Jimmie Walker, who played J.J. on the ’70s sitcom “Good Times,” sat down for a tell-all interview where he gave all kinds of behind the scenes details.
While he discussed the technical aspects of the show, in terms of the initial premise and story lines, he spent much of the time talking smack about his cast mates.
The 71-year-old also talked about the problems he had with folks on the show, specifically, John Amos, who played his father James Evans, Esther Rolle, who played his mother, Michael and Thelma played by Ralph Carter and Bern Nadette Stanis and Ja’Net DuBois, who played Willona.
But first Walker talked about how he got the role of J.J., and it came from doing stand-up comedy. Before the sitcom, he made a name for himself playing shows in his hometown of New York City and eventually started getting booked in other U.S. markets.
Eventually, he caught the attention of a casting agent for show creator Norman Lear, responsible for sitcoms like “The Jeffersons,” “All in the Family” and “Maude, who gave him the role.
However, it took Walker a while to take the offer seriously, because he received so many false promises before that.
In fact, he didn’t show up to the very first rehearsal and was in South Dakota instead of Los Angeles where everyone else was. The comic also never heard of Lear and didn’t realize how rare of an opportunity he was given.
As far as the premise, viewers of the show are aware that it was based on a family living in a Chicago housing project who were very close-knit.
But in real life the casts wasn’t close at all, and according to Walker he didn’t even speak to his TV mother and father when they left the set.
“I will honestly say, I don’t remember ever speaking a word to Ester the whole time she was there,” remembered Walker.
“I think the same basically goes for John. We talk more now but very, very little. We were never friends, never talked. If you said at that time ‘Call Esther and ask her about [something],’ I wouldn’t even have her number,” he added.” I couldn’t have called John. I wouldn’t have had his number … We never spoke to each other. Only on the set … We never did anything together.”
Walker also suggested that his former cast mates weren’t appreciative of being on a hit show and didn’t realize how fleeting that level of success was.
“I think that they killed the goose that laid the golden egg,” he stated. “These people, anytime you said anything, they get crazy, they get upset. I said ‘They don’t get it, man.’”
Walker then went into more detail about his TV dad Amos and said that he caused a lot of friction on the show because artistically, he thought it was beneath him. Amos was fired from “Good Times” after the third season, and the series went on without him.
“John is a good actor, a solid actor,” said Walker. “And I think it was just this show, this situation, that was against anything and everything he believed in. He never been a problem on any other show.”
As far as the comic’s TV brother Michael, played by Ralph Carter, Walker said that he became disinterested in the show because initially, he was supposed to have a bigger role until the JJ character grew more popular. And according to Walker, Carter gave less effort as the series went on.
He then talked about Stanis, who played Thelma and said while she didn’t cause any problems, she failed to capitalize on her image of being a sex symbol.
In fact, when Walker suggested to Lear and Amos that she do a pinup poster like actress Farrah Fawcett — which sold millions of copies in the ‘70s — he got blasted for it.
“Norman Lear and John Amos came to me and said ‘How dare you put our girl in a position like that?” he recalled. “She’s not a h-e. You keep your illicit mind off of that and never bring that up again … They came down so hard on me.”
Afterwards, he brought up DuBois and her Willona character and said that she annoyed him because she always talked about her other endeavors. Walker suggested that it was hard to carry on a conversation with her because she was always discussing her singing career or fashion designs.
He also claimed that DuBois complained to the writers a lot, mainly about her character not doing enough. So much so, they eventually expanded her role and that’s how the Penny character, played by Janet Jackson, was created.
“Without Ja’Net, I don’t think Janet Jackson would’ve ever gotten on our show,” said Walker. “Because she laid out her side of whatever so much, that the writer said ‘We’ve got to do something to get her off our backs.’”
Perhaps surprisingly, none of his former cast mates have responded to Walker’s interview yet, but that may change in the coming days.