Marla Gibbs is a television icon with starring roles in such impactful sitcoms as “The Jeffersons” where she played the quick-witted and smart-mouthed maid, Florence Johnston, and in “227” as Mary Jenkins, an inner-city housewife who finds herself involved in dilemmas she and her neighbor friends try to find solutions to each week. Gibbs will next appear in four episodes of “Days of our Lives” beginning today, August 16, playing Olivia Price, the mother of Paulina Price played by former “227” co-star Jackée Harry, who played Sandra Clark on the NBC sitcom. Harry joined the soap in March as a business mogul with secrets and a hidden agenda.
In an interview with Soap Opera Network in honor of her “DAYS” debut, Gibbs tells us that she has been a lifelong fan of the daytime drama series and continues watching it even today. So, when she got the call to join the soap she was ecstatic. “My agent called and said they wanted me to come on as one of Jackée’s relatives,” recalls Gibbs. “I didn’t know she was on the show [at the time]. So, I said, ‘of course I would love to come on as a relative.’ I didn’t know I was going to be her momma, but I have been her momma before,” Gibbs adds, referring to the short-lived Byron Allen-created comedy, ‘The First Family,” where she played Grandma Eddy to Harry’s Pauletta in the political series about a Black family in the White House.
Before heading to the Burbank Studios to film her four-episode stint in mid-April, all Gibbs knew about her character was that there was a secret Olivia didn’t want Paulina to reveal to which she says in character, “I was trying to keep her [Paulina] under control, trying to keep her from telling something she wanted desperately to tell and I couldn’t allow her to do it, and so that’s where we started and then it went from there.”
Without revealing the secret itself, or how things are resolved by the end of her short stint, Gibbs does note that she’s interested in coming back. She’s just waiting for the call. “When it started out I was going to do four, so I did four and I’m hoping to do some more,” she points out, giving producers a hint about a possible return visit.
Calling her “DAYS” experience “marvelous,” Gibbs shared that she would love to interact with more characters next time, should there be one. “I’m sorry that I didn’t get to work with all of the actors I’m watching because Jackée and I, our scenes were together and it was regarding what we were dealing with, and the show has five or six different scenes going on so it jumps around from one into the other,” Gibba states.
As for some of her favorite actors on “DAYS,” more specifically the characters they play on the show, Gibbs shares one of her favorites used to be Sami, “but then Sami left,” referring to the recent departure of portrayer Alison Sweeney who left earlier this year to film outside projects which the show accommodated by having the character kidnapped in one of last week’s episodes. “[So] Sami and EJ [Dan Feuerriegel], and Hope [Kristian Alfonso], and [Bo] Brady [Peter Reckell], Nicole [Arianne Zucker] and Eric [Greg Vaughan]. There’s so many… even if they die, honey, they come back,” jokes Gibbs about other characters she’s tuned in to watch over the years. She adds, “I would love to interact with Rafe for one. Rafe is a police officer and he was also a police officer in ‘Passions.’” Gibbs played Aunt Irma on the short-lived NBC soap from 2004-2005 so it would be a reunion between herself and Rafe’s portrayer, Galen Gering, who played Luis Lopez-Fitzgerald on the soap back then.
A recent recipient of the coveted star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the 90-year-old actress gave fans a scare during the ceremony after she reportedly nearly fainted moments after the unveiling, but she wanted to take the opportunity to clear things up about that.
“It really makes me feel gratified that so many people love both shows, and love my characters,” Gibbs starts off, talking about her sitcom roles. “I just received the star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. We were told that there were not going to be any people standing around. They had to be across the street. And when I got there all these people were all around and they were saying they loved me, and it just got to me. I just broke down. I was walking towards the camera, so I said, ‘I gotta get this back together quick [laughs]. So, I did and when I got up to speak, I was halfway through when I got a little dizzy and I was standing there waiting for it to pass and my son and everybody else panicked and they jumped up and they took me off the stage,” she explains. “[They] took me next door, called the paramedics and the paramedics gave me a clean bill of health so I came back out and finished the ceremony and then we went to the reception, and Norman Lear, I must say, I love Norman. He was right there through the whole thing.” Lear executive produced “The Jeffersons,” “227” and a whole host of other classic comedies.
Ironically, even though she’s been gracing our TV screens for decades, Gibbs never thought she’d become a TV star. “I loved movies. I never thought about TV, although in my grandmother’s house they had a little TV but I wasn’t interested in it,” she says. “I think Milton Berle or somebody like that was on it and it just seemed boring to me. Little did I know that one day I would be on that little box [laughs].”
Some of the stars Gibbs looked up to growing up as an actress included Betty Davis, Joan Crawford and Joan Fontaine. “I never failed to go watch them,” she reveals. While she didn’t get to work with one Betty, she did get to work with another. “I finally got to work with Betty White on her show, ‘Hot in Cleveland.’ That was nice because I was a big fan of hers.”
As for her next project, Gibbs shares, “I’m going to work with one of my friends, Snoop Dogg, at the end of the month in the movie ‘Bromates.’” The film revolves around two best friends who break up with their girlfriends at the same time, subsequently deciding to move in with each other. Lil Rel Howery (“Free Guy”) and Josh Brener (“Silicon Valley”) are the leads with Snoop executive producing. It’ll be released in 2022.
“Days of our Lives” airs weekdays on NBC. Catch up anytime for free exclusively via the Peacock streaming service.
Watch a clip of Gibbs and Harry from “A Black Lady Sketch Show” and its rebooted version of “227” below.