Throughout the series, whenever Lamont threatened to move out, or whenever things did not go Fred's way, Fred would clutch his chest and fake a heart attack, shouting variations of "Hear that Elizabeth? I'm coming to join you honey!" No one would fall for his ruse. Ironically, that running gag was blamed for Redd Foxx's death, from a real heart attack, during filming of the series The Royal Family (1991). No one took his legitimate complaints of chest pains seriously until it was too late.
'Redd Foxx' was a huge fan of the 1930s vocal group The Ink Spots, and sang many of their songs on the show. NBC would not pay the royalties because the cost was astronomical. Foxx paid them out of his own pocket.
Redd Foxx and LaWanda Page had been friends since childhood, and she was his first and only choice to play Fred's sister-in-law Esther. Producers wanted to fire Page due to her inexperience on-camera. But Foxx threatened to quit the show if Page was fired.
In the midst of filming episodes for the 1974 season, Redd Foxx had a feud with NBC when he demanded a salary that reflected the success of the show. Unable to reach an agreement Foxx walked off the show for the rest of the season and the producers were forced to create episodes around his absence. The continuity of the show explained that Fred Sanford was away in St. Louis attending his cousin's funeral and leaving his friend Grady (Whitman Mayo) in charge of the business. Oddly enough, this would turn out to be the highest rated season of the show's entire run.
This show has gone down in history as the show that killed The Brady Bunch. In 1974, both shows were on in the same time slot, Friday nights at 8pm, with Sanford and Son on NBC and The Brady Bunch on ABC. Through the entire 1973-74 season, Sanford beat Brady in the ratings until ABC finally pulled the plug.
Despite playing characters in their 60's, Redd Foxx was in his late 40's and Whitman Mayo was in his early 40's during the show's original production. Both actors had to wear make up and hair coloring to appear older than what they were.
After the sixth season, Redd Foxx quit the show to do Redd Foxx (1977). The series was set to continue with Demond Wilson (Lamont) as the lead. But Wilson left due to a salary dispute. The show was retooled and became Sanford Arms (1977).
In the second episode it is revealed that Lamont's middle name is Grady. But in Season 6 episode "The Lucky Streak," Fred admits that Lamont is his middle name and that he actually has no first name because he and Elizabeth never got around to it.
The network was not eager to cast Redd Foxx in the lead. Foxx had been a stand-up comedian whose material was very blue. In order to get the network to relent, a test screening was held at CBS (not NBC) with the network executives and the cast of Norman Lear's hit All in the Family in attendance. According to producer Aaron Ruben, the gag that eventually sold the show was Fred's fake heart attack. This also helped to prove that a black cast could lead the show.
According to show producer Bud Yorkin Redd Foxx was so generous with his money that he was often in debt. When this occurred he would tell the show's producers that he was sick and that his doctor said he wasn't eating enough. The only cure, he said, was that he needed to be making more money. This is similar to what Fred would do on the show with the fake heart attacks.
The show is a remake of a British series "Steptoe and Son" which ran for seven years. Initially co-writer Aaron Ruben thought that meant that the show had seven years worth of scripts to adapt. Unfortunately, the original show only produced four new episodes per season.
A popular misconception was that LaWanda Page who played Esther and Lynn Hamilton who played Donna Harris were sisters in real life. However, that is probably not true, as there is no credible source that actually confirms that information.
CBS executive Fred Silverman was apprehensive about casting black actors for Sanford and Son because several of his previous shows involving black actors had failed. He thought that having Irish, Italian or Jewish characters would work better. So Silverman and producer Aaron Ruben took the show to NBC who loved the idea of having the show be about black junk men.
The original idea for the show was that it would feature two Italian men because the network didn't think that black characters would work. A test screening was held with Paul Sorvino and Barney Hughes in the roles but the scene didn't work. Eventually, the network relented and let the characters be black.
In the midst of taping episodes for the 1973-1974 season, Redd Foxx walked off the show in a salary dispute. His character was written out of the series for the rest of the season. The continuity of the show explained that Fred Sanford was away in St. Louis attending his cousin's funeral and leaving his friend Whitman Mayo in charge of the business. NBC sued Foxx and as part of the settlement, Foxx later returned. Foxx had taped fewer than ten episodes before Fred 'left for St. Louis.'
During the end credits Fred and Lamont are seen loading junk in the back of the truck. However in the title scene where Lamont turns into the driveway a close look reveals it's the same junk that was loaded in the end credit scene.
Demond Wilson's character Lamont Sanford is best friends with Rollo Lawson, portrayed by Nathaniel Taylor. However, in real life behind the scenes it was the polar opposite. Wilson said in a 2015 interview with ILoveOldSchoolMusic.Com that Taylor never really did like him while they were filming the series, and that the last time he saw Taylor was in 1977. Wilson further stated that the reason why they appeared to have good chemistry on screen was because they were high most of the time, with drugs supplied by Lawanda Page, who portrayed Aunt Esther. The reason why Taylor did not like him is never mentioned in the interview.
In season 2, ep 21 "Home sweet home for the aged" a photograph of Elizabeth Sanford can be seen on Fred's nightstand at the nursing home. This is the only time Elizabeth's likeness has been shown on the show.
Julio's departure from the show was never explicitly explained. In the Season 5 subplot about Fred and Lamont opening the Sanford Arms, the Arms are described twice as "Julio's old place" but it's never revealed why Julio was no longer living there.
Larry King has stated that out of all the people that he has ever interviewed including presidents,legends of great renown,and royalty, the single most unpleasant interview that he ever did was with Demond Wilson because of Wilson's tremendous arrogance.
On the episode of Once a Thief in the fourth season, guest star Ron Glass plays an ex-convict. Demond Wilson and Ron Glass played Roomates on the remake of the New Odd Couple that aired in the early 80'S.