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You might think that having a main role on a major TV show would be enough to quit your day job, but that’s not always the case. Some actors and actresses have held onto their “regular jobs” despite their success in Hollywood—at least, up to a point.
That’s exactly what Marla Gibbs did. During the 1960s and early 1970s, Gibbs worked as a United Airlines reservations desk clerk. That job coincided with her move to Los Angeles, where she studied acting and soon began landing roles in plays and even films. Her big break came in 1975 when she was cast as Florence Johnston, the Jeffersons’ housekeeper, on the primetime sitcom The Jeffersons, a spinoff of All in the Family that would air on CBS for a decade.
Yet for the first two years of that run, Gibbs kept her job with United, working part-time on the nightshift after The Jeffersons finished taping around 5 p.m. Within two hours of leaving the studio, she’d be in downtown LA, helping customers (who sometimes recognized her voice) over the phone with their airline reservations until 11 p.m.
As Gibbs told The Washington Post in 2015, “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.” Eventually, though, the role of Florence transitioned from recurring to main character in the show’s third season, and Gibbs finally became a full-time actress.
From the reservations desk to the Hollywood Walk of Fame:
- In addition to her role as Florence, Gibbs had a successful TV career, most notably on 227, in which she played the lead role of Mary Jenkins from 1985 to 1990. Now 92 years old, Gibbs has had a recurring role on the soap opera Days of Our Lives since 2021. Besides being an actress, she is also a singer, comedian, writer, and TV producer. Her varied career has also involved owning a jazz club and a theater school.
- Gibbs reprised the role of Florence Johnston on the short-lived The Jeffersons spinoff Checking In. Only four episodes ever aired on CBS, after which Checking In was canceled and Gibbs returned to The Jeffersons.
- Gibbs's accolades include seven NAACP Image Awards, five Emmy nominations, and one Golden Globe nomination. In 2021, she was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in recognition of her TV career.