‘The Jeffersons’: Isabel Sanford Was Older Than Her On-Screen Husband Sherman Hemsley – By More Than a Few Years

They were one of the most popular 1970s’ and ’80s TV couples: Louise and George Jefferson, played by Isabel Sanford and Sherman Hemsley. Spun off from All in the Family, the character of Louise was the sweet and easygoing wife to George’s harsh and demanding personality.

The two appeared to be perfectly compatible, but what wasn’t immediately evident was the fact that Sanford, while seeming to be the same age as her co-star, was significantly older than he.

Sanford first auditioned for the role of Louise’s sister

Within days of watching All in the Family after it began airing on CBS in 1971, Sanford stated, her agent called to let her know she would be auditioning for a role on the very same show.

“He had me to read,” she remembered, “for Louise Jefferson’s sister.

“Soon after [watching All in the Family], I don’t know, a couple of days, my agent called and said, ‘Go, you have an audition.’ I went for this audition and Norman Lear auditioned me. This was before it was an empire,” she recalled.

The cast of the TV sitcom 'The Jeffersons' (L-R Back Row: Franklin Cover, Paul Benedict, Sherman Hemsley, Marla Gibbs, Ned Wertimer and Berlinda Tolbert, Front Row, seated: Roxie Roker, Isabel Sanford, and Mike Evans circa 1975
‘The Jeffersons’ cast, 1975 | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Louise’s sister, Sanford explained, was a role that could be missed if viewers blinked. The character in the episode titled “Lionel Moves Into the Neighborhood,” knocks on the Bunkers’ door, asking to borrow a pail to clean up the Jeffersons’ new home for them.

The Louise Jefferson actor was horrified when she met Hemsley

When Sanford met her on-screen husband Sherman Hemsley, she was less than gratified about the prospect of filming with him. She was told a season and a half into All in the Family that Norman Lear had finally found her a husband. As she told the Television Academy Foundation in 2002, it was a real letdown.

“When I saw the man, he came, this little man and he was little then,” she began. “Thin, you know.”

(L to R) Sherman Hemsley as George Jefferson and Isabel Sanford as his wife Louise Jefferson on 'The Jeffersons'
(L to R) Sherman Hemsley as George Jefferson and Isabel Sanford as his wife Louise Jefferson on ‘The Jeffersons’ | CBS via Getty Images

The show’s director, John Rich, received Hemsley on his first day on the set and introduced him to a displeased Sanford.

She recalled: “He said, ‘Isabel, this is your husband!’ I looked at this little man that I could have squashed like a bug. I don’t see how John could think we would make a great-looking couple.”

Asked if she felt that Rich had gotten something right, Sanford laughed and said, “He apparently did because the world has been hitching us together ever since.”

Sanford was much older than the George Jefferson actor

Sanford and Hemsley worked side by side for ten years on the series, from 1975 to 1985. As Norman Lear in his memoir Even This I Get to Experience wrote of the pair: “Sherman Hemsley, already popular as Archie [Bunker’s] neighbor, became an instant star on his own show, as did Isabel Sanford as his wife and his equal in the ‘I give as good as I get’ department.”

Mental Floss noted that the “Weezy” actor was “21 years older than Hemsley,” old enough to be his mother. That fact was lost on viewers, however, because the two looked similar in age. Age, Sanford proved, really is just a number.

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