Marla Gibbs

Marla Gibbs has earned her place in TV history playing Florence Johnston, the less than efficient and always wisecracking maid of George and Louise Jefferson on "The Jeffersons" (CBS, 1975-1985), and as Mary Jenkins, gossipy homemaker and general building yenta on the NBC series "227," which she also co-produced. Acting, let alone stardom, came to Marla Gibbs relatively late. A divorcee with three children, she worked as a receptionist, addressograph operator, switchboard operator, and was a reservations clerk for United Airlines before she even attempted acting professionally. In fact, she left Detroit, where she was working for United Airlines, and transferred to L.A. for the climate and her daughter's schooling. It was when looking into after school activities for her daughter that Gibbs herself signed up for some acting lessons at a performing arts center. She was hooked. Her first role came with the obscure independent film "Sweet Jesus, Preacher Man" (1972), and can also be spotted in the blaxploitation "Black Belt Jones" (1974). In 1975, Gibbs was hired for a guest shot on "The Jeffersons" playing one of the candidates for household domestic nouveau riche George is interviewing over the objections of his wife. Per the script, Gibbs brought down the house when she noticed that African Americans were living in this swanky East Side New York building and asked, "How come we got over and nobody told me?" Norman Lear and the powers at his TAT Communications were so taken by Gibbs, that they hired her as a regular member of the cast where for 11 seasons she shirked her maid duties and insulted Sherman Hemsley, besides earning five Emmy nominations as best supporting actress in a comedy series. Gibbs disappeared for a short while in 1981 when she was given a four-episode tryout on her own series, "Checking In" (CBS), in which Florence becomes supervisor of maid services at a hotel. When the tryout didn't click, she returned to "The Jeffersons." When "The Jeffersons" was cancelled after 11 seasons, Gibbs was ready. She had acquired the rights to a play performed in her native Chicago about an overbearing woman in an apartment building. Gibbs performed the play, also called "227" at her own Crossroads Theatre in the Leimert Park section of Los Angeles -- which she had founded in 1981 -- then sold NBC on the concept for a series. The result was "227," which ran on NBC from 1985-1990. Her popularity also made Fox take a look at Gibbs as a possible talk show host and she was one of a revolving number of hosts on "The Late Show" in 1986. Gibbs began in longforms in 1976 with a role in "The Moneychangers" for NBC, and, in 1993, she was a bureaucratic clerk causing problems for Bonnie Bedelia in the miniseries "The Fire Next Time" (CBS). Gibbs also played Natalie Cole's mother in the USA Network original movie "Lily in Winter" (1994), and returned to feature films in 1993 with a cameo in "Meteor Man" for director Robert Townsend. In 1982 Gibbs bought a club on Martin Luther King Boulevard in Los Angeles and renamed it "Marla's." For a good part of a decade it was a meeting place and performance venue for the African American community, in which Gibbs has taken a active role. She has won seven NAACP Image Awards.