Playing Grady on Sanford and Son was a temporary gig for Whitman Mayo
The main characters are the focal point of any production, but supporting, recurring, and guest-starring characters help keep the show alive as well. Norman Lear's Sanford and Son was the same, surrounding episodes on father and son Fred and Lamont Sanford. However, their friends, extended family, and visitors brought the show's plot to life.
Otherwise, just watching the duo bicker in their junkyard/home would've been repetitive and boring to watch. When you think of Fred Sanford's friends, although he had a few, Grady Wilson is the character that rings a bell the most. Played by Whitman Mayo, the recurring character became Fred's best friend, even moving in with Lamont when Fred was away.
The role had a good chunk of impact on the show, and you'd think it must've been the dream of a lifetime for Mayo when he got the role — it wasn't. In fact, he didn't even want the part.
According to an article in The News Tribune in 1974, the summer before the show aired, Mayo was an artist manager and literary agent who caught a ride with a friend to Los Angeles to find work for his clients. "It was a free trip, so I thought I'd try to get some jobs for my clients," he told the publication.
Before he got settled in, a casting agent for Sanford and Son called and asked him to read for the role of Grady, and Mayo said, "But I don't want to be an actor." After being convinced to audition anyway, he went and they offered him the role. Shocked at their decision, he said, "I can't understand this. I came to get parts for my clients."
Mayo then began to look at the opportunity as a way to stay in Los Angeles longer to help his clients find work. Yet, he fought back once Sanford and Son's production team asked him to stay for more episodes. "No. Absolutely not. I've got to get back to my agency (Nasaba, Inc.)," Mayo added.
He couldn't escape the role and found himself playing Grady repeatedly. Eventually, he stopped fighting and looked at the brighter side. His business partner ran the agency in New York while Mayo shined in front of Hollywood cameras.
"I had learned to stop protesting and do what fate had apparently decided that I do. I still don't want to be a star. Many actors work at other jobs to make a decent living; I'm acting temporarily until I get my business where I want it."
Mayo would go on to guest star in various shows, even having his spin-off series Grady, which lasted one season.