Intimate Portrait

Season 9 Episode 6

Isabel Sanford

Aired Monday 7:00 PM Feb 03, 2003 on Lifetime
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Isabel Sanford
Isabel Sanford: Movin' On Up Born in 1917 in Harlem, New York, Isabel (born Eloise Gwendolyn) Sanford was the youngest of seven children and the only one to live past infancy. As a child, Sanford found respite from her poverty-stricken life by making people laugh. As a teen, she won rave reviews at an amateur night at the Apollo, but her performing dreams were put on hold when her mother fell ill. Although Sanford wanted to be an actress, she was forced to take over her mom's job as a cleaning lady. Sanford married housepainter William "Sonny" Richmond during this tough time, and shortly after tying the knot, they brought daughter Pamela into the world. Between the births of her next two children, Sanford finally made her stage debut, in the 1946 production of "On Striver's Row" at the renown American Negro Theater. In 1960, Sanford decided to leave her unhappy marriage and take her three children to Los Angeles. The single mother was barely off the bus before legendary actress Tallulauh Bankhead asked her to join the national production of "Here Today." Sanford appreciated the break, although she encountered discrimination during the tour. The actress's next stint was in the all-African-American production of James Baldwin's "Amen Corner." The hit show moved to Broadway, where Sanford captured the attention of film director Stanley Kramer, who immediately cast her in the 1967 classic "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner." Her performance in the movie dazzled critics and showbiz insiders. In 1971, TV producer Norman Lear hired Sanford to play neighbor to the Bunkers on the sitcom "All in the Family." Four years later, the spin-off series "The Jeffersons" debuted, and America's first black sitcom family was born, with Sanford as matriarch Louise ("Weezy"). In 1981, Sanford became the first African-American to win an Emmy Award for Best Actress in a Comedy Series. The show's 10-year run ended abruptly when the network cancelled it in 1985. Since then, Sanford and co-star Sherman Hemsley have teamed up for numerous guest-star appearances on other sitcoms, including "The Parkers" and "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," giving them the opportunity to work with fellow African-American actors who consider the two veteran performers as role models.moreless

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