‘All in the Family’s Carroll O’Connor Refused to Report to Work and Isabel Sanford Was Thrilled: ‘I Loved It’

During the run of sitcom All in the Family in the 1970s, one of the show’s more minor characters of Louise Jefferson was played by actor Isabel Sanford.

The actor eventually received, along with George Jefferson cast member Sherman Hemsley her own spin-off series, The Jeffersons, in 1975.

Up until then, however, Sanford felt frustrated at her scarcity of lines on the show, revealing to the Television Academy Foundation in 2002 that an extended absence of star Carroll O’Connor’s proved to be just what she had been hoping for.

Jean Stapleton, Rob Reiner, Carroll O'Connor, and Sally Struthers in 'All In The Family'
Jean Stapleton, Rob Reiner, Carroll O’Connor, and Sally Struthers in ‘All In The Family’ | CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

Louise Jefferson actor Sanford wanted more lines on the show

Sanford was hired to play Louise Jefferson on All in the Family starting in the show’s first season. Debuting in the eighth episode titled “Lionel Moves into the Neighborhood,” Sanford loved being in the program’s cast but wished she’d had more lines, as she told the Television Academy Foundation.

Recalling how she would approach producer Bernie West because he “was nice, I could talk to him,” the actor jokingly implored the producer for more lines on the comedy.

“‘You know, I can memorize more than six lines,’ she recalled telling him. “He said, ‘I know, I know.’ I said, ‘Well, I was just asking because if I have two pages of dialogue, a page was cut for time. Can’t you give me a couple more lines?'”

(L to R) Sherman Hemsley as George Jefferson and Isabel Sanford as his wife Louise Jefferson on 'The Jeffersons'
(L to R) Sherman Hemsley as George Jefferson and Isabel Sanford as his wife Louise Jefferson on ‘The Jeffersons’ | CBS via Getty Images

Archie Bunker actor O’Connor joined a strike and Sanford was thrilled

As it turned out, the show’s star O’Connor unwittingly played a part in getting Sanford more lines. According to her, the Archie Bunker actor chose to not report to work and instead joined a strike, although in her remarks, it is unclear what the strike was in protest of. With O’Connor gone, the other actors had more air time and lines.

“It got so that there was a strike on,” Sanford recalled, saying only that it was a “workers’ strike.”

“Carroll O’Connor went out and joined them,” she said. “Therefore, that gave everybody work for a while. I worked one week after week after week on the show because he wasn’t there. He was out on this strike with these men, which was good for me. I loved it.”

Jean Stapleton and Carroll O'Connor in 'All in the Family'
Jean Stapleton and Carroll O’Connor in ‘All in the Family’ | CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

Interestingly, Sanford didn’t want ‘The Jeffersons’ spin-off

Although she was frustrated at not having an abundance of lines, soon Sanford got what she wanted, and then some, when she learned she would be leaving All in the Family for her own show, The Jeffersons. However, the actor didn’t want to leave the hit comedy.

“Jane, the casting director, she called me and said, ‘I understand that you don’t want to do the spin-off.’ I said, ‘That’s right, I don’t,’” Sanford said.

The cast of the TV sitcom 'The Jeffersons' (L-R Back Row: Franklin Cover, Paul Benedict, Sherman Hemsley, Marla Gibbs, Ned Wertimer and Berlinda Tolbert, Front Row, seated: Roxie Roker, Isabel Sanford, and Mike Evans circa 1975
‘The Jeffersons’ cast, 1975 | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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She explained that All in the Family was a hit for CBS and she loved working on the show. “I know them, I’m used to them, I want to be with them,” Sanford said. In addition, her fear was that The Jeffersons would flop.

In reply, Sanford was told: “Well, if this is successful, we will get an actress to do Louise Jefferson. And we’ll write Louise Jefferson out of All in the Family.”

Sanford had no other choice, she agreed to the spin-off, and never looked back.