I grew up in the Cabrini Green Projects in Chicago, ILL. I saw people working hard and they were still poor. I decided the best way to get rich was to be a singer, an athlete or a criminal. I couldn't sing a note and I couldn't play anything but dominoes so I became a criminal.
One day me and a friend named George was about to go rob taxis. He told me he had to first drop his sister off at the mosque. I had never heard of a mosque so I said "why not". A guy named Malcolm X was speaking. Malcolm X said, "if you have the intelligence and wherewithal to pimp, rob and steal and not get caught, you have the intelligence to run a company, a country and the world. You just have to have the desire". My thought was, did someone tell him I was coming? He spoke for about an hour. By the end of his speech, he did something teachers, police officers, parents, judges, no other person could do. Malcolm X changed my life! I remembered the vow that I made as a child to be a writer and create black heroes and role models that black people could be proud of. In that mosque, I made my vow again and I never broke away from that vow and I never will.
I told my mother, Anna Williams about my vow to become a famous Hollywood writer. My mother, who taught me how to read and write said, "if they gonna have a black writer he's going to be some high yellow black with a college degree, not some high school drop out from Cabrini Green". I said, "Momma, I'm going to do this". A week later at the age of 21, I left with five dollars, a suitcase and no ticket and hitched my way to Hollywood. I had never writtern anything before.
I started taking classes at Los Angeles City College where I met Mike Evans. Mike Evans said, "I heard that you were a great writer. I am on this show called 'All in the Family'. It's just a little walk on part saying stuff like, I'm going get my edumacation. Everyone is writing on it and getting paid, we could too. If you write a show centering on my character, I will put both of our names on it and take it to Norman Lear."
I said "dynomite". I then created Hank and Louise Jefferson. He took it to Norman Lear and two weeks later Norman Lear called me. At the time, "The Jeffersons" were considered too controversial.
I pitched Good Times in 1971. It didn't go on the air until 1974. During those three years we had countless meetings. The one note that I got in every meeting was get rid of the father James. They continued to insist that a strong black man in a sitcom wouldn't work. We argued and fought every week. I refused to allow them to air Good Times without James. I also disagreed with the portrayal of J.J.'s character. Originally I pictured him as a street smart hustler who drove his honest, hardworking parents crazy.
In 1975, I got the contract to write, "Cooley High." When (AIP) and Samuel Arkoff sent the cast to Chicago to shoot the movie, I left " Good Times". Shortly afterwards, Norman Lear fired John Amos. The following year, he produced and aired, "The Jeffersons". In 1977, I sued Norman Lear, Bud Yorkin, Bernie Orenstein, Saul Turteltaub, Michael Eisner, ABC and CBS for stealing my ideas for "The Jeffersons", "Sanford and Son", "Good Times" and "Whats Happening". Due to bad representation, I settled for one million dollars and one percent of Good Times.
Even though I had just completed a successful TV Show and a movie that were both a hit, I could not find work. After the lawsuit, I never made another movie or television show again. I was black balled!