Marla Gibbs, character name, Florence Johnston. She embodied the disrespectful domestic help with aplomb and her sterling work earned her five Emmy nominations. Gibbs alter ego was so popular she got her own spin-off, Checking-In.
Gibb’s spin-off aspirations didn’t last long as Checking-In soon checked out, but it was of no consequence. Once The Jeffersons turned off the lights after 11 seasons, Gibbs starred in an original project for NBC – 227. This sitcom was about a nosy, gossipy neighbor (Gibbs) and her neighbors/friends in the building. It was a hit for Gibbs the actress/producer and 227 introduced the viewing world to Jackee Harry.
Once 227 shut down after 116 episodes Gibbs divided her versatile talents between comedy and drama. She appeared in the films Meteor Man, Foolish, Lost & Found and The Visit (for which she won the Method Fest Independent Film Award), The Brothers, Madea’s Witness Protection and on the television series, A Different World, In the Heat of the Night, Empty Nest, Dream On, Martin, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Dawson’s Creek, Touched by an Angel, King of Queens, The Hughleys, ER, House of Payne, Scandal, Hot in Cleveland and The Carmichael Show.
In a distinguished career, Marla Gibbs won a total of seven NAACP image Awards. Another talent was that of entrepreneur. She owned the revered Los Angeles jazz club, Marla’s Memory Lane and she was also an accomplished vocalist who released numerous albums.
By Darryl “D’Militant” Littleton
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