Teddy Wilson: Supported Sitcoms in the ’70s

Having had frequent occasion to mention Harlem-born actor Teddy Wilson (1943-1991) in the past, we thought we’d give him his own post here today.

Wilson’s easy going manner and pleasant, warm voice made him a sort of sitcom “It” boy in the 1970s sitcom-iverse. This is which is where I chiefly knew him from, though he had a background in the theatre with the Negro Ensemble Company, and was in a number of blaxploitation films roughly concurrent with the TV work. Those early films include Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970), Come Back Charleston Blue (1972), Black Eye (1974), and Gang Wars (1976), as well as the gritty cop drama Newman’s Law (1974) with George Peppard, and the Negro Ensemble Company’s screen version of their production of The River Niger (1976). While Wilson’s TV work began with parts on The Waltons and The Partridge Family, his peak work included regular and recurring roles on Roll-Out (1973), That’s My Mama (1974-75), Good Times (1976-79), What’s Happening! (1976-78) and, his own starring role, on the short-lived Sanford and Son spin-off Sanford Arms (1977). During the same years, he guested on M*A*S*H, Baretta, Phyllis, The Bionic Woman, Kojak, Police Woman, and The White Shadow, and appeared in the Muhammad Ali bio-pic The Greatest (1977). So this was a time of HIGH visibility.

In the 1980s a new crop of African American comic performers came pouring in, and styles had changed, so while he continued to work steadily through the of his life he was no longer quite the “man of the moment” as a supporting actor in quite the same way. Still, Wilson appeared on 227, The Golden Girls, The Redd Foxx Show, and many other top tv shows, and such films as Carny (1980) with Jodie Foster, the 1986 Blake Edwards films A Fine Mess and That’s Life, John Cassavetes’ last film Big Trouble (1986) starring Alan Arkin and Peter Falk, the Ally Sheedy comedy Maid to Order (1987), Mel Brooks’ 1991 Life Stinks, and the 1992 horror comedy The Vagrant, also produced by Brooks.

Teddy Wilson was only 47 when he died of stroke in 1991.