Marla Gibbs: “We Never Really Die, Our Spirit Lives On”
At 87 years of age, actress Marla Gibbs is still going strong. She has a career that has included television, movies and live performances. Best known as the feisty, quick-witted Florence Johnston on The Jeffersons and Mary Jenkins on 227, the popular performer speaks about her life’s journey and shares some great stories about the historic shows she’s been part of.
With the passing of her friend and costar Sherman Hemsley – known to millions as George Jefferson – earlier this year, Marla is one of the last surviving members of the cast of The Jeffersons. To the end of his life, Sherman and Marla discussed possible projects they could work on together. The Jeffersons served as family for Ms. Gibbs. That sense of family continued into 227, which she produced. As Ms. Gibbs talks about those shows and her television run spanning 15 years, as Florence and Mary, you’d think you were living it with her.
Her famous exchanges – filled with her wisecracks and insults on The Jeffersons, make for some great examples of television comedy. Marla explains how she and Sherman worked so well together, on those memorable exchanges:
“As I said to Sherman, ‘When your lips stop moving, I’ll start talking.’ Sometimes he would think he forgot the lines and I would remind him that his mind took a picture of them the first time he saw them and we’ve done rehearsal. I said, ‘ So they’re in there so stop saying you forgot them. Then they’ll come out.’ I said, ‘Just say something that makes sense and I’ll respond to you.’ Sherman was so great at setting me up that we could make something out of nothing. … You know you can’t hit a person unless they set you up and he was so good at setting me up. Sherman was so wonderful at setting me up and, of course, I set him up too ‘cause he’d come through with some classic retorts to me.”
When discussing the passing of Sherman Hemsley in early 2014, Marla says she spoke with Mr. Hemsley a few months prior to his death. They were always talking about working on new projects. She cannot believe that most of the cast of The Jeffersons has passed on:
“It was about four months before he [Sherman Hemsley] made his transition. We kept up with each other by phone. I called him every few months so and we’d talk and we talked about trying to do another TV show, come up with an idea for one. We never really did. … I sure miss Sherman every time, but of course one thing about TV, you live on forever ‘cause I can look and see Roxie and Franklin and Sherman and Isabel. I can look at the TV and see all of them just as though they were still here. … Because I know that we never die, our spirits just transcends our body; I talk to them sometimes. I’ll think of Roxie and I’ll just talk to her when I’m driving.”
Focusing on Isabel Sanford, who played the historic role of Louise “Weezy” Jefferson, Marla says…