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Subject: Re: LaWanda Page - Aunt Esther

NY Times obit
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Date Posted: September 18, 2002 7:58:09 EDT
In reply to: Los Angeles 's message, "LaWanda Page - Aunt Esther" on September 17, 2002 10:27:39 EDT

LaWanda Page, the acid-tongued comedienne who, as the cantankerous Aunt Esther, traded barbs with Redd Foxx on the 1970's sitcom "Sanford and Son," died on Saturday in Los Angeles. She was 81 and the cause was complications of diabetes, The Associated Press reported.

Ms. Page was a veteran of the black circuit of theaters and nightclubs. She began as a dancer, added a fire-swallowing bit (billed as the "Bronze Goddess of Fire") and moved gradually into skit and stand-up comedy on the so-called Midwestern "chitlin circuit." Most of those clubs, she later said, were dumps, the kind of places "where if you ain't home by 9 o'clock you can be declared legally dead."

Her big break came when she was tapped for a supporting role in the second season of Norman Lear's "Sanford and Son," which starred Foxx, a friend from comedy club days, as Fred Sanford, an eccentric and irascible junk dealer in the Watts section of Los Angeles. As the ungainly, wisecracking, Bible-toting sister of Sanford's late wife, Elizabeth, she quickly became one of the show's most popular characters.

Her character, Aunt Esther, took her share of zingers from Foxx and other cast members Sanford's friend Grady once quipped, "Nice having her around, she makes the junk look so pretty." But Aunt Esther usually responded with equally stinging rejoinders. "Watch it, sucker!" her favorite catch phrase, was followed by a spate of sharp-tongued invective. The exchanges between her and Sanford were among the weekly highlights. "Sanford and Son," ran from 1972 to 1977 on NBC and remained one of television's top rated shows, inspiring several spinoffs in which she also appeared.

Ms. Page was born in Cleveland on Oct. 19, 1920, and began her dancing career at age 15. After years on the club circuit with comedians like Foxx and Richard Pryor, Ms. Page moved to Los Angeles in the 1960's and joined the comedy group Skillet, Leroy & Co. She soon developed and honed her trademark feisty comic approach more shrill but still reminiscent of Moms Mabley's homespun wit. ("Honey, that old man couldn't keep no kinda job. That's the only man I know that ever went to the unemployment office and lost his place in line.")

She is survived by a daughter, Clara Johnson, of Los Angeles.

Throughout the 1970's and 80's, Ms. Page played cameo roles in a few feature films and made guest appearances on talk shows and sitcoms. Offstage, she was an advocate for equal opportunities and better pay for black performers.

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