The Good Times cast is one of the most famous group of sitcom characters ever assembled and certainly cuts an iconic image of 1970s television.
Consider just the main players …
- John Amos as James Evans
- Esther Rolle as Florida Evans
- Jimmie Walker as J.J. Evans (James, Jr.)
- Bernnadette Stanis as Thelma Evans Anderson
- Ralph Carter as Michael Evans
Unforgettable! And to that timeless cast that comprised the Evans family, you can add major secondary characters …
- Ja’net Dubois as Willona Woods
- Janet Jackson(!) as Penny Gordon Woods
- Johnny Brown as Nathan Bookman (Booger)
- Ben Powers as Keith Anderson
It’s an amazing group that rivals the strongest television casts of all-time, but it gets even better.
Because, you see, beyond these main cogs and beyond even minor recurring characters like Carl Dixon (Moses Gunn), Good Times was loaded with guest power.
The show, it seems, was a veritable springboard that helped multiple future superstars launch their own movie and television careers.
To wit, here are just a few of the (future) celebrities who crashed the Good Times cast party.
Debbie Allen is no stranger to fame, and she’s no stranger to Fame, having played dancer and instructor Lydia in the 1980 movie and the 1982-87 series of the same name.
Back in 1976, though, Allen was a relative unknown who landed her first big role as J.J.’s girlfriend.
Story goes that, while the duo tell James and Florida they’re going to the prom, they really plan to elope.
And, as if that’s not bad enough, it turns out Diana — played by Allen — is hooked on heroin.
Matthew “Stymie” Beard
So, OK, this one’s not really so much about launching a career as it is about reviving one.
Matthew “Stymie” Beard established himself on the Hollywood scene when the Hollywood scene barely existed.
Waaaayyyyy back in the late 1920s and early 1930s, Beard took up a series of roles that eventually solidified as — you guessed it — Stymie in Hal Roach’s Little Rascals shorts.
He acted on and off through the mid-1940s, had one credit in 1953, but then went silent until 1974.
That year, Beard appeared as Gus on one episode of the Hawkins TV show and also began a tour of small parts on various sitcoms.
That career reboot included several showings as Monty or Mr. Edwards on Good Times from 1974-77.
From that point until his death in 1981, Beard was once again a regular — if minor — part of our television landscape.
By late 1978, Gary Coleman was well on his way to becoming America’s favorite child star.
Even today, Arnold Jackson and his antics on Diff’rent Strokes remain beloved parts of the television landscape.
But Coleman had already been in the biz for a few years by that point, with cameos on Medical Center and The Jeffersons, and starring as Stymie in 1977’s The Little Rascals (think he knew Mr. Beard?).
You can add Good Times to Coleman’s pre-Arnold credits, too, as he played Penny’s classmate in two episodes at the end of Season 5 and the beginning of Season 6.
The last of those episodes, in fact, aired within a month of Coleman’s Diff’rent Strokes debut!
Another person who rode Diff’rent Strokes to another level of fame was Charlotte Rae, who eventually spun off her Mrs. Garrett into a brand new sitcom … The Facts of Life.
Among the girls she took with her in 1979 was Trudy, played by Kim Fields … who also just happened to have had a couple guest stints on Good Times.
In Chicago, she played Kim (creative!), one of Penny’s friends.
And if you’re starting to sense a trend here, well, networking is a powerful force.
Especially in Hollywood, it seems.
Guillaume, of course, is best known for his eponymous role in Benson, a sitcom that ran from 1979 through 1986.
That character of the beloved but snarky butler (who later rose to political prominence) originated in the inimitable Soap in 1977 before spinning off into his own, more successful, thing.
Before Guillaume ever donned the coattails, though, he worked through a series of television spots from the late 1960s and into the 1970s … Julia, Marcus Welby, M.D., Super Fly T.N.T., All in the Family, The Jeffersons.
His last sitcom stop before Soap-ing up was as the homeless Fishbone in a 1977 episode of Good Times entitled, “Requiem for a Wino.”
Before Jay Leno was a guest host extraordinaire and then the outright host of The Tonight Show, he was an actor.
Most of his work came in bit parts on TV series, such as appearances as Bobby Bitts and Joey Mitchell on Laverne & Shirley.
Before any of that, though, Leno made his TV debut in an episode of Good Times called, “J.J. in Trouble.”
In that 1976 spot (Season 3, Episode 21), J.J. has a VD scare and bumps into a Young Man while waiting at the clinic.
And, you guessed it — the Young Man is Leno, who also served as a writer for the series.
See above for more on Rae’s late 70s pedigree and her relationship to a few others on this list.
Unlike many of the youngsters here, though, Rae had already been in Hollywood, and on the small screen in particular, for decades before Good Times ever hit the airwaves.
Still, with the exception of a few extended stints on Car 54, Where Are You? and Sesame Street, Rae wasn’t necessarily a household face.
That didn’t really change with her 1974 appearance as a hiring manager who chose Florida over James, but things were looking up.
When Smith made his television debut in a 1973 episode of The Odd Couple, he was still in the midst of a seven-year NFL career as a dominant defensive lineman for the Baltimore Colts, Oakland Raiders, and Houston Oilers.
He evidently enjoyed the experience, as he made concerted and successful move to the screen after he hung up his spikes in 1978.
With film credits that include the Police Academy franchise and several standalone movies, Smith was a trailblazer of sorts for other athletes looking to make a career in entertainment.
Along his path the box office, Bubba stopped at Good Times in 1978 for a six-episode arc as a bodyguard for the local loan shark.
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