August 12, 2014 11:15 AM EDT

Never was a more unlikely comic adapted so effectively to a sitcom as Redd Foxx. Foxx, whose stage act liberally employed words and references that you still can’t use on broadcast TV, was cleaned up, but not smoothed over, as junkyard proprietor, serial over-actor, widower and ornery cuss Fred Sanford. But Foxx’s transition to TV wouldn’t have worked without the understated work of Demond Wilson as his son Lamont. Lamont was the suffering grown-up, dreaming of building up the family business (or ditching it and moving out) and chafing at having to keep Fred out of trouble. Fred was the manipulative child, having another in a series of “heart attacks”—”I’m coming to join you, Elizabeth!”—when he needed sympathy. Sanford and Son may not have played to the champagne crowd, but it went down like a smooth glass of champipple.

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