Norman Lear hired artist Ernie Barnes to paint the pictures which J.J. used in the show. Barnes' work displays elongated African-American subjects in everyday scenes. Eddie Murphy owns the original "The Sugar Shack" painting by Barnes.
Jimmie Walker was only seven-and-a-half years younger than John Amos, who played his father. Although James and Florida were supposed to be close in age, Amos was 19 years younger than Esther Rolle, though it was implied that James was older than Florida.
Although the show was a spin-off from Maude (1972), there were no actual references to that show or its characters. On that series, Florida was Maude Findlay's housekeeper in suburban New York, and her husband Henry was employed as a firefighter. On this show, Florida and her husband James live in Chicago and there is no mention of their previous jobs, James ever going by the name Henry, or having ever lived in New York. In fact, Florida and neighbor Willona Woods are longtime friends, and are believed to have lived in Chicago for several years. However, in one episode, Florida mentioned that she was a maid.
Esther Rolle left the show after the fourth season because she considered J.J. a bad role model for young blacks. She did, however, return in the beginning of the sixth and final season after the producers guaranteed that they would make J.J. more respectable.
The setting is implied to be the Cabrini Green Housing Projects on Chicago's North Side. It's never mentioned by name, but exterior shots of the buildings were featured in the opening and closing credits. On March 30, 2011, the last of the Cabrini Green High Rises were knocked down.
Originally, Esther Rolle was raising the family by herself. Rolle insisted that there should be a father, so they created the character of James. Because of trouble between creator Norman Lear and John Amos, James was killed during the third season, and Rolle became a single parent anyway.
Esther Rolle complained about the J.J. character in a 1975 Ebony Magazine interview. "He's eighteen and he doesn't work. He can't read or write. He doesn't think. The show didn't start out to be that. Little by little, with the help of the artist, I suppose, because they couldn't do that to me, they have made J.J. more stupid and they have enlarged the role. Negative images have been slipped in on us through the character of the oldest child." In his autobiography "Dynomite! Good Times! Bad Times! Our Times," Jimmie Walker replied, "Ouch! Talk about black on black crime!"
Mike Evans left his role on The Jeffersons (1975) to work behind-the-scenes as a writer for this show. When it ended in 1979, Evans returned to The Jeffersons. During his absence, Lionel was played by Damon Evans (no relation to Mike).
Chip Fields auditioned for the role of Thelma Evans, but didn't get it. The producers kept her in mind, and she was later cast as Penny's abusive mother. Eventually Chip's daughter, Kim Fields, was featured on the show as a friend of Penny's, and one of the students on Florida's bus.
The show's title can be seen as ironic. The theme song is bluesy wailing about hard times and struggles of day-to-day life in the ghetto. The toughness, darkness, and negativity of a lot of the scripts and plotlines supported that as well.
For the first few seasons, this show and Happy Days (1974) were scheduled at the same time, on Tuesday nights at 8 p.m. Eastern Time, so they were in direct competition with each other. This show was the ratings champ during the first two years, and Happy Days (1974) was slated for cancellation. Then Happy Days (1974) decided to push Fonzie, its teen idol, into the center of the show, giving him lots of catch phrases like "Ayyyy!" and "coolimundo!" Happy Days (1974) jumped to number one in the ratings, crushing the competition.
While the writers provided the show's storylines, dialogue was usually a collaboration between writers and cast. During table reads of scripts, the cast would review the draft dialogue and "darken it up", as they recalled later.
Black Panther activists confronted Norman Lear in his Tandem Productions office about the show. They asked him why the characters had to live in a slum, be so poor, experience so much crime, and perpetuate so many stereotypes about the black experience. This eventually led to the creation of The Jeffersons (1975), which attempted to show a black family in a more positive, upwardly mobile light.
During the first three seasons, when John Amos was with the show, the closing credits showed a portrait of the Evans family painted by J.J. After Amos was killed off, a mural that J.J. painted for the local bank was shown. During the final season, a painting of the cast was shown during the opening credits, then it morphed into a live shot of the cast.
The inside of the Evans' bathroom was only shown twice. In season two, episode thirteen, "Sometimes There's No Bottom in the Bottle", their alcoholic cousin Naomi comes to visit. In season six, episode twenty-three, "The Evans' Dilemma", Keith becomes angry and depressed, and starts drinking.
Louis Gossett, Jr. was brought in to play Wilbert, Florida's brother, for one episode, because the producers were shopping around for possible replacements for John Amos. Gossett also played Thelma's older boyfriend.
Among J.J.'s many girlfriends, the ones mentioned the most were Henrietta, "Boom Boom" Belinda, Francine "The Furnace", and Samantha "the Human Panther". Henrietta, Samantha, and Diana Buchanan were the only ones to appear on-screen.
In his autobiography "Dynomite! Good Times! Bad Times! Our Times" Jimmie Walker says Norman Lear was deeply hurt that many in the black community saw the show, particularly J.J., as nothing more than a perpetuation of negative stereotypes.
In The Wayans Bros. (1995) season four, episode five, "Unspoken Token", Shawn dreams that he's J.J. BernNadette Stanis, Johnny Brown, and Ja'net DuBois reprised their roles. DuBois also had a recurring role as Shawn and Marlon's grandmother.
Ja'net DuBois and Chip Fields, who played Penny's adopted mother and birth mother, respectively, share the same birthday six years apart. Dubois was born August 5, 1945; Fields was born August 5, 1951.
In "A Matter of Mothers" the Jackson 5 hit "Shake Your Body" can be heard in the background as Willona and Penny are setting up for a big party in Willona's apartment. This is ironic since Penny is played by Janet Jackson, sister to Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5, who are singing the song.
Janet Jackson appeared in a hilarious SNL spoof on Good Times recently. She played Penny, appropriately enough, Maya Rudoplh played Willona and Thelma, Tracy Morhan played Bookman and Keenan Thompson played Florida. The skit hilariously lampooned the sensational and stereotypical aspects of the series, with every character beset by crime, illness, death and destruction, as if the ghetto were a literal cursed war zone or something.
In a recent EMMY TV LEGENDS interview Jimmie Walker said that initially he balked when show director John Rich suggested in he use the "DYNOMITE!" in an episode. "Nobody is that stupid" Walker said of the audience. "Yes, they are!" John Rich responded. Norman Lear himself objected to the character using the catch phrase, but John Rich went to the mat with him on the issue; and eventually it was decided JJ would use the catchphrase once on each episode, not more. Eventually that became the catchphrase for the whole series, and the main thing it was remembered by, as a matter of fact.
By the third season the cast had gotten so popular that the audience starting clapping and cheering when certain actors entered the scene, particularly the show's star JJ, AKA Jimmie Walker. This is similar to what was happening on Happy Days at the time, which was shown during the same Tuesday night timeslot on ABC throughout the 70s.
JJ was the most controversial character on the show. Both Esther Rolle and John Amos disliked the character and considered his antics to be stereotypical, and Rolle even quit the show because she was so annoyed with the character. Critics would later cite how JJ was a perpetuation of older Amos and Andy and Steppin Fetchitt stereotypes. But JJ was also the show's most popular character, and his catchphrase "DYNOMITE" became a phenomenon unto itself, one of the most popular catchphrases from the 70s, drawing wild applause from the audience whenever Jimmie Walker uttered it. Pretty soon JJ and Walker became the show's breakout star inspite of his detractors on and off the set, and the show credits reflected this by season 3, reading "Starring Jimmie Walker".
Mrs. Baker, the mother of Larry Baker, a grade school student, who rides along with Penny, on the school bus which Florida drives, appears in the Season 6 episode of Good Times titled "Florida's Favorite Passenger: Part 1" and "Florida's Favorite Passenger: Part 2" is played by Bebe Drake, who also appeared on the series as Savannah Jones in the Season 3 episode titled "Sweet Daddy Williams".
Tamu Blackwell's Francie Potter character calls Florida an "Aunt Jemima" on Maude. The two team up again; and face off as enemies again; when Tamu Blackwell plays Edna on Good Times; and takes Florida's kids hostage in "Rich is Better than Poor...Maybe."
JJ was often accused of being a negative portrayal of African American youth. Jimmie Walker defended the character's portrayal, noting that while some of his activities were admittedly mischievous, none were overtly criminal, also noting how he was shot for refusing to join a gang. Walker would also respond by rhetorically asking if characters such as Fonz from Happy Days were negative portrayals of white youths.
Norman Lear begged Jimmy Walker to take acting classes while this was in production, but Walker refused. Norman Lear asked Jimmy if liked or felt comfortable with the dramatic multi-story arcs and all the serious issues the show tackled. Walked said "no. Never. I was never comfortable with that." Being a standup comedian jokes were Walker's wheelhouse, not drama. Luckily all the actors surrounding him were veteran serious dramatic actors; Esther Rolle; who would win an Emmy for "The Summer of my German Soldier"; John Amos who would star in "Roots"; Ralph Carter who starred in the hit musical "Raisin" before starring on Good Times; and also walk on cameo actors like Louis Gossett Junior, who played Florida's brother WIlbert and would win the best supporting actor award in 1983.
Louis Gossett Junior made an appearance as Florida's brother Wilbert in "Michael's Big Fall". At this point Norman Lear had fought with John Amos so much he was already shopping around for potential replacements. Amos was written out of the episode (there was some line about James being away on a trip) and Gossett stepped in to the hotheaded father type role for the family. Strangely, when things came to a head a year later and Amos was in fact fired, they did not bring back Gossett to play the "father" role; instead Moses Gunn stepped in as Carl Dixon, an older man who woos Florida and becomes her boyfriend, and also the elder statesman for the family.
Not only is Jimmie Walker now a republican; and sporadically appears on Fox News every now and again; famed television producer Norman Lear revealed recently in an interview that Walker is dating super-conservative commentator Anne Coulter! In fact, according to Lear, they've been dating for some time now.