Family & Companions
The hip and irreverent Flip Wilson, who got more mileage out of wearing a dress than any entertainer since Milton Berle, made television history as the first black to headline a hit variety show. At its height, "The Flip Wilson Show" (NBC, 1970-1974) was one of TV's hottest hours, No. 2 in the Nielsen ratings its first two seasons, and enabled its star to walk away a very wealthy man after only four seasons. Debuting not long after the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr and Robert Kennedy, the show cut across racial lines, clicking with people of all backgrounds. Audiences loved the musical guests--the Jackson Five, James Brown, Louis Armstrong and Lena Horne, for example--but the real draw was Wilson's comedy characters. Vamped out as the outrageous, miniskirted Geraldine, Wilson delivered lines that entered the nation's vocabulary like, "The devil made me do it!" and "What you see is what you get!" The Reverend LeRoy of the Church of What's Happening Now and Herbie, the Good Time ice cream man, were two of his other popular creations.
Wilson surprised a lot of people by quitting the variety show, but as a child of poverty who had lived in five different foster homes, he decided to put his family before his career. He had made enough money to live off the interest, so when he was granted custody of his four children from the second of his two failed marriages, he retired to his Malibu home to watch them grow up and really be there for them. Wilson stayed in the public eye, appearing on talk and variety shows and hosting his own specials. An NBC revival of "People Are Funny" (1984) featured him in Art Linkletter's old role, and the short-lived sitcom "Charlie and Company" (CBS, 1985-86) soured him on "... the whole skullduggery of show biz and all the inside politics." During the 90s, he has interrupted his life of leisure to portray God in "Zora Is My Name!" (PBS' "American Playhouse," 1990), reprise Geraldine on ABC's "The Jaleel White Special" (1992) and play himself on both "Living Single" (Fox, 1993) and "The Drew Carey Show" (ABC, 1996).
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Misc. Crew (Special)
Brought the house down as last minute replacement for the little girl cast as Clara Barton in Jersey City school play when he was 9 years old (date approximate)
Served in US Air Force; gained enough confidence from performances before fellow servicemen to consider show business as a career; earned nickname 'Flip' for his irreverent humor
Rocketed to national attention with a smash hit television comedy/variety special on NBC in September
Served as executive producer of NBC's "The Helen Reddy Show"
Feature debut as Reverend in "Uptown Saturday Night"
Played The Fox in CBS's musical adaptation of "Pinocchio"
Dropped as commercial spokesman for 7-Up when he was arrested for possession of a small amount of cocaine
Hosted NBC's short-lived "People Are Funny", an updated version of the 1950s series hosted by Art Linkletter
Portrayed God in "Zora Is My Name!", a PBS "American Playhouse" drama about African-American writer, oral historian and folklorist Zora Neal Hurston
Appeared as himself on Fox's "Living Single"
Made another appearance as himself in ABC's "The Drew Carey Show"
Reruns of "The Flip Wilson Show" debuted on Nick at Nite and then moved to sister channel Nick at Nite's TV Land