LaWanda Page entered show business at the age of 15 when she started working as a dancer in small nightclubs. During this time, her acts included eating fire and lighting cigarettes with her fingertips, which earned her the nickname 'The Bronze Goddess of Fire'.
She often shared stage with Richard Pryor and Redd Foxx, who entered the comedy scene around the same time and went on to become celebrated comedians and actors. During the early 1960s, after paying her dues on the club circuit, she followed Foxx to the West Coast, where she became a member of the comedy group ‘Skillet, Leroy & Co.’
After Redd Foxx landed a starring role on 'Sanford and Son', an adaptation of the BBC series 'Steptoe and Son', he offered roles to many of his acquaintances, including Page. Just before she was offered the role of aunt Esther on the NBC sitcom, she had grown frustrated with the Los Angeles club circuit and was about to move back to St. Louis to take care of her ailing mother.
Since Page had never worked in a television production before 'Sanford and Son', she was unfamiliar with the nuances of acting in front of the camera, and the producers wanted to replace her. However, Foxx was adamant that he wanted only Page for the part, eventually working with her to develop the iconic character that is admired to this day.
From 1972 to 1977, she appeared on 'Sanford and Son' as Esther Anderson, a devout churchgoer and hard realist, who trades barbs with her brother-in-law, Fred Sanford, played by Foxx. Her transition from a raunchy nightclub performer to a sanctimonious Bible-toting Aunt was seamless, and she often stole the limelight from Foxx.
After Foxx left the series, its spin-off 'Sanford Arms' (1977) with a new lead character was produced, in which Page reprised her role as aunt Esther. However, the show was cancelled after one season. Later in 1980, the sequel series 'Sanford' was made, in which both Foxx and Page reprised their respective roles. This series too failed to get good ratings.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Page released a number of live comedy albums under the label ‘Laff Records’, which primarily contained her raunchy stand-up comedy material. After finding fame as aunt Esther, she released the gold-selling album 'Watch It, Sucker!' (1972), which was also one of her character's catchphrases. Later in 1979, she released the relatively clean album 'Sane Advice'.
She appeared in recurring roles on several television series, such as 'Starsky and Hutch' (1977-79), 'Detective School' (1979), 'Amen' (1991), 'Martin' (1992-93), and 'Dream On' (1995-96). Additionally, she played a number of guest roles on TV throughout her career and also appeared as herself on several episodes of 'The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts'.
Page acted in films like 'Zapped!', 'Good-bye, Cruel World', 'Mausoleum', 'My Blue Heaven', and 'Shakes the Clown'. During the early 1990s, she appeared in the music video of RuPaul's hit song 'Supermodel (You Better Work)', as well as several other tracks of her debut album 'Supermodel of the World'.
Family & Personal Life
LaWanda Page got married three times and became a widow thrice. Her first marriage took place when she was just 14. She had a daughter named Clara Estella Roberta Johnson, who became an evangelist.
At the age of 81, Page died of complications arising from diabetes on September 14, 2002. She was interred in an outdoor crypt at Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, California.