Marla Gibbs (born Margaret Theresa Bradley on June 14, 1931 in Chicago, IL) is an African-American Actress, Comedienne, Singer, Writer and Producer, a career spanning five decades. She is best known to TV audiences as the sassy, back-talking, and wise-cracking housekeeper Florence Johnston on the CBS sitcom The Jeffersons and the sharp-tongued, inner-city resident gossip and housewife, Mary Jenkins on the NBC sitcom 227. She has appeared from time to time as a celebrity guest on The $25,000 Pyramid in the early-to-mid 1980s.
Born Margaret Theresa Bradley in Chicago, Illinois to parents Ophelia Birdie (née Kemp) and Douglas Bradley. She attended Wendell Phillips Academy High School in the Bronzeville neighborhood on Chicago's south side graduating in 1949. Shortly after she graduated from high school, Gibbs moved to Detroit, Michigan where she attended Peters Business School. She then worked as a reservations agent for United Airlines before relocating with her children from Detroit to Los Angeles.
Marla landed her first acting job in the early 1970s, in the blaxploitation films Sweet Jesus, Preacher Man and Black Belt Jones. In 1975, she was cast in the TV role would become one of her two most notable work to TV audiences, the sassy, back-talking housekeeper Florence Johnston on the CBS sitcom The Jeffersons (debuting on January 18, 1975). Gibbs originally started out in a recurring role for the first three seasons before being made a series regular for the remaining eight seasons. TV audiences loved Marla as the wise-cracking, back-talking maid Florence and for her performance on the series, she was nominated for an Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series five times, and once for a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television Film.
In 1981, she starred in the short-lived spin-off of The Jeffersons, titled Checking In. TV viewers saw the Florence character accepting a job to become the executive housekeeper at the fictional St. Frederick Hotel in Manhattan. The series was cancelled after just four short episodes due to the incredibly low ratings after which Florence returned to her housekeeping job on The Jeffersons.
After eleven seasons on CBS, The Jeffersons was abruptly cancelled by the network in July 1985, causing a great deal of controversy. Shortly afterwards, Marla went on to star in her second notable role to TV audiences, the sharp-tongued, inner-city gossip housewife Mary Jenkins on 227 (debuting on September 14, 1985 on NBC). The series was adapted from a play written in 1978 by Christine Houston about the lives of women in a predominantly black apartment building in 1950s Chicago. The setting of the series, however, was changed to present-day Washington, D.C. Marla says 227 was originally offered to ABC, but sold to NBC. The show was scheduled to begin in 1986 since The Jeffersons was still on the air on CBS but after the network pulled the plug on the show, she was free to begin as production of 227 went into production a year earlier than had been previously planned. Gibbs also co-produced and sang the show's theme song.
Co-starring with Marla on 227 was Jackee Harry, who played the sexy and sassy upstairs neighbor Sandra Clark. Early in the series, the Sandra and Mary characters started out as archenemies but overtime, TV viewers saw the two softening up towards each other and eventually becoming good friends. Although 227 was made as a starring vehicle for Gibbs, some TV critics argued that Harry became the show's rising star as TV viewers and eventually the show's scripts became increasingly more focused on the character of Sandra Clark (Jackee Harry won an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series in 1987), which ultimately did not sit well with Gibbs as tension behind the camera mounted between herself and Jackee.
Jackee Harry's character Sandra was spun off into her own series titled Jackee in which TV viewers saw Sandra moving to New York City and eventually finding work at a spa. The pilot was praised by TV audiences but rejected by NBC and Harry left the show (she did appear as a special guest star in seven of the final season's episodes). After Jackee parted ways 227, so did the viewers as ratings took a tumbling nosedive and the series ended on May 6, 1990.
Years later, Jackee Harry openly admitted that once the Sandra Clark character took off, so did her ego and has sincerely apologized to Marla as the two ladies buried the hatchet and become close friends.
After the cancellation of 227, Marla went on to appear in a number of supporting and guest starring roles on various TV shows including A Different World, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Touched By an Angel (alongside her longtime friend & two-time 227 guest star Della Reese), and a recurring role on the late 1990s sitcom The Hughleys as DL Hughley's mother, Hattie Mae.
Marla is also somewhat well-known on the game show circuit, she has appeared from time to time as a celebrity guest on The $25,000 Pyramid in the early-to-mid 1980s. She has also appeared occasionally as a celebrity panelist on the NBC game show Super Password. In February 1989, she made a surprise cameo on an episode of the nighttime version of Wheel of Fortune after her name appeared in a puzzle. She returned at the end of that show as she chatted with the show's hosts Pat Sajak & Vanna White and was seen along with Pat, Vanna, and that day's winner during the closing credits.
In 2012, she appeared in the Tyler Perry film Madea's Witness Protection and in 2014 starred in the independent film, Grantham & Rose. She also reunited with her former 227 co-star and friend Jackee Harry for the Bryan Allen syndicated sitcom The First Family, where Gibbs had a recurring role as Harry's on-screen mother Grandma Eddy. Then, she again worked with Harry in the independent film Forbidden Woman.
Marla was married to her high school sweetheart Jordan Gibbs from 1955 to 1973. The couple had three children: Angela, Dorian, and Joseph Gibbs. Her older sister is the late actress Susie Garrett. Her daughter Angela Gibbs is also an actress who appeared in movies such as Together Brothers, Drumline and Think Like A Man Too.
On July 31, 2014, Gibbs attended the Leimert Park Village Book Fair in Los Angeles, California to pay tribute to longtime friends Maya Angelou, who died on May 28 and Ruby Dee, who died on June 11.
On January 11, 2016, Marla and long-time friend Jackee Harry attended the funeral of Grammy Award-winning singer Natalie Cole at the West Angeles Church of God in Christ in Los Angeles, California. Gibbs co-starred opposite Cole in the TV movie Lily in Winter.