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January 3, 2024 44 mins

Long before her turn as the sermonizing Aunt Esther on "Sanford and Son," LaWanda Page was dazzling Black nightclub audiences - first as the flame-swallowing “Bronze Goddess of Fire”. Then, following in the footsteps of her childhood friend and eventual costar Redd Foxx, she became a queen of raunchy, tell-it-like-it-is stand up comedy. (Let’s just say Aunt Esther would not have approved of LaWanda’s act.) In this season 4 finale, Mo reflects on Page’s influential career with entertainment icon Whoopi Goldberg and remembers the adults-only "party record' phenomenon with comedian Alonzo Bodden.

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:04):
Muhammad Ali and Joe Frasier for the first time.

Speaker 2 (00:08):
In Heavyweight Champions Tip Fiftray, we have two undefeated.

Speaker 1 (00:11):
Fighters and they are Jimmy Connors and Bjorn boor Or.

Speaker 3 (00:15):
Gets broken serve once again and leads four to two
in the final set.

Speaker 1 (00:20):
The Steelers versus the Raiders, good love It. The nineteen
seventies saw some ferocious rivalries. But I know what I'd
pick as the fiercest of them all.

Speaker 4 (00:36):
Oh, Fred, please help us. My church is raising monify
our youth program. We want to buy ween.

Speaker 5 (00:43):
We'll let him have one of yours. Bet what it's something.

Speaker 1 (00:53):
The show was sandford AND's son, and when junkyard dealer
Fred Sandford played by Red Fox and aunt Esther, his
Bible toting sister in law, began trash talking, it got
ugly and hilarious.

Speaker 4 (01:11):
If we were alone on a raft in the middle
of the.

Speaker 6 (01:13):
Ocean, I'd rather kiss the octopus in the knock.

Speaker 4 (01:19):
I wouldn't want you to kiss me. I'd rather be
kissed by Snaggertude Jagga.

Speaker 1 (01:26):
The character of aunt Esther joined the series at the
end of season two, and for many in the audience,
the actress playing her Lawanda Page was a new face,
an overnight sensation, but both Red Fox and Lawanda Page
were veteran comics with big followings.

Speaker 3 (01:46):
We'd bring to the floor the young lady that recalled
the record that was so dirty.

Speaker 1 (01:49):
So rough, built in black nightclubs and through adults only
party records.

Speaker 2 (01:54):
This record is so rough that you wouldn't even let
your own mother in law listen to it.

Speaker 1 (01:57):
And let's just say aunt esther would not have approved
of this material.

Speaker 6 (02:03):
You know what he said to Adam in the gardener
eaton one day.

Speaker 4 (02:06):
She looked at all his in his hand. She said,
you got the whole world in yon.

Speaker 3 (02:13):
Man saying things that weren't said would be even more
shocked than coming from a woman. Lewanda Page wasn't seen
as a woman comet. You know, she was a star.
She was funny.

Speaker 1 (02:31):
In her fifties, she became one of the most popular
people on TV.

Speaker 6 (02:35):
I've come a long ways.

Speaker 7 (02:37):
If it hadn't been for Red, I wouldn't be in
position that I'm in now. I wouldn't have a maid,
I wouldn't have a chauffeur, I wouldn't have a gardener
because I couldn't afford it.

Speaker 6 (02:48):
I thought the still he.

Speaker 1 (02:49):
Wasn't in a nightclub, a celebrity roasting other celebrities.

Speaker 4 (02:53):
Now, let's see which one is.

Speaker 6 (02:55):
Betty White. Get a bunch of you albinos on one
days and you all look alike.

Speaker 8 (03:05):
She was funny as hell.

Speaker 9 (03:07):
And black women, they will tear you up. They will
tear you up, they will tell you about yourself.

Speaker 6 (03:12):
But I had one confirmation. I finally got.

Speaker 4 (03:15):
That sucker to go to church within and child. It
was a beautiful tu.

Speaker 1 (03:23):
But if Lawanda Page's life is a book, mainstream America
only knows the last chapter.

Speaker 9 (03:29):
If you went to clubs, you would know who she was.
And let's just call it what it was.

Speaker 6 (03:35):
If you weren't black, you didn't know who she was.

Speaker 8 (03:37):
I can't test.

Speaker 1 (03:38):
I can attest from CBS Sunday Morning and iHeart. I'm
Morocca and this is mobituaries, This mobid Lwanda Page.

Speaker 6 (03:55):
Ladies and gentlemen. Here she is the Queen of comedy.

Speaker 1 (03:58):
Lorwanda September fourteenth, two thousand and two. Death of a
comedy queen.

Speaker 6 (04:07):
Thank you, thank you.

Speaker 1 (04:28):
I noticed on the platform formerly known as Twitter, a
picture of this beautiful woman in a swimsuit and somebody said,
does anybody know who this is? And I scrolled down
because I thought she looked familiar, and somebody said, it's
it's an estor from Sanford, and so I went Hodie smoked.

Speaker 9 (04:44):
Oh yeah, no, that listen. Lwanda Page is stunningly beautiful.
And what ends up happening often, particularly with women of color,
no one knows anything about us because we weren't really
part of the regular world because unless you knew about
black performers, you didn't know about.

Speaker 1 (05:05):
A lot of folks. I'm talking with comedian and actress
and Egot winner Whoopy Goldberg, and it's true Lawanda Page
had a long and surprising career in showbiz before Sandford
and Son that white audiences knew little about.

Speaker 9 (05:21):
We're a lot better now about it, but in the fifties,
unless you were in the know, you were not hanging
out in the clubs where Lewanda was.

Speaker 8 (05:33):
People didn't know.

Speaker 1 (05:34):
You know, she's like blackfire or something. It's just you know,
and she was hot.

Speaker 7 (05:39):
Once upon a time, there was a little black girl
in the Brewster projects of Detroit, Michigan. At fifteen, she
was spighted by an ebony fashion fair talent scout, and
her modeling career took on You Better work.

Speaker 1 (06:00):
That's Luwanda Page in the intro to Rue Paul's nineteen
ninety three seminal dance hit Supermodel turns out Rue Paul
is a Lawanda Page super fan. Now, Lawanda was not
born in the Brewster projects of Detroit. In fact, she
wasn't even born Lawanda Page. Her name was Alberta Richmond

when she came into the world in Cleveland, Ohio, in
nineteen twenty. As a kid during the Great Depression, she'd
dance on street corners for spare change. I would dream
about being in show business, Lawanda would later tell the
Black Entertainment magazine Roots, like I was Cinderella in a storybook.
I thought I'd reach it through dancing. When her family

moved to Saint Louis, Lawanda went to Banneker Elementary School,
where she became friends with her future co star, Red Fox.
He was two grades below her. Lawanda grew up fast, pregnant,
and married at fourteen. Her son died in infancy.

Speaker 8 (07:03):
At sixteen.

Speaker 1 (07:04):
She had a daughter. By nineteen Lawanda was widowed. By then,
she was already working the clubs as she later told
one reporter she made thirty six dollars a week as
a shake dancer. The shaking part had to do with
the fringe she wore. I shook the fringe, she said,
My did I shake that fringe. By this time, she'd

taken the name Lawanda, perhaps to keep her religious mother
from finding out what she was doing. When the club
owner decided that Lawanda needed to shake up her act,
she had a flash, so to speak. I was sitting
in the dressing room and my lighter fluid spilled on
my hand, she recalled. When she proceeded to light a cigarette,

her hand caught fire, so did her imagination. Lawanda was
going to do a fire act at a club in
East Saint Louis called the Blue Flame. Yes, the Blue Flame.
A drag queen named Taboo showed her the ropes. It's
in the breathing. Lawanda remembered being taught, when you put

the torch in your mouth, breathe out. If you don't,
you're done like a roast. And always keep moving. As
long as you keep moving, the flames don't burn you.
That's how I became the Bronze Goddess of fire, swallowing
flames walking on hot coals. She even brought a snake

into her act. It was perilous work. She burned herself
and merely burned down a few clubs, but the act
was good enough to take on the road. There's this
quote from a drummer who worked with her at the
New Deli Cabaret in Vancouver. She'd light her finger and
go around lighting guy cigarettes in the club. Then the
lights would go off and she'd light up the tassels

on her pasties and spin them like propellers in opposite directions.

Speaker 8 (08:56):
It was wonderful.

Speaker 6 (08:58):
You gotta have a give.

Speaker 1 (09:02):
It got ave a gammick.

Speaker 10 (09:04):

Speaker 1 (09:05):
Lawanda never wrote a memoir, but in her later stand
up work she talked about her early days. Here she
is from her nineteen seventy nine album Sane Advice, talking
about the first time she saw a certain pioneering black
star of the silver screen.

Speaker 4 (09:22):
All the pretty women in the movies in magazine were white,
and when a pretty girl came on the screen, the
white men they were allowed to pap and whistle, but
the black food sat tight and kept quiet.

Speaker 6 (09:35):
Had to hunt it.

Speaker 4 (09:36):
They had to do it. Then came nineteen forty three,
nineteen forty three. Baby, I remember the day the movie
was Kevin in the Sky and the pretty woman was
Lena Home and Honey, when Lena came on the screen,
all them black southerns Honda they screen, they whistle. How

they taught tell the buffet the popcorn machine.

Speaker 1 (10:02):
Oh man, they throw down to ricks.

Speaker 4 (10:04):
The theater in Saint Louis. They say, we don't want
to sit down, we want to get down.

Speaker 11 (10:16):
And I don't blame him, honey, because Leedom was bright
light and damn near white.

Speaker 5 (10:28):
She was a black beauty.

Speaker 4 (10:30):
And right then I made up my mind I was
going into show business. I went straight down town and
got me a job dancing. Yes did.

Speaker 1 (10:43):
Born in Cleveland, growing up in Saint Louis. And she
wants to be a star. She wanted to be a
Hollywood star. Can you just even relate or imagine like
what that burning desire is or yeah.

Speaker 9 (10:55):
Because you're watching these movies and it doesn't occur to
you that that's not going to be you.

Speaker 6 (11:02):
It doesn't occur.

Speaker 9 (11:03):
To you because I mean, I loved all those movies
that they made in the thirties and the forties and
the fifties. I had no idea you know. I'm thinking
of the letter in.

Speaker 1 (11:13):
Particularly Danny Davis.

Speaker 9 (11:14):
Where she comes down and says, shooting the guy.

Speaker 6 (11:21):
But all I hut, I still love the lad I killed.

Speaker 9 (11:25):
And I'm thinking that's what I want to do. And
no one ever said, no, You're never going to be
Benny Davis. My mother said, yes, of course, sure, just
don't shoot anybody.

Speaker 1 (11:35):
But you could do that.

Speaker 8 (11:37):
God bless your mother.

Speaker 1 (11:38):
But that's such an interesting point because that's what dreaming is, right,
a suspension of disbelief, right, Yes.

Speaker 9 (11:43):
And so I'm sure it never occurred to Lawanda that
she wasn't going to be one of those women. Never
ocurred to her, and never occurred to me either, till
someone said.

Speaker 1 (11:56):
Oh, you know you're black, don't you.

Speaker 6 (11:59):
It's like, yeah, of course, I know.

Speaker 9 (12:02):
Was that I have to do with this, with wanting
to be the starter And what my mother would say
is it has nothing to do with it. They might
not understand everything, but they'll get it. Somebody will get
it if you're good enough.

Speaker 1 (12:16):
Of course, Lawanda's path was limited by legalized segregation. She
worked at the informal network of black nightclubs and theaters
known as the Chitlin Circuit. Here she is again from
Saint Advice.

Speaker 4 (12:30):
I was one and excited girl, but I had no
idea what was ahead of me. It was August child
and hot hot hop hop hop, hunted forty people, best costumes.
All it was riding and living in the same booth.
Before we got out of Saint Louis, my sixth day, daughter,

my pet had died.

Speaker 6 (12:58):
Time traveling on a show is like no trip you
ever took the cover.

Speaker 4 (13:03):
Maybe if you hear loud noise in the back, it's
the luggage trying to get.

Speaker 5 (13:07):
Out and child.

Speaker 4 (13:11):
I open my window and the fumes from that bus
till the whole proper meat in camp.

Speaker 9 (13:19):
You know, visually, in my mind, I could see her
on the bus with you know, nine thousand people, all performers,
playing cards, smoking cigarettes, just because they could only stop
at specific places and they could only stay in specific places.

Speaker 1 (13:34):
That's of a time. That's of a time.

Speaker 8 (13:38):
You of course know what this is like.

Speaker 1 (13:40):
It's not easy to get up there and hold an
audience like that and not rush it.

Speaker 9 (13:46):
Yeah, well, you know, she is breathing, do you know
what I mean? She's up there and she's breathing. She's
like and then this habit. Can you believe it?

Speaker 6 (13:56):

Speaker 1 (13:56):
Wait a minute, and then this happened.

Speaker 9 (13:59):
It's a stop of patter that you don't hear often,
but you hear with black comics, particularly female black comics.
You have a little bit of the South, and you
just telling what happened.

Speaker 1 (14:16):
And I love that you said just breathing, because that's
a big deal because people who don't know what they're doing,
they're not breathing, they're just going right through.

Speaker 8 (14:24):
They're nervous.

Speaker 1 (14:25):
She's in no rush.

Speaker 9 (14:26):
She'd tell the story the stage of hers who she is,
and it's kind of fabulous.

Speaker 1 (14:34):
But Lawanda hadn't even tried to stand up comedy until
the mid nineteen fifties, when she was in her mid
thirties and had settled in South Los Angeles. She was
still the Bronze Goddess of fire dancing at a club
called the Brass Rail when some of her fellow performers
noticed how funny she was. As she later told Jet Magazine,

when I got too old to dance, I turned to comedy.
She started working with comedic duo Skillett and Leroy Records.

Speaker 3 (15:04):
But that's the very fabulous Lerii skillet and Lwanda.

Speaker 1 (15:10):
Many of Lawanda's bits were drawn from her own life.
She'd been widowed three times before she even started doing comedy.

Speaker 4 (15:18):
I should have known it never work out for old
John and me honey, because it was written in the stones.
I was a Burgo and that sucker was a line
of honey, can take no kind of John. That's the
only man I know that ever went to the unemployment
office and lost his place in land.

Speaker 1 (15:38):
Lawanda would work black comedy clubs for the next two decades.
Her humor was as fiery as her dancing had been.
Coming up after the break Lwanda Page Red Fox and
The Age of the Party Record. Well, now, some of
those albums, especially Lawanda's earlier ones, they're really blue. I

don't think I'm a shrinking violet, but they're blue even
for today.

Speaker 9 (16:03):
They are dirty as hell.

Speaker 2 (16:06):
Yes, yes, our next guest is dubbed the King of
the Party Records. Basically that means they're intended for laughs
in the living room. He's made thirty four albums and

they have sold in the millions. He's kind of a
stranger to television and a stranger to me, frankly, but
I'm very anxious to meet him. He's got an enormous
cult of admirers. Here is Red Fox.

Speaker 1 (16:42):
In nineteen sixty six, talk show host MERV Griffin. Welcome
to comedian Red Fox. We're all party records.

Speaker 5 (16:50):
You're playing in a party. You have never been a party.

Speaker 10 (16:51):
Put the records on when it's kind of dull, and
then wait, yeah, are the body starts naughty?

Speaker 8 (16:59):

Speaker 1 (17:01):
In this act, we're going to talk about party records
and the role they played, not just in Lawanda Page's career,
but in the careers of many major black comics. Now,
these records were not for kids, as Red Box all
but said in that clip we just heard. In fact,
many of the albums came wrapped in brown paper.

Speaker 3 (17:22):
It's so funny now to look back, because we're not
talking that long ago. But America has always had this
kind of false morality, like, oh, we don't do that.
You know, it's like porn. It's like, oh, there's a
fifty billion dollar business that no one buys. That's what
these records were.

Speaker 1 (17:42):
I'm talking to my friend, comedian Alonso Boden.

Speaker 3 (17:45):
Got a new iPhone. Got a new iPhone costs somewhere
between twelve hundred and fifteen thousand dollars. I don't know
how much it costs because Siri body.

Speaker 1 (17:58):
Alonso broke through after winning NBC's Last Comic Standing. I've
had the great pleasure of being a panelist on NPR's
comedy quiz show Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me with Alonso
for over a decade. Alonzo has faint but fond memories
of the Party record era.

Speaker 3 (18:17):
Everybody knew about them, and people loved them, and it
was really the only way you heard these comics. Right,
we didn't have the internet. Someone got the record. They
told you about the record, You told someone else about
the record.

Speaker 1 (18:30):
As the name would suggest, these records became big at parties.

Speaker 3 (18:35):
My father had a bar in the basement, and this
is how they socialized, you know. They had bars in
the house or pool table or something like that, and
they put the kids to bed, and this.

Speaker 5 (18:45):
Is part of what came out at that later night party.

Speaker 1 (18:49):
Okay, I need you now, of course, to set the scene.
This is the Alonso Boden biopic. You're a kid. I mean,
set the scene. Your dad's bar is downstairs. What's going on?

Speaker 3 (19:04):
So my dad's bar is downstairs. He has friends over.
They might be a couple from the neighborhood, and then
some probably from work. We had to go to bed.
Of course, the funny thing about me and my brother's room.
It was also in the basement, so we weren't too
far away. You could hear the laughter, you could hear

the glasses tinkling. You know, you know it was a party, really,
I know.

Speaker 1 (19:33):
I said, you ought to be careful at night time
and pull your shades down. I said, because last night
I saw you and your wife making love.

Speaker 6 (19:39):
He said, you kidding all I went to You'm home.

Speaker 1 (19:42):
How important is Red Fox to this whole party record scene?

Speaker 3 (19:47):
He was the man. He was probably the biggest star
in that genre. Red Fox's stand up was almost all
on these party records.

Speaker 1 (19:58):
The party started in eighteen fifty five when Los Angeles
doo wop producer Dootsey Williams visited the Oasis nightclub and
saw Red Fox's set. Williams ran a tiny label called
Duto Records, known for recording Earth Angel by the Penguins.

Speaker 6 (20:17):
Earthing Joo, Earthingjoo.

Speaker 5 (20:22):
Will You Be Minde?

Speaker 1 (20:25):
But the label had recently started releasing novelty records. About
Red Fox. Williams said he was so outrageous in such
a way that nobody would ever think of putting him
on a record. But I thought this guy can sell.
There was no doubt that Fox was funny. In his

late teens, he had worked in a New York City
restaurant alongside a future civil rights leader. Years later, in
his autobiography, Malcolm X would refer to Fox as Chicago Red,
the funniest dishwasher on Earth. Red Fox would go on
to become one of the first black comedians to headline Vegas.

He would open his own La nightclub. But back in
fifty five, Red was skeptical about this whole party record idea.
He later recalled it was a black thing in a sense.
So I said I'd go ahead and record for my
black brother because nobody else had offered me anything. For
the first album, Dootsey Williams sat in the club with

a tape recorder and recorded Red's raunchy act. In nineteen
fifty six, Laugh of the Party Volume one came out.

Speaker 10 (21:37):
The Good Housekeeping Bureau has just released some vital statistics
very important to all smokers. Do you know that out
of four hundred and forty six doctors that switched to
camels only two of them went back to women.

Speaker 1 (21:52):
The Low Fi recording was a big fat hit. Box
was the first stand up comedian black or white to
release album, and according to comedy historian Cliff Nesteroff, after Fox,
it became abnormal if a comic didn't put out records.
Bob Newhart, Mort Sahl, Jonathan Winters, they all came after

Red Fox. Over the next six years, Dudo released approximately
twenty five Red Fox party records. In just the first
two years they sold more than a million units.

Speaker 3 (22:27):
They did a record with Red Fox and they sold
a ton of records, and they said, wait a minute,
we're on to something. Who else you got, you know?
And they started recording these other comedians.

Speaker 1 (22:40):
Black comedians like George Kirby, Sloppy Daniels, even a ventriloquist
and dummy act known as Richard and Willie.

Speaker 4 (22:48):
Huggin Yeah, Peason, Yeah, Kiss in sixth All Candoise, Yeah,
good gouda man who are going to be there?

Speaker 3 (22:54):
Yes, you and me?

Speaker 1 (23:00):
And then in the late nineteen sixties, Laugh Records entered
and soon dominated the party record scene. One of the
biggest names in comedy ever would find his voice on
the new label A lot.

Speaker 3 (23:13):
Of people don't know this that Prior initially was a
clean comic and he was following in Cosby's footsteps.

Speaker 1 (23:22):
Yes, prior to the nineteen seventies, Richard Pryor was g rated.
Here he is on the Murph Griffin Show in nineteen
sixty six.

Speaker 4 (23:31):
People worry about everything about offending with the breath.

Speaker 1 (23:33):
You worry about it, right.

Speaker 10 (23:34):
You can tell when somebody's worried about because they talked
through their fingers.

Speaker 1 (23:41):
But then Pryor had a kind of awakening.

Speaker 3 (23:45):
And he basically had a breakdown. He basically kind of snapped,
and he came out talking and cussing and being who
he really was, and the audience immediately grasped. The audience
immediately loved the honesty and how raw he was and
who he really was. And from there, you know, he

never looked back and he became Richard Pryor.

Speaker 1 (24:11):
It was on nineteen seventy one's Craps, a blockbuster for
Prior and for laugh Records, that audiences heard the real
raw Richard Pryor started starting Cocaine.

Speaker 6 (24:25):
Had goodness too, because I.

Speaker 4 (24:26):
Wake up in the middle of night state.

Speaker 1 (24:27):
Whoy Is it fair to say then that his party
record phase helped Richard Pryor become Richard Pryor.

Speaker 3 (24:38):
Well, yeah, because where else were you going to hear it.
The only place you were going to hear Richard Pryor
was on the records. But the records became so insanely
popular through word of mouth, one hundred percent word of mouth.
There was no there were no TV commercials for Richard
Pryor records.

Speaker 5 (24:56):
You know.

Speaker 1 (24:57):
Now, it wasn't just the content that raw. It was
also the sound quality. And some of these albums the
sound quality is not great.

Speaker 8 (25:08):
Is that fair?

Speaker 5 (25:09):
Yeah, sound quality was horrible, But.

Speaker 1 (25:11):
I'm wondering if that added to the experience of listening
at home when you've got friends over.

Speaker 3 (25:16):
Absolutely, absolutely, there's a raw element to it. Also, it's
the inside stuff, right. These records weren't Red Fox in
Las Vegas, you know what I mean? And these were
Lawanda Page before she was famous, when she was just

in the club. So the feel of being an insider
definitely added to it.

Speaker 1 (25:43):
Lawanda Page recorded five solo albums with Laugh Records. The
material is funny and especially on those early records, downright filthy.
We'd have to bleep so much of it for this podcast.
We can't do it justice. Let me put it this way.
Bands of the late Bob Sagett know how different his

stand up material was from the character he played on
Full House. Well the Lawanda you hear on her nineteen
seventy seven album Watch It Sucker is so blue it
would turn aunt esther every shade of red. Do not
miss her bit about the nurse and the woman in
the mental ward who demands a certain remedy. My goodness.

Here's one bit from her first album, nineteen seventy one's
mother is half a word, where a their dwell husband
has tried to cover up his drinking by eating sardines.
And you can guess where this is headed.

Speaker 6 (26:38):
So she says, you've been dragging?

Speaker 4 (26:41):
No, may I swear damn I ain't been dragging night,
Blow your breath to the keyhole, blows the bread to
the keyhole. First, thank she smells them sartines. She said,
you know good and asking mother fuck?

Speaker 6 (26:52):
She says, though out breaking in one headed, you go
and pick up a mother.

Speaker 1 (27:00):
Sidebar. Laugh Records didn't only produce black comedy acts. In
nineteen seventy eight, a young Allison Arngrem, best known as Nelly,
on Little House in the Prairie impersonated first daughter Amy
Carter on a Laugh Records album, Dad, Where did I
come from?

Speaker 5 (27:18):
Plains? Georgia Hunne?

Speaker 8 (27:19):
You know that, No, Daddy, I mean, where do babies
come from? I asked Uncle Billy.

Speaker 9 (27:25):
He said, babies come nine months after you've had too
much bear.

Speaker 1 (27:30):
Alison Armgrim's mother, voice actress Norma McMillan had played Caroline
Kennedy on the hit First Family Comedy album back in
nineteen sixty two. That's the album that starred von Meter
as JFK. Check out the von Meter obituary for more
on his story. One of Laugh's last records was a

song full of fish ponds called Wet Dream by white
comedian Kip Adatta.

Speaker 4 (27:57):
I walked over to a place called the Oyster Bar
a real time, but I knew the owner who used
to play for the Dolphins. I said, I Gil, you
have to yell.

Speaker 5 (28:08):
He's hard at herring.

Speaker 1 (28:10):
But the label will always be best known for releasing
black and blue material. Any thought on the legacy of
these party records.

Speaker 3 (28:20):
I think the legacy of these party records now is
I would say more YouTube than Netflix, because it's more
the self produced it's the clips from the comedy club
versus the polished production show. And we've seen comics get famous.
We've seen it happen where people go viral on YouTube

or some other platform and become famous. I think that's
the legacy of the party record.

Speaker 1 (28:51):
Coming up next, the King and Queen of underground party
records land squarely in the mainstream.

Speaker 6 (29:02):
Oh you call me the.

Speaker 5 (29:04):
How did not call you?

Speaker 10 (29:05):

Speaker 6 (29:05):
It is like Bambi's father.

Speaker 5 (29:10):
You Oh we the lad he the door.

Speaker 1 (29:27):
In the early nineteen seventies, Lawanda Page was caring for
her ailing mother in South Los Angeles when she got
an offer that would take her career to a whole
new level. NBC's Sanford and Son was the first network
TV show with a predominantly black cast since Amos and
Andy in the early nineteen fifties. In its second season,

the show was already a hit, starring Red Fox as
junk dealer and widower Fred Sandford. In real life, Red
Fox's bo Thurs name was actually Fred Sandford. Lawanda was
being called in to read for the role of Fred's
Holier than Thou sister in law aunt esther. Here's Lawanda

herself explaining what happened to interviewer Bobby Wygant.

Speaker 7 (30:16):
Well, what actually happened. I was working in a nightclub
in Los Angeles with a comedy team Skirt and Leroy
that we've been together for twenty years, and Aaron Rubin,
the producer, he happened to be in the club that night.

Speaker 1 (30:31):
The producer was impressed by Lawanda and unaware of her
shared history with Fox.

Speaker 7 (30:36):
So he goes back and he tells Red. He says,
that girl that you know I saw with Skirterton Leroy.

Speaker 8 (30:43):
He says, I think she'll be the girlfriend esther.

Speaker 6 (30:47):
So radas, oh, that's Lawanda.

Speaker 7 (30:48):
I know. Well, I know Redd all my life because
we went to school together.

Speaker 1 (30:54):
Red Fox wasn't just bringing the comedy he'd honed on
the Chitlin circuit to network television. He brought many of
his fellow comics along with him too. Aaron Ruben, the
Sanford and Son producer who'd seen Lawanda in the club, said, quote,
Fox comes up with names like Tangerine, Sublet and Leroy
and Skillett, consummate performers he worked with in the twenty

five dollars a week nightclub days. The names befuddle the
NBC casting department where they are totally unknown.

Speaker 7 (31:25):

Speaker 9 (31:26):
Yeah, that is somebody who understands that if he doesn't
do it, it's not going to get done.

Speaker 1 (31:34):
I'm sure Red said I need this character. I know
exactly who can do it. This is what be Goldberg again,
because he knew.

Speaker 9 (31:41):
No one was going to call her unless he did.
And that's kind of how it's always been. You call
the folks, you know, and if somebody's having a hard time,
you do the best. That's sort of bring them along.

Speaker 1 (31:53):
TV was a change of pace for Lwanda Page, who
was fifty two. Once she showed up on set. She
was nervous the first week on the job, as she
later told Sally Jesse Raphael, I.

Speaker 6 (32:05):
Had never read a script before.

Speaker 7 (32:07):
That's my first parent and I was reading the directions
along with the lions.

Speaker 4 (32:15):
Yeah, that's right for you to say. I say, watch it, Trucker,
if you walk out the door.

Speaker 1 (32:26):
The producers were planning to fire and replace Lawanda, but
Red intervened. He reportedly said, if she goes, I.

Speaker 9 (32:35):
Go well, because he knew what she could do, and
it was meaningful if he said he was gonna leave you,
because he would.

Speaker 1 (32:43):
Leave about Lawanda Page. Red Fox reportedly said, you never
heard of the lady, But the night that first show
goes on the air, there'll be dancing in the streets
of every ghetto in the United States.

Speaker 4 (32:57):
Down not again, Hufrey, you would I beat today.

Speaker 6 (33:00):
My sister married you, and you still a dead beat today.
This nest now you know good and will today I
married your sister. I was loaded, Yeah, you was loaded,
all right. You were so drunk you fell on the preacher.

Speaker 1 (33:14):
The sanctimonious aunt Estor quickly became a fan favorite at
the height of her fame on Sanford and Son, though
Lawanda Page was still living in South LA. The money
is nice, she told reporters. It goes to mama, and.

Speaker 7 (33:30):
I'm gonna take care of mama, and I don't care
what happens. I'm taking care of mama. And God just
fixed it. So he just opened the door for me
for Safin's son. You know how to walk right in,
and Red put my feet in the door. So it's
up to me to keep it there.

Speaker 1 (33:43):
In nineteen seventy six, Lawanda's mother died. The next year,
the Sanford and Son series ended with the departure of
Red Fox, but by then, Lawanda Page was a regular
face on TV.

Speaker 8 (33:56):
A lovely lady, one of them moms.

Speaker 1 (34:04):
I loved her on the Dean Martin celebrity roasts. These
roasts were like the Variety pack of entertainment comedians like
Don Rickles, Ruth Buzzy and Nipsey Russell sharing a dais
with Frank Sinatra, Jaja Kahboorr, Senator Barry Goldwater. Here is
Lewanda roasting Red Fox.

Speaker 6 (34:26):
Been after me since I was a kid, back in
Saint Louis.

Speaker 4 (34:29):
Honey, he was there the night I want a beauty contest.

Speaker 6 (34:33):
Remember that red They gave me a silver cup.

Speaker 1 (34:37):
Yeah, they gave you a silver cup. All right, give
your teeth in.

Speaker 4 (34:51):
You just keep quiet.

Speaker 6 (34:52):
Your old fish had food. You ain't going to beauty.
You should have seen his first wife, hon That woman
was herdly.

Speaker 5 (35:05):

Speaker 6 (35:08):
Honey. She was thought early if her picture was on
a stamp, nobody.

Speaker 5 (35:11):
Would live her.

Speaker 9 (35:19):
The thing that I think about those roasts, those roasts
were done with love.

Speaker 6 (35:25):
You know, she was there roasting her buddy, her childhood friend.

Speaker 1 (35:29):
But she also took shots at celebrities she didn't grow
up with, like George Burns and Milton Burrell.

Speaker 5 (35:37):
Hey, what you say at Milton burh.

Speaker 6 (35:40):
Yeah, you lift the television. If you can steal her
caps like you do jokes, you'd be a star in
my neighborhood.

Speaker 1 (35:50):
I asked Alonso Bowden if he thought Lawanda might have
been intimidated in that company.

Speaker 3 (35:56):
She came from clubs where you had to talk smack
to the audience, where you had Heckler's, where you had
trust me. She was fine, She had no problem.

Speaker 5 (36:06):
She let them have it. They weren't ready for her.

Speaker 1 (36:09):
She was battle tested like nobody else.

Speaker 11 (36:12):

Speaker 3 (36:12):
Absolutely, you think she's going to be afraid of a
Beverly Hills ballroom.

Speaker 1 (36:21):
This is a woman who had literally eaten fire for
a stretch of her career.

Speaker 5 (36:25):
Exactly exactly.

Speaker 3 (36:28):
And it wasn't just that, it was also, you know,
riding the bus from city to city and you can't
stay at this hotel and all of that. She lived
through and worked through and dealt with all of that.
And now she's in a ballroom in Beverly Hills and
she gets to make fun of Don Rickles and Milton
Burrel and you know, Sinatra. I don't know, I don't

know if anyone was brave enough. Other than Rickles, I
don't know if anyone was brave enough to make fun
of Sinatra.

Speaker 1 (36:55):
But outside of that, in nineteen seventy nine, age fifty nine,
Lawanda released her final album, Sane Advice. It was the
cleanest of her party records and the most transparently autobiographical.
On that album cover, she's wearing a gown, She's in
front of a fancy car.

Speaker 8 (37:16):
She's made it. But now she's got even more to
say about that experience.

Speaker 4 (37:21):
But Honey Page was alive today, he'd be sorry he
ever cheated on me, Because here I am, Honey, famous, famous, Honey,
a star. Honey, Honey got a wax figure of me
on the East Coast and the West.

Speaker 6 (37:37):
Coat in the Stars Hall of Fame.

Speaker 4 (37:43):
And I got my foot prints on Hollywood Boulevard. At
Grumman's Chinese Theater. I was sitting on the bus bench
in a park.

Speaker 6 (37:49):
This truck ran over my feet.

Speaker 5 (38:02):
Show did her.

Speaker 6 (38:08):
How I made it?

Speaker 4 (38:09):
Baby? A side last, A side last, Thank God, Almighty.

Speaker 5 (38:17):
I'm a start lest.

Speaker 1 (38:24):
She had become a big star. She was one of
the most popular people on television at that point. But
she's still making a joke at her own expense there.

Speaker 10 (38:31):

Speaker 9 (38:32):
Yeah, because you want people to know you haven't become
too big for your bridges.

Speaker 8 (38:36):
And she wouldn't leave Watts.

Speaker 1 (38:38):
She at one point she had a bit where she
said people thought it said I moved to Beverly Hill.
She said, I wasn't going to leave Watts and if
she made all sorts of jokes about.

Speaker 8 (38:45):
Living in Watts, but she wasn't going to leave there.

Speaker 6 (38:47):
No, I ain't even wanted time.

Speaker 4 (38:49):
I know it's the Lost Asses ghetto, and I know
we got criming watch. Honey is so bad. If you
ain't home by nine o'clock, you can be declared legally dead.

Speaker 3 (39:02):

Speaker 9 (39:03):
You stick with what you know and you make it work.
And nobody did that better than she did. I wish
I had known her, Do you know what I mean?
I wish I had known her.

Speaker 1 (39:15):
In the nineteen nineties, Lawanda appeared on popular TV shows
like Family Matters in Living Color and Martin, I'm.

Speaker 6 (39:23):
The fourth person that's been hit in the past two weeks.

Speaker 8 (39:27):
Go dang, well, what did the police say?

Speaker 10 (39:29):

Speaker 1 (39:31):
She spoofed her church lady image in films like Friday,
where she played at Jehovah's witness. Meanwhile, lines from Lawanda's
party records began being sampled by hip hop legends like
Chupac Shakur and Wa and Two Live Crew. In nineteen
ninety one, Lawanda Page's childhood friend, Red Fox died. At

his funeral, Lawanda said, Red made me the star that
I am. If it hadn't been for him, I'd probably
be in the poorhouse. Read lived the life he loved,
and loved the life he lived. By this time, Lawanda
had been ordained as an evangelist in the Holiness Church.
She was following in the footsteps of her brother, a

Baptist minister, and her daughter, also a preacher. On September fourteenth,
twenty oh two, Lawanda Page died of complications from diabetes.
She was eighty one. Lawanda Page was many things. The

bronze goddess, a fire a queen of comedy, and let
me repeat, you must go listen to some of those
party records. She was a wife three times over, a mother,
a devoted daughter, a person of deep faith, and as
RuPaul knew, she was fabulous.

Speaker 6 (40:58):
Naoma Christie.

Speaker 1 (41:04):
But I want to end with another musical clip of Lawanda.
It's Fred Sandford and aunt esther enjoying a rare moment
of warmth. Sort of imagine us bringing together again after
all of these years.

Speaker 6 (41:18):
Seems like only yesterday. Oh I remember, where was it?

Speaker 8 (41:27):
Down by the old.

Speaker 5 (41:30):
New stream.

Speaker 6 (41:33):
It wasn't a stream, it was a lagoon goon.

Speaker 1 (41:38):
Two legends of comedy who had come so far, enjoying
the spotlight together.

Speaker 9 (41:45):
It was.

Speaker 1 (41:49):

Speaker 8 (41:50):
You don't know nothing that I loved you true.

Speaker 5 (41:57):
I got to throw it. I was sixteen.

Speaker 6 (42:03):
Al your shoes, I your really is queen Queen cong
down bineyreat.

Speaker 1 (42:36):
Thank you for listening to Season four of Mobituaries. We're
a very small and dedicated team that puts this show together.
I am grateful to work with such smart, creative, hard
working people, and we're grateful to you for sticking with us.
It would be wonderful if you would spread the word
about Mobituaries to your friends and family, and reading and

reviewing our podcasts really does help. You can also follow
Mobituaries on Facebook and Instagram, and you can follow me
on the social media platform formerly known as Twitter at
morocca and check out Mobituaries. Great Lives Worth Reliving, the
New York Times best selling book now available in paperback
and audiobook. It includes plenty of stories not available on

the podcast. This episode of Mobituaries was produced by Aaron Schrank.
Our team of producers also includes Hazel Brian and me Moroka,
with engineering by Josh Han. Our theme music is written
by Daniel Hart. Our archival producer is Jamie Benson. Mobituary's

production company is Neon Hummedia. Indispensable support from Reginald Bazil
and everyone at CBS News Radio special thanks to Steve
Razi's Rand Morrison and Alberto Rabina. Executive producers for Mobituaries
include Megan Marcus, Jonathan Hirsch, and Morocca. The series is

created by Yours truly and again thank you for listening.
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