It wasn’t until many years later I found out Foxx had produced a ton of comedy LPs during the late ’50s and ’60s from his nightclub act, so-called “party records” with material too risque for kids. Had a roommate in college who had one and later on heard several, discovering them all to be uniformly hilarious.
Hadn’t really thought about the show for a while, but amid doing some other poker-related scrounging on the web I realized there were a few episodes of Sanford and Son featuring poker that I’d forgotten about. All are on YouTube in their entirety.
The first titled “The Card Sharps” came early in the second season, initially airing on October 27, 1972. Like most episodes, it begins with Fred slacking off (in this case sleeping), Lamont coming home, then Fred pretending like he was hard at work.
Lamont explains he has plans that night to have a group over for a poker game, and Fred objects. “Not in my house,” says Fred. “You know what your mother called cards? Fifty-two devils in Satan’s army!”
He goes on to explain to Lamont how his mother made him swear off cards before she died. Lamont isn’t deterred, however, pointing out how the only reason his mother made Fred promise not to play was because he was terrible and always lost.
Lamont explains that he’s played once before with the guys coming over, including one, Skeeter (Thalmus Rasulala) who apparently just got out of jail. “How much did you win?” asks Fred. “How did you know I won?” asks Lamont. Fred goes on to explain how “it’s the oldest trick in the business,” that is, to let a sucker win once, then the next time “break him… take everything they got.”
Fred immediately warns Lamont not to play with Skeeter and the others, knowing for certain they’ll cheat his son. He offers to watch the game and signal with a flyswatter if anything fishy arises.
The guys arrive, and once Skeeter produces his own deck with which to play and suggestions are made to raise the stakes from what they played the last time, Fred becomes increasingly concerned. Thus it’s no surprise that when Skeeter gives himself an ace when determining who will deal, the signaling starts even before the first hand (see left).
The game they play is five-card draw, and Lamont starts losing right away, including one hand in which Skeeter beats his full house with a straight flush. “Flush is right,” says Fred to Lamont. “Yo’ money going right down the toilet.”
Check out the episode if you’re curious to see how it goes. I won’t give away the ending, except to share Fred claiming to quote scripture near the end: “Deal unto others as they have dealt unto you.”
Later in season 2 came another episode with poker, this one called “The Kid” (first airing March 9, 1973). This time the show begins with Fred playing solitaire -- and cheating -- rather than working, and when Lamont gets home Fred hastily hides the cards inside an accounting ledger, which Lamont immediately finds.
“Bookmark,” explains Fred. “Fifty-two of them?” asks Lamont. “I lose my place a lot,” says Fred with a sheepish grin.
This episode involves a young nine-year-old named Jason (Lincoln Kilpatrick, Jr.) who comes around wanting to hang out at the junkyard. Against Fred’s wishes, Lamont invites Jason to stay for dinner and even to spend the night when Jason explains he has no father and his mother is working.
When Lamont offers Jason some milk to go with his dinner, Fred offers him an alternative. “What about a beer?” he suggests. “Pop, children do not drink beer,” says Lamont. “What's wrong with that? It’s just got some barley and some grain and stuff in it. You know, it’s just corn flakes in a can!”
Fred eventually decides he likes Jason, and the next day they play some five-card draw, keeping track of how much they are winning and losing on a notepad.
A hand arises in which Jason discards four. “Four?” asks Fred incredulously. “That ain’t no way to play poker. Only a dummy would draw four cards.”
Predictably, Jason wins the hand, ending with four kings, and Fred now owes him $650 according to their tally. Fred then hastily suggests a new game.
Fred deals Jason three cards, then four for himself, then two more for Jason, then three more for himself. A betting round follows, and Jason is confused.
“How do you know who wins?” the kid asks. “How many cards you got?” says Fred. “Five,” answers Jason.
“I got seven, I win.”
A third episode with poker came late in the fourth season, one titled “The Stung” (from February 28, 1975). This one features another poker night with Lamont inviting series regulars Julio (Gregory Sierra) and Rollo (Nathaniel Taylor) over, and they bring along a brawny buddy appropriately named Arms (George Reynolds).
Meanwhile, Fred’s old friend Al Banks (Richard Ward) turns up, who just happens to have been a professional gambler, and the two of them cook up a scheme to win back money Fred has lost to the fellows over recent weeks -- or if not at least to have some amusement at their expense.
Like the other two episodes, this one has lots of funny lines throughout, such as when Fred is plotting his scheme and Al says he knows he’s up to no good from the look in his eye.
“I’m past no good,” explains Fred. “I’m up to evil… and approaching treachery!”
Later when Julio arrives, he apparently is wearing a shirt he literally won off of Fred at an earlier game, and Fred facetiously compliments him by telling him it looks good on him.
“It would even look better if you washed it,” he continues. “And starched it. And ironed it. And then folded it up real neat… and shoved it up your nose.”
There’s less actual poker shown in this episode -- the game they introduce early on is seven-card stud, but we never see a hand play out. In any case, I’ll let you take a look at the episode rather than give away how Fred and Al’s “sting” turns out.
Maybe it’s a bit of nostalgia tugging at me, causing me to laugh a little more loudly than some might at these shows. But there’s just something about Foxx and his delivery that instantly makes me smile. And Fred Sanford was a perfect match of a character for him, too.
The dude was aces.