The Real Reason Esther Rolle Left Good Times

Since their inception, television sitcoms had been dominated by white actors, providing an experience that alienated people of color. Adding to the divide was the affluence and financial security the characters on these shows possessed. Though some will look back on this golden age of television with fondness and a nostalgic yearning for times gone by, these programs in no way depicted the American way of life for most of the viewers, especially those who were working class, divorced, or non-white.

TV began to undergo some rapid changes by 1971. When Norman Lear debuted "All in the Family" on CBS on January 12 of that year (per IMDb), Americans got a long look at the struggles of the working-class Bunker family and the widening generation gap on their living room TV sets. The show's successes spawned the hit sitcom "Maude," following the exploits of Edith Bunker's cousin and her middle-class family in suburban New York. 

A regular character in "Maude" was Florida Evans, who was the family's African American maid. For two seasons, Florida was employed by the household until her character was written off the show. The reason? The actress who played Florida, Esther Rolle, was tapped to star in a sitcom of her own (also via IMDb). In that show, she would resume her role as Florida Evans, the matriarch of a working-class African American family that struggles to keep their heads above the poverty line. "Good Times" was the first time a sitcom was a spinoff of a spinoff, a series that was centered around an African American family.

Rolle and Amos disliked how writers had Walker portray J.J. Evans

"Good Times" was the story of the Evans family, led by James Evans (John Amos) and his wife, Florida (Rolle). Ultimate Classic Rock describes the show as the story of a working-class man who holds down multiple jobs to keep his family from the ravages of poverty. Set in a poor Chicago neighborhood, the part of Florida Evans is crucial, as her job is to keep the family together and the three teenage children out of harm's way.

The eldest of the Evans' children was James "J.J." Evans Jr. (Jimmy Walker). He quickly became a fan favorite, with one-liners and his catchphrase "Dyn-O-Mite!" The character's portrayal led to Rolle leaving the show. Though the cast was Black, the show's writers were all white. This was especially unsettling for Amos, who told Vlad TV in a 2020 interview (on YouTube) that although he accepted J.J.'s comic relief as necessary, the character's antics were counterproductive to the message he felt the show should have.

Rolle also took issue with the way her TV son's character evolved. In she told Ebony Magazine, "He's 18 and he doesn't work. He can't read and write. He doesn't think. The show didn't start out to be that. They have made him more stupid and enlarged the role." She continued to vent her frustration, pointing out a descent into stereotypes. "Negative images have been quietly slipped in on us through the character of the oldest child. I resent the imagery that says to Black kids that you can make it by standing on the corner saying 'Dyn-o-mite!'"

Rolle and Amos are written out of the series

The parental figures in "Good Times" didn't last the duration of the series. After repeated disagreements with the production staff, Amos was fired from the show. His character was written out of the series tragically, perhaps to ensure that Amos would not ever be able to come back and resume his role as James Evans. The Evans family is prepared to move to the South at the beginning of the fourth season after James secures a better job out of state. But while he is away, he is killed in a car accident, leaving the family stuck in Chicago without their patriarch.

Rolle stayed on for the duration of that season but eventually had enough herself. Her character was written off much more gently than her screen husband, however. The writers bid farewell to Florida by having her remarry and move off to Arizona. With the Evans children left to fend for themselves in Chicago, the show took a bit of a different direction. The ratings began to slip considerably during the fifth season, prompting producers to appeal to Rolle to reemerge as Florida on the show. Rolle agreed, though the sixth season would be the series' last (via Ultimate Classic Rock). 

Rolle continued to act after the finale of "Good Times." Along with multiple television appearances, Rolle acted in many films until her 1998 death. Among her post-"Good Times" movie credits are parts in the 1988 screen hit "Driving Miss Daisy" and 1995's "How to Make an American Quilt" (via IMDb).