Comedian Tom Smothers turns75 years old today. Smothers was born on February 2, 1937, in New York City. After moving to California, he graduated from Redondo Union High School in Redondo Beach, California. He was a competitive unicyclist and a state champion gymnast in the parallel bars. Smothers later attended San José State University, then known as San Jose State College.
The Smothers Brothers initially wanted to be folk musicians. Tom didn't feel that he was good enough to be a professional musician, but he was funny enough to do comedy. The two began adding comedy bits to their act. Tom's first foray into the medium of television was as a regular on the The Steve Allen Show in 1961. He followed that role with a single episode of Burke's Law. The Smothers Brothers next appeared on the CBS sitcom, The Smothers Brothers Show from 1965 to 1966. Tom felt that the show didn't play to the brothers' strengths and wanted creative control over their next venture. Tom Smothers negotiated creative control over their next CBS show, a variety show entitled The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1967. The brothers (particularly Tom) fought CBS censors to sneak in references to religion, recreational drugs, sex, and the Vietnam War. The brothers' oppositional stand on politics led to their show's demise with David Steinberg later claiming "The most innovative variety show on television shut down because of political pressure".
Actor Sherman Hemsley turns 74 years old today. Hemsley was born February 1, 1938, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and was raised in South Philadelphia by his mother, who was a factory worker. He dropped out of school and joined the Air Force, where he served for four years. After leaving the Air Force, he returned to Philadelphia where he worked for the Post Office during the day while attending acting school at night. He then moved to New York, continuing to work for the Post Office during the day while working as an actor at night. He starred as the character Gitlow in the early 1970s Broadway play Purlie. While Hemsley was on Broadway with Purlie, Norman Lear called him in 1971 to play the role of George Jefferson on his burgeoning new sitcom, All in the Family. Hemsley was reluctant to leave his theatre role, but Lear told him that he would hold the role open for him. Hemsley joined the cast two years later. The characters of Hemsley and co-star Isabel Sanford were secondary on All in the Family, but were given their own spin-off series, The Jeffersons, less than two years after Hemsley made his debut on the show. Such was Hemsley's and Sanford's compatibility and credibility as a married couple that no one seemed to notice or care that in real life Sanford was twenty years older than Hemsley. The Jeffersons proved to be one of Lear's most successful shows, enjoying a run of 11 seasons through 1985.