Starting out with a small smile, Marla Gibbs’ face soon broke into a huge grin as her career achievements were immortalized with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
During a ceremony on July 20 outside El Capitan Entertainment Centre on Hollywood Boulevard, the five-time Emmy-nominated performer was saluted for blazing trails and overcoming barriers to become one of the most recognized African American actresses in the history of television.
Gibbs, who received the 2,698th star, was feted by pioneering director Norman Lear, who cast her as Florence Johnston, perhaps the most popular maid to grace the small screen. As a co-star on “The Jeffersons” TV show, Gibbs portrayed an intelligent, sassy and funny so-called servant who captured audiences with her hilarious delivery peppered with words of wisdom.
She followed up her 10-season run on the show with “227,” a show that she executive produced as well as wrote and sang the theme song. While “227” went on to be a big hit, the show almost didn’t air due to a conflict between the network and Gibbs. TV execs wanted Gibbs’ character to be a single mother, but she resisted that depiction, instead holding firm that the character would be married and resolving life’s situations with her husband.
Her determination to have a united Black couple not only revealed a happy African American family to White viewers, but also opened the door for other sitcoms featuring Black leads. Recipients of her actions included actress Tisha Campbell, who assisted in unveiling the star and starred on several comedies such as “Martin,” “My Wife and Kids” and “Dr. Ken.”
In remarks to the crowd, Gibbs said, “Thank you to all of you who have been fans of ‘The Jeffersons’ and ‘227.’ We love you, and it’s because you watched us we were able to excel and I’m able to be here today. Thank you.”
Prior to unveiling the star, the crowd had a brief scare as Gibbs, 90, appeared to overcome by the day’s heat. According to City News Service, just as she started speaking, Gibbs closed her eyes and appeared to waver as she stood behind the lectern. One of her sons rushed onto the small stage
and City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell brought a chair for Gibbs.
One person in the crowd shouted, “We love you, Marla,” and the crowd cheered. Gibbs’ son took the
responded into the microphone, “She loves you all and thank you all very much. God bless you.’”
Gibbs did recover after about 15 minutes and sat on a chair behind her new star as it was officially unveiled. She then remained seated as she posed or photographs with family and other celebrity guests.
A native of Chicago, Gibbs worked in reservations for United Airlines when she decided to pursue an acting career. She studied at the Performing Arts Society of Los Angeles (PASLA), the Mafundi Institute and the Watts Writers Workshop.
Gibbs went on to appear in local productions of “Medea,” “The Amen Corner” and “The Gingerbread Lady.”She also landed film roles in “Sweet Jesus, Preacherman’” and
“Black Belt Jones” before being cast on “The Jeffersons.” Her other film credits include “The Visit,” “El Camino” and “Stanley’s Gig.”
In recent years, Gibbs had recurring roles on the NBC daytime drama “Passions” and the ABC/UPN comedy “The Hughleys.” She also guest starred on and “NCIS,” “This Is Us,” “blackish,” “The Neighborhood,” “Young Sheldon” and “Big Shot.” Her voice is heard on the animated series, “101 Dalmatians.”
Gibbs operated a jazz supper club in South Los Angeles, Marla’s Memory Lane, in the 1980s and 1990s and co-founded the Crossroads Theater and Acting School with her daughter, Angela.
An eight-time NAACP Image Award winner, she has received numerous awards and honors including Essence Magazine’s Woman of the Year. In 2006, she released a CD, “It’s Never Too Late,” which featured some of her own compositions.
City News Service contributed to this report.