ABC’s Live in Front of a Studio Audience: Norman Lear’s All in the Family and The Jeffersons delivered a major surprise for classic TV fans. Marla Gibbs, the last living member of the classic TV comedy The Jeffersons, made a surprising cameo as Florence Johnston 44 years after she debuted the role on the original CBS sitcom.
Marla Gibbs’ cameo was kept under wraps in all of the promotional materials for the live TV special, which featured recreations of classic episodes of All in the Family and The Jeffersons. In what turned out to be a fakeout, One Day at a Time star Justina Machado had been billed as Florence ahead of the show, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Marla Gibbs turned up to recreate her scenes from the very first Jeffersons episode, “A Friend in Need,” which originally broadcast on January 18, 1975. The episode features Gibbs’ Florence Johnston accepting a job as George and Louise Jefferson’s maid.
On the live remake, when Louise Jefferson (Wanda Sykes) opened the door to interview job candidate Florence Johnston, audiences expected to see Justina Machado. Instead, Marla Gibbs was standing there and the audience went crazy. Gibbs, 87, played Florence for the entire 11-season run of The Jeffersons, from 1975 to 1986, and her cameo proved once and for all that she is the only person who can play that role.
The remake scene also served as a reunion for Gibbs and her former 227 co-star Jackee Harry, who was on board for the remake as the role of fellow maid Diane Stockwell. Harry later posted to Twitter to describe the experience as a dream come true.
A dream I never knew I had, coming true!— Jackée Harry (@JackeeHarry) May 23, 2019
Thank you to @ABCNetwork, @SPTV, @jimmykimmel, @TheNormanLear, @kerrywashington, @iamwandasykes, and my long-time partner in crime @MarlaGibbs4Real for being so wonderful.#LiveInFrontOfAStudioAudience #BlessedBlesseeBlessed xox pic.twitter.com/LIcISsxBcG
While Marla Gibbs’ cameo was a major surprise, series creator Norman Lear did hint that something big could happen on the live All in the Family-Jeffersons remake. Ahead of the live broadcast, the legendary television producer told The New York Post that audiences should tune in to “see if there are some surprises.” In addition, ABC Entertainment SVP Rob Mills teased to Forbes that there would be some previously unannounced surprises revealed during the broadcast.
Marla Gibbs has an impressive TV resume at age 87, and she shows no signs of slowing down. According to IMDB, Gibbs has worked steadily since the 1970s, appearing on classic shows like Barney Miller, A Different World, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and The King of Queens. More recently, Gibbs has turned up on episodes of This is Us and Black-ish, and she has an upcoming role in the 2020 movie HeadShop.
You can see Marla Gibbs’ return as Florence Johnson below.