‘The Jeffersons’ Star Marla Gibbs Opens Up About Landing Role on Sitcom

by Liz Holland

“The Jeffersons” star Marla Gibbs opened up in a recent interview about landing the role of Florence Johnston. 

Marla Gibbs made her way into American’s hearts with her role on “The Jeffersons.” Her one-liners and on-screen charm made her one of TV’s most popular comedic actresses. The actress also earned five Emmy nominations for her role as Florence, but she never won. The 90 year old is still working in show business, and she shared her experience in the role that kick started it all in a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter.

“It’s because of you guys,” she told the magazine when asked how she landed the role. “My agent was Ernestine McClendon. And she wrote a full-page letter to The Hollywood Reporter about how poorly her [predominantly Black] clients were being treated. We were ‘the revolving door’ at auditions: in and out, in and out. They were not paying any attention to us,” the actress explained. 

Marla Gibbs Says Her Agent’s Letter Helped Land Her ‘The Jeffersons’

“After that, everybody wanted to see us. Then I heard they were casting for The Jeffersons. And my agent got me an audition. And this time when I went in, they were paying attention to me because of Ernestine’s letter in The Hollywood Reporter.”

Ironically enough, Gibbs had no idea that the sitcom revolved around a black family that had achieved the “American Dream.”

“I didn’t know what it was. It was called The Jeffersons, that’s all I knew. And the part they wanted me to read for, Florence the maid, reminded me of my grandmother and my aunt in Chicago,” Gibbs reflected. “So that’s how I played her. And the casting director liked it. She took me right over to the producers, and they liked it. By the time I got home, I had the job.”

The Show Creator Loved The Actress’ Comedic Delivery

The show’s creator, Norman Lear, loved the way that Gibbs approached the role. The actress shared that when she tried to experiment with her “You folks don’t mind if I ask you something: How come we overcame– and nobody told me?” line, she found out just how much Lear loved her audition. 

“And then they had Norman Lear come in. I decided that for one laugh line, I would try it a different way. They went, ‘No! What did you do? Do it the way you did it at the audition!’ What nobody told me is that it was Norman’s favorite line. For Gibbs, comedy was new for her. However, she didn’t necessarily view it that way. “It was something new,” she explained. “I mean, we didn’t call it comedy. We thought it was just funny things they said in the neighborhood. So I did it that way, and that’s the way I did it all the years I was on the show.”

After her 10 years on “The Jeffersons,” Gibbs starred in the TV series “227”– and has been working regularly ever since.