Monday, September 17, 2007

And the winner is …

While watching last night’s 59th Annual Emmy Awards telecast, memories began stirring back to the 1981 awards presentations (26 years ago!) when I watched my first client and friend Isabel Sanford win her (first and only) Emmy Award as Best Actress in a Comedy for her portrayal of Louise Jefferson on the then long-running, first run, CBS-TV series The Jeffersons.

Isabel had been nominated several times before, but never won. There had been numerous other important awards bestowed upon her during her life. As appreciative of those tributes as she was, the elusive Emmy was a career milestone she longed for. It wasn’t that the other awards weren’t important. They were – and she proudly displayed all of them in her Los Angeles home. But, the Emmy was special to Isabel. It represented a level of recognition from her peers and the industry that mattered deeply to her.

To a woman who didn’t become a working actress until well into her 50’s, a time (as I write in my introduction to The Business of Acting book) by which most others would have long before given up, Isabel’s belief in her ability to make a living as a working actress never waned.

The first words of her acceptance speech were, “At last.”

That Emmy evening 26 years ago marked two very important milestones: Isabel, at long last, felt as if she had finally achieved career success and, in doing so, became the first and only (to date) African American to win the Emmy for Best Actress in a Comedy.

While the genre of television comedy has changed significantly since 1981, the goal of television comedy has remained constant since Milton Berle first put on a dress to get a laugh in the early days of television. Laughter heals, laughter brings people together, laughter is good for the soul. These aren’t “Brad Lemack-isms”; studies have proven this to be true.

Television audiences, both young and old, continue to laugh at the humor The Jeffersons serves up in reruns on TV Land. While established fans love to revisit a favorite show from the past, younger people who weren’t born yet when the series first aired are discovering Weezy, George, Florence and company and becoming new Jeffersons devotees in the process.

The endurance of the writing, the appreciation of the performances and the fan mail, particularly from the young, new viewers was important to Isabel. When she died in July 2004, she left behind a legacy that she earned through a lifetime of commitment to her craft and a sense of having achieved what she set out to accomplish. Against all odds, she was a winner.

“At last,” indeed.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I loved "The Jeffersons" and thought that Ms. Sanford was one of the most talented actresses in the business. By the time she received her long overdue Emmy, you are right, she did, indeed, earn it. Getting too much recognition too soon isn't good; either is waiting until it's almost too late. Thanks for this reminder.