B-Sides: George Jefferson Has Ghost Fever
Sherman Hemsley decided after a decade starring as iconic loudmouth George Jefferson on “The Jeffersons” that it was time to take a shot at big screen superstardom. Not only did he star in and croon the theme song to the 1987 comedy Ghost Fever, he also funded the film out of his own pocket, eventually bankrupting him.
How could a family comedy about racist ghosts in a Southern plantation not have been a financial hit?
Sherman Hemsley had dual roles as one half of a bumbling police duo (along with original “Electric Company” player Luis Avalos) and as the ghost of his slave grandfather assisting him throughout the movie. You see, these two cops have been sent to serve an eviction notice to two beautiful sisters living in an old Atlanta antebellum home haunted by the ghost of its original crazy, slave-owning, racist owner. Hijinks ensure!
That Ghost Fever’s style of comedy felt like a very bad attempt to do 1930’s “Laurel & Hardy” style shtick in 1987 might have something to do with the screenwriter (Oscar Brodney) having been around 80 years old at the time and not having had a single writing credit to his name since 1971. It’s as if he or someone else just took a leftover politically incorrect slapstick comedy written back in the Forties and did some rewrites to tailor it to the Ghostbusters craze of the mid-Eighties.
Shot in 1985, Ghost Fever floundered for two whole years before finally being unceremoniously dumped into a handful of theaters and later onto home video. Its director was so unhappy with the finished film he insisted on an “Alan Smithee” credit. Sherman Hemsley lost the $3 million he personally invested, beginning his decade long road to financial ruin that ended with him declaring bankruptcy in 1999.
Hemsley also lent his vocal talents to his financial boondoggle singing the “Ghost Fever” theme song that plays out the end credits. Odds are most people who attempted to watch the film never made it far enough to actually hear Sherman Hemsley performing this lounge act worthy title track.
Money well spent.
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