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From the S&S archives: Redd Foxx: Just eating the noodles

Redd Foxx, during a 1976 interview in Frankfurt, Germany.

DAN WARFIELD / ©STARS AND STRIPES

By DAN WARFIELD | S&S STAFF WRITER Published: March 3, 1977

A SLEEPY Redd Foxx answered the hotel phone and said to come on up. A little fuzzy around the edges in the morning sunshine, he wasn't quite used to the nine-hour time difference between Frankfurt and his home of 25 years, Hollywood.

He said to be sure to write there was no woman in his room at 10 a.m., and complained about the solitude of touring the bases in Germany.

"If you see me back here it'll be because I'm a prisoner of war. I figured we'd have some escorts or something, somebody to come by, show you a few things, take you on a tour, not just leave you alone. I can't feel part of this when they don't go out of their way to do nothin' for me. I'm a number one performer in the States and I come here and sit in a hotel four days and ain't seen nobody?

"I'd of liked to go out on a base and look around, anything, show me something. It's my first time in Europe — show me where the opera house is, show me where a live bomb is layin' around, let's go by and watch it explode, or something.

"I met a girl day before yesterday. I said, `Hey, baby.' and she said something in German. It was a black girl — don't understand me? I never had that happen in my whole life. She didn't speak no English at all. I guess she was born here."

Foxx admitted to some personal satisfaction in playing the bases.

"I play soldiers. It's just like when I'm in the States I play prisons.

"To my way of thinking they both more or less run parallel to each other. There's a certain amount of confinement. I think I can help them with my presence, you know, help a guy do another three, four months.

"If other entertainers felt the same way I did, pretty soon his whole hitch would be over and he's had some entertainment and. it wasn't that — I wouldn't say dull — but whatever word that would fit that wouldn't make me feel like I was puttin' it down.

"I don't think it's to be put down. I guess it's a thing that's happened to many others before us. I haven't been in the service; I'm making a contribution in many other ways."

Foxx, the star of Sanford and Son, has worked as a comedian for decades, putting out night club entertainment and 52 party records that have earned him a reputation for talking dirty that he says is undeserved.

"I had the first party record in America — all comedy and no music. For 20 years I've been considered the dirtiest comic in the country. Now I'm playin' my records from 20 years ago and there's not one curse word on them.

"There's always double entendre, innuendo or implied things to a situation. Twenty years ago was too soon to do that kind of stuff. Now you take guys like Richard Pryor, Buddy Hackett and the rest of them, you catch 'em in Las Vegas and they say the real true thing. They say words I've never used in show business. And I just wonder where in the hell did I go wrong, because the party records kept me off TV a long time ago due to the raunchy reputation I received.

"Now my records aren't dirty enough to sell. But I've just made an album that'll sell plenty if they're looking for dirt."

A sample of what he calls "Redd Foxx humor":

"Two cannibals were talkin' and one cannibal said, `I hate my mother.' The other cannibal said, `Well man, then just eat the noodles.' "

Malcolm X, one of the strongest black voices of the '60s, mentioned Foxx in his Autobiography. They were friends before either was famous. Has Foxx changed a lot since those days?

"From a teenager to a man — I was in my late forties when I got Sanford And Son.

"When Malcolm and I were together in New York I was about 18, 19, 20 years old. That makes a big difference in what your life is about. Even Malcolm was like he was when we were youngsters — I knew him as Malcolm Little and Malcolm X, and he changed too. I remember when he wouldn't even think of talkin' back to a cop or goin' up the side of one's head up or bein' rousted himself."

Malcolm gave up a life of crime for the Black Muslims, and later, after a pilgrimage to Mecca, abandoned Elijah Muhammad's separatist doctrines for the more traditional Islam he found in the Middle East and Africa. Malcolm was murdered in 1965 in New York. Foxx never joined the Muslims but he still speaks almost reverently of Malcolm.

"Society forces you into situations and so you cope or you don't, and he wouldn't have been into that bag he was in had he not bucked society. You have to take something — it's just survival for the fit. I'll never put the dude down. He's just the most profound man I've ever met in my lifetime, you know, from teenager to manhood, I've never met another guy like him in my life that you could feel — you know, not worry about lookin' behind you. 'Cause there was your buddy. He's the only one I ever found like that."

Did Foxx have to make painful compromises to break into TV six years ago with Sanford and Son?

"I didn't feel as though there was a compromise in me gettin' on. If you mean Sanford and Son, if that's a copout or a compromise — well, there's a lot of American families, black and white, who live as good or bad, whichever way you wanta look at it, as I do.

"The show has deteriorated a little bit, I think, from where we first began. We had some awful beautiful stories, you know."

Sanford and Son is in the past for Foxx, who has signed up for a variety series with ABC. He said he didn't mind laying Sanford to rest.

"Now it's gone kinda hokey. I'm sorta glad to get out of it. But it's still entertainment. To me it's not a putdown. I feel good every time I come on television and I can portray a role of a guy that has a place of business and is not livin' on the government.

"That's where it metes out for me. I'm not on the government, I'm not seeking help or relief from anyone other than my son. You can look for help from relatives more so without feeling guilty than you can going down to sign up — like my own career.

"As bad as I've done waiting for that moment to come for me to be successful, I worked hard at my trade. Sometimes it was bad, but I never went down and signed up for a dime of that money that you get from the government for doin' nothin'. Never in my life.

"So I feel proud that my own life was like that. Just like Sanford, I don't want nothing from nobody I can't hustle up for myself. And each week when I try to hustle up 10 or 15 bucks from someone, I lose, which gives the kids a story to go by, a parable. You know, if you're gonna cheat you're gonna lose.

"And I feel good about that."

The new show on ABC will be an hour per week of "something new.

"I think it's gonna be a little bit different than what you've seen, because bein' the first black in a position to designate what goes on, I want to give them what I saw in show business.

"I want to try to give the public something they haven't seen. Different faces, people that I know, different situations. And myself, I'll be different, 'cause I can sing a fair tune and used to hoof a Iittle bit before my knees got bad, and I know some hoofers — I know a guy who can eat a Coke bottle.

"You never saw that on television.

"I wanta get a guy right at dinner time and let him eat a Coke bottle, I mean the whole Coke. He drinks the Coke and then chews the bottle up. I'm saving that.

"Novelty, you know. And comedy — good comedy — not the same old routine. And I'll get more money. I hate to sound like a capitalist but that's where I live. Good to have that almighty buck."

When Foxx came to Hollywood, blacks in the movies were mostly dancers, singers and servants who rolled their eyes a lot. Does Foxx believe Hollywood has really changed inside, now that blacks in the movies and television are being portrayed more realistically and more humanly?

"No," he said with a sigh, "I don't."

"I never had another show of any kind before I had Sanford.

"I just did a movie about six months ago in Hollywood. I've been living there 25 years and that's the first movie I've ever done.

"So you figure that out for me and then I'll tell you something.

"What if I'd been given the opportunity before then to be a actor? I'd be in the category of George C. Scott and the rest of those guys.

"I don't know what causes people to overlook you. I think I know, but I'd rather not even say it. I'll let people find out from somewhere else, 'cause it always seems like I'm gripin', but it's out there.

"If you can pick a few between the lines, you'll know what I mean.

"Twenty-five years in a city that's what your trade is. all about, and you never were a part of it till six months ago?"

Foxx's first movie — Cotton Comes To Harlem — was done in New York.

"I got paid the smallest amount of money, but the part I had got me Sanford and Son.

"I had to do something. Sanford and Son was it, first shot.

"I used to tell a joke 20 years ago: `I went out to Hollywood to get a part in an Africa movie and they told me I was too light. So I put on 25 pounds and went back and they told me I was too light and too fat.'

"Last week a guy was casting a show and he's asking me, didn't I think the kid for the show was a little light? I said, `How can you even think in those terms, man, when the black society — we're the chocolate rainbow, you got all colors of brown and beige and light and yellow and damn near white, so how can you even bring that up nowadays?'

"He said, `I guess I've been stuck in the same neighborhood all the time.'

"One or two situations don't change what's embedded in people. I try to go as open as I possibly can — I'm considered a rebel in Hollywood because I make mention of the fact that it ain't changed none. It's still there. Writers still write, 'Dis heah' and `Dat dere' for black conversation.

"I tell them, `Don't write dialect for me. I talk bad enough already. My folks were from Mississippi and I learned English from them, not from a schoolteacher, 'cause I didn't spend enough time in school. If my parents had been living in Massachusetts I'd sound like Kennedy, you know.

"It's where you go home to that designates what you're gonna sound like, unless you're just puttin' an extra-extra effort into it. And you can't do that hungry."

Redd Foxx, a long way from St. Louis in 1922, where he came into the world in considerably less style than he plans on leaving it, a hustler, a highly successful survivor, a profoundly sincere man with a gravelly voice surrounded by several hats, a few big suitcases, stark motel furniture and a view of German trees stripped down for winter.

He looks a little older in the flesh in the morning than under makeup on the tube, but it hasn't affected his cynical smile.