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Wed, 08.29.1917

Isabel Sanford, Actress born

Isabel Sanford

*On this date in 1917, Isabel Sanford was born. She is a Black actress.

Sanford's life story from New York City is the type that those in show business enjoy because it gives the struggling artist hope. After an education in New York, she joined the Star Players (later the American Negro Theater) in the 1930s. Sanford worked with them until World War II started, and the theater temporarily split up.  After the war, Sanford had home obligations that put her career on hold. But her husband's death was the inspiration for Sanford's dream.

With three children to support, she worked as a data processor by day, acted as she could in the evening, and developed a lifelong frugality about which she joked. Sanford made it to the Broadway stage in James Baldwin's The Amen Corner and, in 1967, was given her film debut by producer-director Stanley Kramer in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? In it, Sanford was the ever-loyal housekeeper of Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy.

Her role as the maid was in stark contrast to the supposed liberalism of Hepburn and Tracy's characters in the film, here Sanford offered a grand performance in what might be the last of the great strength, humorless Black domestics, a practice in American films and TV until the 1960s Civil Rights era.  Sanford appeared in the feature Pendulum (1969) and on The Carol Burnett Show from 1967-69 as a stock player in some skits.

She also appeared on episodes of Julia as a woman who berated Diahann Carroll to ensure the widowed nurse wasn't turning her son Corey into an “Oreo.” In 1971 came All in the Family.  Sanford's role was, at first, recurring, but as the producers could use her as a friend to Edith, it increased. The Jeffersons followed, with Sanford winning an Emmy in 1981 for Best Actress in a Comedy Series, the first Black woman to win in that category in the history of the awards. Sanford made guest appearances on other shows and specials and appeared in the 1979 film Love at First Bite. Other film roles include Lady Sings the Blues (1972) and Original Gangstas (1996).

Isabel Sanford will always be known as Louise Jefferson, yet throughout her career, Sanford said more with her eyes and impeccable comic timing than others did with words. Isabelle Sanford died on July 12, 2004.

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