Why you never saw Mike Evans in anything else
If there was one character with the potential to threaten Archie Bunker's worldview, it was Mike Evans' Lionel Jefferson. He was just so incredibly likable. Look at that smile! Lionel's personality constantly forces Archie to contend with his nastiest beliefs, as his polite, unflappable nature upends everything Archie ignorantly thinks he knows.
There is such a natural charm to Mike Evans' portrayal. Lionel comes across as a real person. He's effortless. Rather than an actor playing a role, Evans seems like a young man who actually happened to move in next door. Part of that has to do with Evans' inherent skills as an actor, but the rest is due to his background.
Here's a little information for the trivia hounds: Mike Evans got the role on All in the Family in a really interesting way. He didn't have any real acting experience before he landed the role of Lionel. He was a drama major, and he was hitchhiking his way to class when a talent agent happened to pick him up. A few days later, that agent secured Evans the part on All in the Family.
However, by the time Evans was in his mid-twenties, he was already looking forward to retiring from acting.
"Acting is something that is profitable," Evans told The San Francisco Examiner in '73. "And it's something I don't mind doing. Believe me, I'd rather starve to death than wash cars or work at a grease rack."
But as far as long-term goals were concerned, acting just didn't fit into Mike Evans' plans.
"When I'm 30, I want to settle down for good on a ranch with a horse."
Here's the interesting part: He pretty much stuck to his word. Mike Evans stepped away from the All in the Family spin-off The Jeffersons after that show's first season. He focused his attention instead on Good Times, a series he created to be produced by Norman Lear. It was made in direct response to Evans' uncredited rewrites on All in the Family scripts, where he was constantly asked to make his lines more natural for a young black man.
While he returned briefly as a recurring star for The Jefferson's eighth season and again as a guest in the last year it was on the air, Mike Evans stopped acting in other shows when The Practice wrapped in 1977. His heart wasn't in it. He married, raised his daughters, and lived happily ever after far away from the Bunkers.
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