List of The Jeffersons supporting characters
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Helen Willis (née Douglas) (portrayed by Roxie Roker, except for her first appearance in All in the Family, when she was portrayed by Kim Hamilton) is Louise's best friend and George's worst nightmare. She has been married to Tom Willis for 34 years. Tom is white, and Helen is black, which was a renowned aspect of the show. George, disliking racially mixed-marriages, constantly called both Helen and Tom "zebra" or "chocolate and vanilla". Helen often strikes back by calling him "shorty." As well, George enjoys calling Tom "honky", but he learned to get along with the two in later years during the sitcom. In the fourth season, Helen works with Louise as volunteers at a social service facility called "The Help Center", which opened in 1977. There is also a mention that she and Louise were the editors of the center's newsletter, a post the two decide to share after the drama of episode 67. Helen and Tom have two children: Jennifer "Jenny" Willis (Berlinda Tolbert) and Allan Willis (Jay Hammer and Andrew Rubin).
Thomas "Tom" Willis (portrayed by Franklin Cover, except for his first appearance in All in the Family, when he was portrayed by Charles Aidman as Louis Willis) is an author and president of his publishing company, Pelham Publishers. He lives a content life with his wife Helen. Tom is white and Helen is black. Because of this racial mixing, they are often the butt of George's insults and jokes - often being called such things as "Chocolate" and "Vanilla". Tom and Helen, however, have both learned to ignore the bigotry of their neighbor. In their initial appearance on the parent show Tom states that they had met "his" kind—black and white—and they always handled it. His daughter, Jenny Willis (who is the one most resembling her mother in skin color cases), marries George's son, Lionel, in 1976. He develops a strong relationship with Jenny, but was never close to his "white" son, Allan Willis (Jay Hammer) because he never finished school and left New York City and stayed in Paris for two years.
As the series went on (particularly after Lionel and Jenny married), George and Tom eventually became good friends (though George still continued to make jokes about Tom's weight as Sherman Hemsley felt that it would be insulting to continue the racially themed insults after their characters became friends).
Additionally, Tom is a caring person, but often dominated by his wife. He also is ridiculed occasionally due to his weight. He is known to be a horrible dancer, as indicated in a few episodes. He also occasionally reluctantly goes along with George's constant schemes but for the most part prefers to be left out of them.
Mother Olivia Jefferson
Portrayed by Zara Cully, "Mother Jefferson" is Henry and George's mother. Her first appearance was in the All in the Family episode, "Lionel's Engagement," where she takes offense at being referred to as "mammy," by Archie Bunker, who thinks the term is a variation of "mommy." Mother Jefferson is a catty, disparaging, and antagonistic mother-in-law to Louise, while appearing to be a sweet old lady to everyone else. Mother Jefferson is one of the stereotypical mothers-in-law who think their daughter-in-law isn't good enough for their son. In nearly every episode she was seen in, she is usually tormenting Louise by criticizing her cooking, her age, or her overall character, but Louise frequently came back at her with a witty albeit sarcastic response. (On a couple of rare occasions, however, Mother Jefferson sides with Louise, when she takes offense at George's boorish or sexist behavior.) A long-running gag had Mother Jefferson blissfully ignorant of how much alcohol she actually consumes, usually in the form of a Bloody Mary, which she stated she drank "for the vitamins".
Cully had been absent from the first 17 episodes of Season Three due to a serious case of pneumonia caused by a collapsed lung. Upon recovering she returned for a few episodes, noticeably thinner and more frail. She died early in Season Four, and the writers decided to eliminate Mother Jefferson's character rather than replace her with a different actress. No special episode was created centering on her death, but it was briefly referenced in the second episode of the Fifth Season, "Homecoming (pt 1)".
Jenny Willis Jefferson
Jennifer "Jenny" Willis Jefferson (portrayed by Berlinda Tolbert, except for her first appearance in All in the Family, when she was portrayed by Lynne Moody) is the only daughter of Helen and Tom Willis, the younger of their two children. Jenny is an intelligent person, finishing college with her boyfriend, Lionel Jefferson. At first, George often disapproved of Jenny loving Lionel merely because she is, in George's own word, a "zebra". George calls her this because her mother is black, but her father is white, thereby making her biracial. However, after George discovered Jenny was pregnant with his grandchild, he changed his ways and became much more accepting of her. In 1976, Jenny marries Lionel, though they divorced in 1985 after nine years of marriage. She and Lionel have a daughter named Jessica (played by Erin Hollin and Leslie Hollin (Seasons 6–7) and later by Ebonie Smith (Seasons 10–11).
At first, Jenny disliked her brother Allan when he came home after two years in Paris, mainly because she turned out "black" and he turned out "white". But as siblings go, they reconcile and return their love for each other. Their love stayed strong, as Jenny asked Allan to be Jessica's godfather. But since Allan was snowed in, Harry Bentley was to be the proxy.
Allan Willis (Andrew Harold Rubin/Jay Hammer) is the Willis' only son and older brother of Jenny. Andrew Rubin appears as this character in the first season finale episode entitled "Jenny's Low" (aired on April 12, 1975), in which Allan returns from Europe, and is given the "Cold Shoulder" by his sister, Jenny (Berlinda Tolbert). Jenny starts staying at the Jeffersons' apartment as long as Allan stayed at their own home. She was somewhat jealous of Allan turning out to be "white". They eventually reconcile. In the 1978–79 season, which is the fifth season, Allan is now portrayed by Jay Hammer, who joins the cast in a two-part episode of the season opener. Allan returns from New Mexico, while his parents return from Syracuse after Tom's father dies. Allan is left the Fortune Warehouse in the will and the relationship between Tom and Allan becomes very cold because of his "happy-go-lucky" attitude. Allan is well known for his sharp rebuttal against George's insults and his well-rounded personality. After this season (1978–79), Hammer was fired from the show cast, and Mike Evans returned to the series in the fall of 1979. After that, the way it was described with Allan's writing out of the storyline that he was residing in Minnesota. Allan was also chosen to be his niece, Jessica Jefferson's, godfather upon her birth, but Allan supposedly had gotten snowed in, so Harry Bentley was chosen as the proxy.
Florence Johnston (Marla Gibbs) is the Jeffersons' sassy, backtalking, wisecracking maid. Her first appearance is actually in the pilot episode, when she was interviewed and hired as the housekeeper for the title-bearing characters. Although her job is supposed to take up most of her time, she is flat-out slothful, using very little energy or effort to clean the Jeffersons' apartment. She regularly bickers with George. George, who pays Florence's salary, repeatedly complains about her laziness (and cooking), and he gives her a very small paycheck. Several times he was on the verge of firing her, but Louise, who thinks of her as one of the family, forces him not to. Originally a recurring character, Gibbs later became the core of the series, becoming a series regular, appearing in 207 of the 253 episodes.
Despite being a decent Christian (as Gibbs is in real-life) woman, Florence never kept a long relationship with men. This was the biggest reason she gave to the Jeffersons and the Willises when she contemplated suicide in a Season Two episode. However, George incongruously told Florence not to, simply because she would be hurting everyone if she did. Louise would later credit George for convincing Florence not to take her own life, and gave that as a big reason that underneath his gruff, stubborn exterior was a man who was concerned about others.
In an early Season Three episode, she becomes the Jeffersons' full-time maid, taking Lionel's room after he marries Jenny Willis and finds a place of his own. George naturally refused her to do so at first, but she managed to help him escape a sham financial deal with a couple of con artists, and George was grateful. Another time she was kidnapped by a pair of criminals after they mistook her for Louise. Florence handled the hostage ordeal, and managed to give out a clue to her friends over the phone. Mr. Bentley was the only one to uncover that clue, and she was rescued gradually by the police.
Harry Bentley (Paul Benedict) is the Jeffersons' eccentric English next-door neighbor. Bentley works as a Russian language interpreter at the United Nations. He is known to everybody as a kind, gentle fellow, but George mostly finds him a complete annoyance, especially when he shows up at his door, complaining of back spasms (which could be cured only by George walking across his back) or to borrow a household item. In nearly every episode he was in, George slams the door in his face, either in the middle of a conversation or at the beginning of one. Bentley usually tells stories about his childhood life whenever at a get-together, which almost always bore his guests, but he doesn't seem to notice.
Bentley lives alone, but several times brings home a lady friend. Two of Bentley's most-talked-about ladies are Daphne and Patricia.
Ironically in an earlier Season 3 episode, after taking ignorant advice from George, Bentley accidentally punches a police officer in the face and winds himself in jail. He was bailed out by George, but still faced charges from the whole case. The officer he punched then realized Bentley is truly an honest person, and ultimately freed him.
Paul Benedict left the series at the end of the 1980–81 season, which became the seventh year of the sitcom. The character of Bentley was written out, saying he went to live in the Soviet Union for two years. Benedict returned to the show in 1983 during the show's tenth year on television. Since then, George became much friendlier to him, but sometimes still slams the door on him.
Ralph Hart (Ned Wertimer) is the money-crazed doorman of the high-rise Colby East apartment complex. Although he appears to be a hard-working fellow with a decent attitude, he always makes sure his hand is stuffed with a reasonable amount (in his case, a lot) of money tips. He appears in the episodes usually to deliver merchandise or mail to George, and George must always give him a big tip. The same goes true for just about every other tenant focused on the sitcom. But in later seasons, they learn to stop giving Ralph a big tip, and, if necessary, tell him to get lost. In one episode Ralph was almost replaced by an automatic door before George along with several tenants told the building manager that they would all move if Ralph was replaced and he was allowed to keep his job. However it was revealed that none of the people actually lived in the building and that they all hated Ralph and only did it because he paid them. It is also hinted that the people that actually live in the building (aside from George) hate him so much that they wouldn't have helped him keep his job even if he did pay them. In a Season 5 nightmare dream George has of the future, Ralph has so much money from George's tips that he has moved up from doorman to owner of the apartment building and remarks how $500.00 pays for a gallon of gasoline!
Ralph does sometimes seem to care for his tenants over his tipping, though. In one of the later Season Two episodes, after Lionel and Jenny have a big altercation and break up for a short while, George unknowingly pays a hooker to spend time with Lionel. When Ralph sees her and recognizes her instantly, he tells George the truth. George, clearly panicked, gives Ralph a $100 tip as gratitude. But Ralph turned it down, explaining that he's "going to need it." He would continue to join the cast for the majority of the show's numerous seasons.
Marcus Garvey Henderson
Marcus Garvey Henderson (Ernest Harden Jr.) is George's young employee at Jefferson Cleaners. Marcus appears in the 1977–78 season (during the fourth season), and apparently, Marcus grew up in a rough neighborhood. Louise hired him to work at George's store, but on the very first day on the job, he stole an expensive jacket. Bentley told Louise about the incident, and she and George confronted him. He admitted he stole it, but lashed out at the two about him never receiving a proper life. George retaliates by telling him he is a lucky guy to have a job, and that should he pursue a life as a swindler and altogether a ghetto person, he would end up in jail or the graveyard. Marcus then proceeds to become a better person.
When Marcus confesses his father died at a young age, Louise insists George on taking Marcus to a camp-out to give him a good, father-and-son relationship. Marcus tells George the bad times he had, and George admits his father died when he was ten years old. Marcus breaks down into tears, but both of them have a good time together. Marcus's final appearance was in the season 6 episode "Joltin' George".
Ernest Harden Jr. in fact briefly played another character in one episode in the third season.
Leroy Daniels (Vernon Washington) is George's store manager/employee at Jefferson Cleaners. He was born around 1938 and though a wiz at managing a store and dry-cleaning, can act a little bit dim-witted at times. In one episode titled "George, Who?" Louise, who took a bump on the head after getting attacked by a mugger, is able to find her way to the main cleaner store; In trying to remember Leroy by asking him "Do You Know Leroy?", Leroy, thinking Louise asked him "Do I know what?", dim-wittedly answers, "yesssss?" In one Season 5 episode, in a dream George had, Leroy became the owner of Jefferson Cleaners in 1996 when George himself was dead by then, which George though impossible since he felt Leroy was a dingbat with no business skills. Leroy would appear in several other episodes afterward.
Hugo Mojoloweski (Irwin Keyes) is George's occasional bodyguard, who was originally hired by George to protect him from a serial mugger and career criminal nicknamed "Larry The Loon" in Season Seven. Hugo, upon first sight becomes infatuated with George's daughter-in-law, the already-married Jenny, which, needless to say went unrequited. Hugo is big and very burly, but he, like Leroy may be sometimes a little dim-witted. His catchphrase was, "Hi, remember me ?" which he always greets others, in particular, the very uninterested Jenny, who he at one time kept lavishing gifts upon, namely a big poster greeting card with his image, a la "Casablanca" style, with his catchphrase emblazoned upon it! In the two-part episode titled "The Strays", Hugo is hired once again to help and protect George when he attempts to confront a female street gang who robbed a delivery driver at gunpoint; when the girls appear, Hugo, who was supposed to scare off the girls, is nowhere to be found. As it turns out, Hugo had left because he had gotten hungry.
Jimmy (Garrett Morris) was supposedly a child that George and Louise has sponsored and sent money to for years. However, in their first visit with Jimmy, they realize he was an adult con-man. The character Jimmy appeared in five episodes from 1983 to 1984. Jimmy was a member of the historically black fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha. Morris was exactly a year older than Sherman Hemsley who played George. In the three-part episode titled "Mission:Impossible", Jimmy is once again enlisted by George. Jimmy and his cousin, played by Greg Morris of Mission:Impossible TV series fame, try to recover S10,000 lost by Tom Willis to some con-men, who were ex-Navy acquaintances of George in a revenge/double-cross con.
Charlie (Danny Wells) owns a bar in the first-floor lobby of the Colby-East apartment complex. He usually likes his business and is content with his customers, especially the Jeffersons and the Willises. A recurring joke had been that either Lionel or someone else would be having a drink with George at Charlie's bar, then to see Charlie giving them the bill either because George snuck out or he told Charlie that the drinks will be on Lionel. Once, he was supposed to be evicted because of his contract's expiration, and George would use his bar as an expansion to his cleaner store. But George, realizing Charlie is rather like one of the family, refused and let Charlie stay. In a later episode, titled "A Secret in the Back Room" (Season 11, episode #17) it is revealed that Charlie, while running a successful bar, has struggled for years with a drinking problem, and is separated from his wife because of it; George and Louise try to heip him to come to grips and deal with the problem while preparing for their marriage anniversary party.