Before There Was “Madea”, There Was “Geraldine” Played by Comedian and Actor “Flip Wilson”

Written by Jae Jones

Clerow (Flip) Wilson Jr. was an African-American comedian and actor. He was quite popular during the early 1970s. Wilson was born on December 8, 1933 in Jersey City, N.J, and was one of ten children. His parents were Conelia Bullock and , Sr. and at the age of seven his mother left the family. His father could not care for the children on his own so they went to faster homes.

At the young age of 16-years-old, Wilson  joined the United States Air Force because he lied about his age. He often kept the troops cheered up and laughing, so he was asked to tour to various bases to do the same for other soldiers. He acquired the name “Flip” from his barrack mates, because he was often known for “flipping out” to make others laugh. After being discharged from the Air Force he began working in San Francisco’s Manor Plaza Hotel as a bellhop; it was a way for him to make an honest living and provide for himself. However, he had big dreams to do more with his life. So, he found a little night gig performing as a drunken patron at the Plaza’s nightclub which put him on the road to stardom. In the 1960s, he landed a gig as a regular at the Apollo Theater in Harlem and was a favorite guest on The Tonight Show, and The Ed Sullivan Show. He won his first Grammy Award for his comedy album “The Devil Made Me Buy This Dress in 1970.


In 1970 Wilson was so popular he gained his own show, “The Show”, which debuted on NBC. He was known for greeting all his guests with a special handshake, the “Flip Wilson Handshake, “four hand slaps, two elbow bumps finishing with two hip-bumps.” Wilson’s characters included Reverend Leroy, materialistic pastor of the “Church of What’s Happening Now”, and his most popular character, Geraldine Jones. He was known for getting dressed up in heels, a dress, make-up and a wig and prancing across stage.  The show lasted up until 1974. After the show Wilson made several appearances on other TV sitcoms such as “The Dean Martin Show”, “Lucy” and his last role was an appearance he made on “Living Single” in 1993. Wilson died of liver cancer in Malibu, California he was 64 years old.



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About the author

Jae Jones

Jae Jones has been writing professionally for over 10 years. She holds a degree in Business Administration, and enjoys writing on various topics.

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