Marla Gibbs. She’s an actress, singer, comedian, writer and TV producer. You may know her as:
- Florence the Maid in The Jeffersons (1975-1985)
- Mary Jenkins in 227 (1985-1990)
- The voice of Duchess in 101 Dalmatians: The Series (1997-1998)
- Hattie Mae Hughley in The Hughleys (1998-2002)
- Aunt Irma in Passions (2004-2005)
- Grandma Eddy in The First Family (2012-2013)
- Olivia Price in Days of Our Lives (2021-Present)
Or guest roles in literally dozens of TV shows, movies and short films since 1973.
The 91-year-old Gibbs also owned a jazz club from 1981 to 1999, released multiple albums as a singer, and began a theater school in the 1990s.
She’s been nominated for several Emmy Awards as well as a Golden Globe, and won an NAACP Image Award. She also received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame last year.
BUT…did you know that before all of that, she was a United Airlines employee?
She started working as one of the airline’s reservations desk clerks back when the newly divorced mother of three was still living in Detroit. She was transferred to Southern California in the early 1970s and decided to pursue an acting career.
Gibbs continued to work for United while she learned her craft at PASLA (Performing Arts Society of Los Angeles), the Watts-based Mafundi Institute and Watts Writers Workshop. She appeared in several plays in the L.A. area, and then began getting minor roles in films, but still worked for the airline.
She was then cast in “The Jeffersons,” which ran from 1975 to 1985. You would think someone on a popular prime-time comedy show would drop her airline job like a hot potato, right? Nope. As she told The Washington Post in 2015:
What were you doing before you started acting?
I had been working for United Airlines for 11 years when I got “The Jeffersons” and I stayed with them an additional two years. I was doing both things. Because in my world, a bird in the hand is worth twenty in the bush, so I wasn’t ready to give up the airline yet. Besides I had unlimited passes.
How often were you working for the airline while you were filming the show?
Every day. I worked part-time for the airline then. So I talked United into letting me come in at 7 because we’d finish the show at about 5 and I would get out. United was in downtown Los Angeles then, so I could catch the freeway and come up right next to United and be in my seat saying “Good evening, this is Ms. Gibbs. United Airlines — Ms. Gibbs, can I help you?” I was on the phone — reservations. Sometimes some people would say they recognize my voice. I’d just say, “really?”
Gibbs eventually felt secure enough in her “day job” to quit United. But until then, if you (or your parents, or maybe your grandparents) called United to make a reservation (cuz that’s how it was done, way back then), who knows, maybe you (or they) spoke to Marla Gibbs!
Feature Image (cropped): bekahjan / Wikimedia / CC by 2.0
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