There are two actors whose first readings I remember to this day. One was Carroll O’Connor: In three sentences, he became Archie Bunker. The same was true of Isabel Sanford as Louise Jefferson: She opened her mouth, that voice came out, and there she was!
Isabel was a universal actress. She brought much more woman and mother to the character of Weezy than she did black woman or black mother. I don’t think people thought of The Jeffersons as a ”black show.” They were simply tuning in to a funny show about a family they knew, and Isabel was the key to its appeal. She was so appreciative of what she had. And when she won her Emmy in 1981, oh, she just exploded!
I remember Isabel telling me that some people regretted playing a particular role for too many years because that became their sole identification. Isabel was trapped in Louise — and she had no problem with the fact that folks never wanted to talk about anything but The Jeffersons, or that she was hardly ever remembered for anything else, like Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. That’s because she was Louise. She didn’t bring problems to the set; she was there to solve the problems. She just brought peace — in addition to talent — to everything she did. (Sanford died of natural causes in Los Angeles.)