Sherman Hemsley and me: Movin’ on up


NEW YORK, July 24, 2012 — It was the first (and likely the only) time Sherman Hemsley ever laid eyes on the Manhattan apartment building that was made famous in the opening titles of “The Jeffersons.”  Here’s how this came to be:

It was in September 1996, and I had arranged to spend part of a day with him in New York, interviewing him about his career and his then-current sitcom “Goode Behavior,” which had premiered that August on UPN.

Sherman Hemsley and a reporter (OK, it was me) in front of the “movin’ on up” apartment house in Manhattan in September 1996. Photo: Elizabeth Lippman

After conducting a lengthy interview in his hotel room in midtown (among other revelations, he informed me his favorite recording artists were Emerson Lake and Palmer), I persuaded him to accompany a New York Post photographer, Elizabeth Lipp- man, and myself in a taxicab from his hotel to the apartment house on the Upper East Side of Manhattan that was supposed to be the home of George and Louise Jefferson.  I wanted Sherman to pose for a picture in front of the building — a picture we would use to accompany my story — and he was amenable.

So we hailed a cab outside the hotel and while we were driving up to 85th and Third, he blithely informed me that he had never visited the actual building before.  I was surprised to hear that because, for New Yorkers, the opening titles of “The Jeffersons” had turned this high-rise apartment building, whose entrance is on East 85th Street between Third and Lexington avenues, into one of the most recognizable residences in New York City.

In the opening titles, Hemsley, as George Jefferson, and wife Louise (Isabel Sanford), are even seen driving in a Checker cab up to the building’s entrance and strutting inside (well, George strutted; Louise did not) — or so it seemed.

Sherman explained, however, that neither he nor Louise ever came to New York to film their portion of the opening sequence.  The images of the two riding in a taxicab, accompanied by the famed “Movin’ On Up” theme song sung by Ja’net Dubois, were shot in L.A.  And so was the footage of George and Louise entering an apartment building through double glass doors.  If memory serves, he told me that entrance was for a high-rise condo somewhere on Wilshire Boulevard.

Separately, the facade and front driveway of the New York building were also filmed, and the footage from New York and L.A. was edited together to form the famous opening for the show.

But until 1996, Sherman Hemsley had never been to the actual building his TV show turned into a New York City landmark.

Contact Adam Buckman:

Read Adam Buckman’s book: “JERK: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television” … Read a sample on his Amazon book page HERE … Then order it today!

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