Playing straight man to a comedy legend like Redd Foxx would have seemed an unenviable task for most actors, but Demond Wilson rose to the occasion as the short-tempered Lamont Sanford on the hit sitc...
Actor Matthew Perry's The Odd Couple revamp has been given the go-ahead by studio bosses at America's CBS network. The former Friends star is hoping to rediscover small screen success after a string of cancelled shows like Go On, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and Mr. Sunshine with a new sitcom based on Neil Simon's classic play, which was picked up for pilot on Tuesday (25Feb14).
Perry, who will executive produce the show, is set to play easy-going Oscar Madison. His counterpart, uptight Felix Ungar, has yet to be cast.
Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau portrayed the characters in a 1968 film and 1998 sequel, while Jack Klugman and Tony Randall teamed up for a spin-off TV series, which ran from 1970 to 1975. Ron Glass and Demond Wilson also appeared as Ungar and Madison in a African-American themed version of The Odd Couple in the early 1980s.
Playing straight man to a comedy legend like Redd Foxx would have seemed an unenviable task for most actors, but Demond Wilson rose to the occasion as the short-tempered Lamont Sanford on the hit sitcom "Sanford and Son" (NBC, 1971-77). Though Lamont's role was largely defined by reactions to his father's outlandish behavior, Wilson had a dry delivery and a solid presence that made him the ideal candidate for the job. His turn as Lamont was the apex of his acting career, as all subsequent efforts faded into obscurity, leading Wilson to turn to religion, becoming an ordained minister in 1984. However, his timeless work on "Sanford" remained a favorite among the rerun faithful for decades, ensuring his small screen immortality.
Born in Valdosta, GA on Oct. 13, 1946, Grady Demond Wilson was raised in New York, and became interested in acting after serving a tour of duty in Vietnam. Upon his return to the United States, he appeared in national stage productions before relocating to Hollywood. There, he landed guest shots on series like "Mission: Impossible" (CBS, 1966-1973) and minor roles in features like the Sidney Poitier vehicle "The Organization" (1971), the last of three film adventures for his Virgil Tibbs character. In 1971, Wilson enjoyed a guest turn on an episode of "All in the Family" (CBS, 1971-79), and was later called back for a new series from producer Norman Lear. The show, based on the popular British sitcom "Steptoe and Son" (BBC, 1962-65), chronicled the ups-and-downs of a dissolute garbage man and his social-minded son. Comic Redd Foxx was cast as Fred Sanford, an irascible junkyard owner, while Wilson was tapped to play his son, Lamont, who openly loathed the family business, but stayed on out of respect for his father. Their relationship formed the basis of the show's humor, which hinged on Fred's attempts to elevate their social standing through hare-brained, get-rich-quick schemes. Said plans never worked out the way that Fred envisioned them, which invariably resulted in a blow-up between father and son. However, by the close of each episode, Fred and Lamont would bury the hatchet and return to their dingy but happy lives.
The formula worked for audiences, who viewed Fred and Lamont's battles with the same degree of incredulity and delight as the verbal brawls between Archie Bunker and Mike Stivic on "All in the Family." "Sanford" became one of the highest rated series on American television during its entire network run; its first five seasons never left the Top 10, even when Foxx left the series during the 1973-74 season over a contract dispute with NBC. Flush with the success of the series, Foxx quit "Sanford" at the end of its sixth season to star in a variety series, "The Redd Foxx Comedy Hour" (ABC, 1976). It was cancelled after four months, so NBC lured him back to reprise Fred in a new series, "Sanford" (NBC, 1980-81). Wilson, however, did not join his co-star for the revamped show, deciding instead to focus on his own career. Unfortunately, his luck seemed to parallel that of Foxx: his first starring turn in a series was on the sitcom "Baby, I'm Back" (CBS, 1978), about a man who returned to his family after having deserted them, only to discover that his wife has remarried. It lasted less than a season, as did "The New Odd Couple" (ABC, 1982-83), with Wilson as the slovenly Oscar Madison and Ron Glass as Felix Unger.
In 1984, Wilson decided to become a Pentacostal minister, which became the focus of his life for the next two decades. He created Restoration House, a spiritual and vocational training facility for former inmates, in 1994, and penned several books decrying the New Age movement. There were occasional returns to acting, most notably a recurring turn as Persia Jones' father on "Girlfriends" (UPN/The CW, 2000-08), and a revisit of his "Sanford and Son" days via a tell-all book, Second Banana: Bittersweet Memoirs of the 'Sanford and Son' Years, which purported to address the conditions which forced the cancellation of the series.