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‘I Will Not Do the Show Without a Man: ‘227’ Star Marla Gibbs Says She Had to Fight to Portray a Married Character on the Show

The legendary Marla Gibbs appeared on “The Sherri Shepherd Show” last week, where she received praised for her beauty and ground-breaking career in entertainment. The actress best known for playing housekeeper Florence Johnson on the beloved sitcom “The Jeffersons” also played Mary Jenkins on “227.” She was recently cast in season 19 of “Grey’s Anatomy” and the Snoop Dogg-produced film “Bromates.”

Shepherd was present when Gibbs received her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in July 2021. “Oh, it was so fabulous,” Gibbs said of her big day. “I never expected that. It was all Regina’s idea.” 

I Will Not Do the Show Without a Man: '227' Star Marla Gibbs Says She Had to Fight to Portray a Married Character on the Show
UNSPECIFIED – OCTOBER 05: In this screengrab, Marla Gibbs presents the award for Best Series – Comedy at the 46th Annual Gracie Awards on October 05, 2021. (Photo by Alliance for Women in Media Foundation/Getty Images for Alliance for Women in Media Foundation)

Shepherd clarified that fellow “227” star Regina King was responsible for getting everyone on board with getting Gibbs a Hollywood star. “They turned us down the first year,” said the 91-year-old, who feels much younger than she is. 

“I think somebody got that wrong. I’m 30,” said the woman who jokingly turns that age “every year.”

“I went back to 30. I was 44 when I started out. But I said if I’m 30 then I can work forever,” she explained. “And God is good. God says that there is no age and that there is no time if you’re a spiritual being. And I’m a spiritual being so I have no age, I have no time. So I chose to vibrate on 30.”

Shepherd reminded the audience that Gibbs brought the idea for “227” to “The Jeffersons” creator Norman Lear. Gibbs then revealed the show was initially a play that ran for six months. It was seen by  Brandon Tartikoff, who was the president of NBC from 1981 to 1991.  

“So when Norman finally came to see it — which I had invited him — But then he heard about it. He said, ‘I hear you have a good play.’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘Well, I want to see it.’ I said, ‘Well, you better come tomorrow, because we’re closing.”

Due to their first and legendary series, Lear offered to produce “227” with Gibbs. 

“So I said OK, that’s home. I’m already doing ‘The Jeffersons.’ But then when I got it, he had two other producers, who were also African-Americans, but they didn’t agree with anything I wanted to do.”

She said they wanted her character Mary Jenkins to portray a single woman to which replied, “I will not do the show without a man.” 

For those who watched “227,” Gibbs’ character was married to character Lester Jenkins, portrayed by Hal Wiliams, who also played Jenkins in the play. Their ”chemistry” was already established, which made it easier to add lines and transform them into a series. She had to fight for Williams the same way she  fought for actress Jackée Harry, who played Sandra Clark in “227.”

“I fought for him,” Gibbs noted. “I got him and then Jackée came in and she did an audition for Rose. But then she asked if she could play Sandra and we said yes. She did and she was hysterical.”

In 1987, Jackée Harry became the first African-American woman to win an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for 227. But Gibbs said NBC “didn’t want her” for the role.

“They wanted somebody else but I said I want her because she’s going to work. The other person I loved but nobody would believe she lived in this building. She was just sophisticated,” Gibbs insists. “But Jackée was hysterical.”

Harry’s historic Emmy win paved the way for Sheryl Lee Ralph, to win the same award earlier this year in September. As previously reported, Ralph won for her role as Mrs. Barbara Howard on the hit comedy series “Abbott Elementary.”

Harry praised Ralph for being the second woman to do so and creating a “full circle” moment.

“Winning my Emmy was a career highlight, but it was also a lonely experience,” the “Sister, Sister” star tweeted along with a photo of herself with the Emmy she won. “For 35 years I’ve been the only black woman to win Outstanding Supporting Actresses in a Comedy Series. But that all changes tonight… and it’s come full circle! #Emmys.”

In a second tweet, the 66-year-old confirmed that NBC wanted Ralph instead of her. She said, “The network originally wanted @thesherylralph to play Sandra on 227, but I got the part and won an Emmy for it. Now, Sheryl joins me as the 2nd black woman in this category, and deservedly so! I’m so excited for her #Emmys win!”

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