Plus-sized, toothsome Johnny Brown (b. 1937) was a highly visible figure on TV when I was growing up in the ’70s. The Florida native started out as the singer in a jazz combo led by “Sam the Man” Taylor in 1958, cutting his first record in 1961. A little known fact is that was briefly part of a trio with the dancing Hines Brothers, Maurice and Gregory, as a replacement for their dad. Hines, Hines and Brown performed on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1963 and 1964. From there he went into Sammy Davis Jr’s Broadway show Golden Boy (1964-66), which led to appearances on Davis’s TV variety show (1966) and his film A Man Called Adam (1966). (Future Good Times co-star Ja’Net DuBois was in both Golden Boy and A Man Called Adam as well). This was followed by a short-lived Broadway show Carry Me Back to Morningside Heights (1968) directed by Sidney Poitier. In 1969 he appeared in an episode of Julia starring Diahann Caroll, Poitier’s romantic partner at the time.
In 1970 Brown was cast as one of the regulars on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, then the hottest show on television. His job on the show caused him to turn down the role of Lamont on Sanford and Son, but didn’t prevent him from making appearances on The Tonight Show, Love American Style, Maude, Get Christie Love, Match Game or any number of other shows at the time. The climax was his most visible role of all, that of the antagonist Bookman on Good Times (1975-79).
Following his hot street Brown continued to work steadily in film and TV for another three decades, with guest shots on such shows as Archie Bunker’s Place, The Jeffersons, Fantasy Island, 227, Martin, etc, and films like Hanky Panky (1982), Town and Country (2001), Man in the Mirror (2008), and his most recent, In Da Cut (2013).
To learn more about the variety arts, including TV variety, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous,