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It’s been 50 years since the groundbreaking sitcom "Sanford and Son" premiered, paving the way for other shows centered on African American characters. Yet even today, the Norman Lear-produced series, which ran for six seasons on NBC, provides plenty of laughs thanks to its ensemble of hapless characters who can’t seem to help but get into all kinds of shenanigans.
Chief among them is the title character Fred G. Sanford, played by the renowned comedian Redd Foxx. Fred runs a salvage yard in Los Angeles with his long-suffering son Lamont (Demond Wilson), and their unconventional father-son dynamic is the centerpiece of "Sanford and Son." While each of them are always looking for a way to make a quick buck, Lamont is usually the more level-headed of the two, while Fred never met a situation he couldn’t take to a wacky extreme.
Of course, there are more than a few times Fred got carried away in especially hilarious fashion. Here are a few "Sanford and Son" moments that show just how far Fred could go.
Tossing out the relatives
There comes a time when every child flies away from the nest, but Lamont Sanford is still waiting for that opportunity in his mid-30s. In the meantime, he continues to live at home with his dad. While Lamont dreams of moving out and moving on, both from his childhood home and from running the family business, Fred is perfectly content with their arrangement. As a result, when Lamont decides to get married in "Here Comes the Bride, There Goes the Bride," the third episode of the first season, Fred is emphatically against it.
Despite Fred’s objections, Lamont is determined to start a new chapter in his life. Unfortunately, the bride has other plans — and she doesn’t share her misgivings about marrying Lamont until the wedding ceremony is already in progress. Lamont is embarrassed and hurt, and he still has to return home where the reception is set up and waiting.
Although his relatives initially show up to express their sympathy for Lamont, they soon see a way to ensure his being left at the altar isn’t a total loss — at least for them — by taking their wedding gifts back. Their desire to re-claim their presents soon gets so out of control that Lamont throws them and the gifts they’re arguing over out of the house. And while Fred isn’t exactly sad to see the demise of Lamont’s relationship, he’s thrilled to join Lamont in ejecting their relatives. Not only does he happily gather the spread of reception food into a tablecloth and toss it out after them, he also picks up the wedding cake and throws it at them as well, conveniently hitting Aunt Hazel (Lillian Randolph), the attendee he can stand the least, in the face. At least Fred manages to get rid of most of the evidence of the wedding reception in one fell swoop.
For the love of TV
Lamont and Fred supposedly run their business together. But at 65, Fred doesn’t seem to work nearly as hard as Lamont. While Fred theoretically has tasks to take care of at their home/junk shop each day, more often than not, he finds something more interesting to do, and often that something involves watching TV. So in the Season 1 episode, "TV or Not TV," Fred gets a considerable shock when his TV breaks, and that shock is made even worse when Lamont informs Fred that he’s already bought a new car with their spare money, making the purchase of new TV impossible.
A furious Fred storms out into the night, only for Lamont to discover the next day that Fred’s been hospitalized with amnesia. Lamont is understandably worried for his father, so when Fred claims he can’t remember his son, his home, his business, or even his own name, yet continuously insists on remembering a room with a new color TV, Lamont returns the car and buys a color TV for his supposedly ailing father.
When Lamont brings Fred home and he sees the new TV, Fred is pleased. However, he can’t help but point out that if Lamont hadn’t bought the car first, he could’ve gotten a 24-inch screen instead of the 21-inch screen he ended up purchasing (yep, TV screens were a LOT smaller in the 1970s!). In the process, he betrays the fact that he’d been faking his memory loss. Instead of owning up to what he did, Fred insists the TV has miraculously cured him. But when he realizes how angry Lamont is at his antics, he claims his amnesia has returned — although it hasn’t taken away his desire to watch his brand-new color TV.
Adding insult to (non)injury
Throughout "Sanford and Son," Fred doesn’t do all that much driving. Getting behind the wheel is more Lamont’s territory than Fred’s — and for good reason. It turns out Fred’s an awful driver. It’s unclear whether he even still has a license. So when Fred decides to go for a drive in the Season 2 episode "Whiplash" and ends up in a car accident, Lamont understandably assumes it’s Fred’s fault. It turns out, though, that someone actually hit Fred and drove off.
When Fred’s friend Bubba (Don Bexley) learns that the person who rammed into Fred was driving a Cadillac and points out Fred could sue the driver for a lot of money if he was hurt in the accident, Fred suddenly develops horrible whiplash. Of course, Fred never does anything halfway, so he goes all in on the scheme, wearing a neck brace and even getting a shady doctor to verify his injury. By the time he’s taken to the police station to identify the driver, he’s worked himself into such a tizzy he confronts the first man he doesn’t recognize about crashing into his car, only to learn he’s a police lieutenant.
Still, that doesn’t stop Fred from going even more over the top when the real driver who hit him shows up. Fred really leans into the suffering the man has supposedly inflicted on him, even mourning the fact that he may never be able to watch a tennis match again. It’s quite a performance, but it ultimately amounts to nothing…because the driver stole the Cadillac, ensuring Fred won’t be collecting any money from him after all.
Poker game, interrupted
Fred rarely agrees with the way Lamont chooses to live his life, and he’s more than happy to let him know it. But sometimes, Fred goes beyond mere commentary and decides to take action to save Lamont from himself. Fred’s overprotective streak is on full display when Lamont invites a trio of men with the colorful names Skeeter (Thalmus Rasulala), Rooster (David Moses), and Hucklebuck (Ron Glass) over to play poker in the second season episode "The Card Sharps." Fred is convinced the men are there to cheat Lamont out of all he’s worth, while Lamont just wishes Fred would back off and stay out of his business.
Of course, that’s the last thing Fred has on his agenda. Determined not to let his son be a sucker, he tries to signal him by swatting fake bugs with a fly swatter whenever Lamont makes a bad decision, and Lamont makes plenty. That is, until the first round of cards doesn’t go in Lamont’s favor and Fred goes berserk, swatting the table and then all of Lamont’s extremely surprised guests, who duck and cower under his onslaught.
In the end, Fred turns out to be right about the men’s motives for playing poker with Lamont. And even though Fred isn’t very good at cards, as the Season 4 episode "The Stung" makes clear, he manages to beat the other men at their own game. While Lamont is out getting beer, Fred offers to play with them as long as they can use his unopened deck of cards. By the time Lamont returns, Fred has won all of his money back and then some, all thanks to his unassuming trick deck, which helped him "deal unto others as they have dealt unto" him.
Keeping a date, no matter what
Despite everything Fred puts him through, Lamont is a good son. This is made especially clear in the effort he puts into choosing his father’s birthday gifts. Sometimes he doesn’t pick options that Fred appreciates, such as when he takes him to see the movie "Fiddler on the Roof" in the first season episode "Happy Birthday, Pop." But when Lamont gifts him a pool table in Season 3’s "A House Is Not a Pool Room," Fred’s thrilled. Soon he grows obsessed with pool, playing day and night and ignoring everything else.
He becomes so fixated that he forgets all about a date he made with his on-again/off-again girlfriend Donna (Lynn Hamilton), inviting his buddies over to play pool instead. So needless to say he’s a little surprised when Donna shows up at his house ready for a night out on the town. Not wanting to let Donna down but also having no desire to stop his pool game, Fred stashes Donna in the kitchen and insists they can have their date between his turns. Things don’t quite work out for Donna, with whom he only spends mere moments before he’s called back to the game, but he at least attempts to be romantic by kissing her on the cheek before he runs off again.
Having way too much fun
Whenever Fred gets worked up on "Sanford and Son," he swears he’s on the verge of a massive heart attack, raving about "the big one" while yelling to his long-dead wife Elizabeth that he’ll be seeing her soon. Yet, when one of his friends passes away in Season 3’s "Wine, Women and Aunt Esther," it causes Fred to genuinely confront his mortality. Lamont suggests he should do something meaningful with his life, but Fred comes to a different conclusion: that he should spend the rest of his life having as much fun as he possibly can.
In pursuit of a good time, Fred throws a raucous party for his friends and invites some young women over to party with them. However, between their enthusiastic dancing and the liquor they drink, the older men have completely worn themselves out and fallen asleep before the girls even show up.
While Fred regrets his decisions the next morning and swears he’s going to sell the superfly suit he wore to the party, he perks up when Lamont informs him that one of the girls who he failed to entertain the night before sent him a coupon for a free massage. He forgets all about his sorry state and decides he needs to take advantage of the coupon right away. That is, until he opens the door and encounters the brightness of… the sun, which completely stops him in his tracks.
Disorder in the court
Sometimes Fred couldn’t help but voice his opinions in very public settings, no matter how inappropriate or ill-timed. One of the most memorable examples of this happens in Season 3’s "Fred Sanford, Legal Eagle." When Lamont gets a traffic ticket, Fred convinces him to go to court to fight it despite his son’s reluctance. During the trial, Lamont presents a thoughtful defense of his actions as Fred and his friends take bets about the outcome from the gallery. But after the police officer who issued the ticket explains his version of events and the judge asks Lamont if he has a lawyer who’d like to question him, Fred sees an opportunity he can’t pass up.
To the delight of the Black crowd watching, Fred proceeds to issue a fiery speech directed to all of law enforcement and their attitudes toward Black motorists. It’s a moment that feels as relevant today as it did in the 1970s when the scene was filmed, and is the rare time "Sanford and Son" got overtly political.
However, the judge doesn’t appreciate Fred causing a ruckus in his courtroom. So even though he ultimately dismisses Lamont’s traffic ticket, Fred is held in contempt of court and fined the same fee Lamont would have had to pay. Fred is so incensed at the outcome that Lamont has to forcibly walk Fred out of the courtroom with his hand over his mouth to prevent his dad from making things even worse.
Fred could often react very dramatically to the slightest obstacle, but his paranoia reaches hysterical new levels when Lamont starts acting especially laid back in the Season 4 episode "The Older Woman." Fred does everything he can think of to get a rise out of his son, including dumping garbage all over the house, but nothing fazes Lamont. It’s Fred’s friend Grady (Whitman Mayo) who quickly sizes up the situation, realizing Lamont’s mellow attitude is due to the fact that he’s fallen in love.
When Fred asks Lamont if what Grady suspects is true, Lamont admits there’s a special lady in his life, but he’s unwilling to let Fred meet her. So Fred decides to take matters into his own hands, and uses all the hints Lamont’s dropped to figure out where she works. He then recruits Grady to go there with him to determine which employee has captured Lamont’s heart. However, because he doesn’t want Lamont to find out, he decides he and Grady should do their sleuthing in disguise.
For Fred this means donning the most ridiculous costumes he can find. He dresses in an aviator’s leather cap, a scarf, and goggles he can barely see out of while saddling Grady with an afro wig and a fake nose. The sight of the pair is already enough to make anyone do a spit-take, but then Fred decides to fully lean into the personas he’s created for himself and his friend by discussing their lives as pilots. It’s a silly ploy that quickly falls apart when, despite Fred’s elaborate disguise, one of the employees notices just how much Fred resembles Lamont.
An unlikely alliance leads to mayhem
Throughout "Sanford and Son," Fred’s greatest nemesis is his deceased wife’s sister, known on the show as Aunt Esther (LaWanda Page), and the feeling is mutual. Yet, when Esther enters a local beauty pageant in "My Fair Esther" in Season 5, Esther’s husband Woodrow (Raymond Allen) enlists Fred’s help, promising him half of Esther’s prize money if Fred can coach her to a win. That’s enough for Fred to put his loathing aside and do everything in his power to ensure his sister-in-law takes the crown. He goes full Henry Higgins from "My Fair Lady," training Esther in posture, poise, and the use of makeup. He even sings a love song with her during the competition.
When Esther makes it to the semifinals, for a moment it seems that Fred and Esther’s unlikely teamwork will pay off. So when Esther’s name doesn’t come out of the announcer’s mouth when the winner is crowned, Fred goes berserk. He runs on stage, steals the winner’s sash and flowers, and attempts to give them to Esther. In the ensuing mayhem he resorts to simply bashing everyone in his vicinity with the winner’s bouquet. Still, even if things ultimately didn’t work out, at least he and Esther struck an alliance for a few days.
Breaking up an engagement
Despite many false starts and near misses with women he thought would be marriage material, Lamont finally finds a romantic match in Janet (Marlene Clark) in the show’s fifth season. Janet is so even-tempered and generous that even Fred likes her, so when she and Lamont become engaged in the episode "The Engagement Man Always Rings Twice," Fred is surprisingly pleased for them.
That changes when Lamont informs Fred that the couple plan to get their own place after they’re married. Not surprisingly, Fred’s response is as mature as ever. He’s shocked that his son would leave him all alone, a situation he imagines will only lead to his inevitable pain and suffering. In order to avoid this terrible fate, he decides that the only possible solution is to break Lamont and Janet up.
So Fred hides the ring Fred purchased for Janet. And then when Janet comes over before Lamont has arrived, Fred makes up an elaborate story about Lamont being in debt due to his heavy drinking and gambling and is prone to mugging school children so he can pay what he owes. It’s an impressively creative tale and Fred can’t help but continue to add to the list of his son’s fictional sins. Of course, Janet sees right through Fred’s attempt to break the couple up, and even manages to smooth over the situation, to the point where Fred makes one of the most generous gestures he ever has on the show: giving Lamont’s mother’s engagement ring to Janet.
Falling asleep on the job
Fred is known for getting carried away, but in the Season 6 episode "I Dream of Choo Choo Rabinowitz," he gets so carried away, even he can’t live up to his own absurd ambition. At this point in the show, Fred has accepted Lamont’s engagement to Janet. But when Lamont’s future mother-in-law, Mrs. Gordon (Royce Wallace), comes to visit because she’s been selected to read her award-winning paper at a Teacher’s Conference, Fred becomes jealous and competitive.
In fact, he becomes so distraught at being overshadowed by Janet’s mother that he can’t sleep. So Bubba proposes a solution: Fred just needs to break a record in The Guinness Book of World Records and Fred will have achieved something even more noteworthy than Mrs. Gordon. And given Fred’s recent trouble sleeping, breaking Choo Choo Rabinowitz’s record for the longest time spent awake seems like a perfect fit.
Of course, staying up for days isn’t so easy, but the constant supervision of his friends and family keeps Fred awake…if only just barely. Fred’s on course to achieve his goal until Mr. Grayson (Leonard Stone), the representative from the Book of Records, comes over at the last minute to witness Fred’s triumph and distracts everyone in attendance just long enough for Fred to pass out on the living room floor, leading him to miss the record by a mere 43 seconds.
Doing whatever it takes to sell a lie
Fred has come up with plenty of zany schemes in his time, but perhaps none are more outlandish than his decision to pretend he’s going deaf in the episode " A Matter of Silence" from Season 6. When the episode starts, Fred really is having trouble hearing, but after a concerned Lamont and Donna take him to the doctor and Fred’s ears are flushed, his hearing goes back to normal.
Instead of telling his son and girlfriend he just had a build up of excessive wax in his ears, however, Fred decides to continue to fake his inability to hear to garner sympathy. It even works for awhile, as Lamont and Donna attempt to raise Fred’s spirits by planning a party and giving him a gift. However, the day before the shindig, Lamont calls Fred’s doctor and he tells Lamont the truth about Fred’s hearing.
After learning that Fred is just fine, Lamont and Donna decide to teach him a lesson. Within earshot of Fred, they list a bunch of fictional symptoms of hearing loss, leading Fred to frantically pantomime all of them instead of simply admitting that the jig is up. Eventually Fred is forced to admit his ruse, but for a brief moment he almost makes pretending to go deaf work to his advantage.