Wednesday, 23 September 2009

297: Sanford and Son 1972

Sanford and Son - The Piano Movers
14 April 1972
Writer: Aaron Ruben (adaptation of “The Piano” by Galton and Simpson)

Redd Foxx ... Fred G. Sanford
Demond Wilson ... Lamont Sanford
Lester Fletcher ... Man
Rick Hurst ... Police Officer

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

“Sanford and Son” was the American adaptation of the classic English sitcom “Steptoe and Son”. It was produced by many of the same team behind the “All in the Family”. The big alteration was the change to a black working class setting. The show also became more of a vehicle for the raucous playing-to-the-gallery comedy style of stand-up comedian Redd Fox as the father Fred Sanford. Many of the episodes in the first season were based upon episodes from the English series. This episode borrows heavily from the 1962 episode “The Piano”. In that episode the man wanting to get rid of the piano is more of a posh silly arse. The change we’re concerned about in this version is that the character has been altered to allow for a lot of gay innuendo. Nothing is confirmed that he actually is gay, but there are enough suggestions to make for a whole load of hand-waggling gestures between Sanford and Son. It draws upon none of the intricate plotting, scene-setting or jokes of the gay themed episode of “Steptoe and Son” aired in 1970. However, as in “Any Old Iron”, it does rely upon the idea that a refined man with aesthetic tastes can, in Harold Steptoe’s words, only be a bit of “a poof”, or “fruity” for Americans. So the class element in homosexuality is played heavily here. The audience and the Sanfords are presented with a slightly older man, fastidious and fussy, velvet-jacketed and wearing a neckerchief. He’s also not a physically imposing man, shorter than the two Sanfords. Happily, this isn’t a mincing portrayal. He demonstrates a refined concern for his collected antiques. He starts off not quite touching on prissy, with a crisp, insistent diction, but not quite queeny. Although when provoked the man adopts more of a bitchy tone as in the “Now I have a whole new way of life which I prefer”, and becomes more imperiously prissy as he becomes more pissed off by Fred Sanford’s behaviour (as if to confirm and provoke Fred even more). So any homosexuality is not quite obvious but these elements are chosen to conform pre-existing prejudices, hence Fred Sanford’s:

“I think he’s a fruit”.
“$100 to Dwayne Hudson.. I bet I know who Dwayne is”
“Got any kids? I didn’t think so”
When the man is in on phone “Oh hello, DARLING”, then speaks French, Fred Sanford’s mimicking him reminds me of Max Bialystock in “The Producers” mocking Carmen Ghia’s mannerisms.
Just as “All in the Family”, there are jokes about flying (i.e feet noit touching the ground), which must have been a feature of the time, I suppose.

It’s worth noting the enormous laugh from the audience each time the man puts his hand on Fred’s shoulder. Then the enormous laugh as Fred slightly camps it up lounging on the sofa, waving his long cigarette, primping his head, making a few effete phrases, which Fred assumes mocks the man’s lifestyle.

So the gay innuendoes are a strange choice of fillip to adorn the episode, since the English episode was half an hour long and fairly dense. There’s some room for disavowal here about the character being actually gay, but all the jokes and mild gibes made by Fred are based on homosexuality. And there’s no possibility of any ironic intentions for Fred’s conviction is never proven woefully mistaken. The jokes and mockery are comparatively mild, and there’s nothing to suggest vehement disgust or horror at being around homosexuals. If it’s homophobic, it’s because we no longer entertain the attitude that homosexuals are automatically laughable. You’ll notice that the man’s possible homosexuality effortlessly grants Fred a natural superiority over this rich, sophisticated white man.

There is another episode in a later series of “Sanford and Son” revolving around mistaken homosexual identity.

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