R.I.P. Johnny Brown, superintendent Nathan Bookman in Good Times

A regular on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, Brown also worked with Sammy Davis Jr. on film and on Broadway.

The Everett Collection

Best remembered as building superintendent Nathan Bookman in Good Times, Johnny Brown was as versatile as he was funny. He could sing, dance, act, tell jokes and do spot-on impressions of Louis Armstrong and many others. His talents made him a perfect fit as a regular performer in three seasons of the wild sketch show Laugh-In.

Born on June 11, 1937, in St. Petersburg, Florida, but raised in Harlem, Brown first broke out in the nightclub scene in New York City. He won an amateur competition at the famed Apollo Theater and performed with father-son drummer and tap dancer duo Gregory Hines Sr. and Jr. Another performer in the group? Brown’s future wife, June Russell. They were married for over 60 years. 

In addition to recording songs for Atlantic and Columbia Records, Brown toured the Catskills circuit where he met Sammy Davis Jr. The multitalented artist and Rat Pack member made quite an impression on Brown. “He did all the things I wanted to do,” Brown told Stanley Dyrector in 1996. “I wanted to be a well-rounded, complete entertainer; I didn’t just want to sing or tell a joke.”

Davis would prove instrumental in taking Brown’s career to the next level. Brown replaced actor Godfrey Cambridge in the 1964 Sammy Davis Jr. Broadway musical Golden Boy. It ran for more than 500 performances.

Two years later, Brown worked with Davis again, this time on the big screen. In A Man Called Adam, Brown played blind pianist, Les. The film also starred Louis Armstrong, Cicely Tyson, Frank Sinatra Jr. and Brown’s future Good Times costar Ja’net DuBois. 

Before joining Laugh-In in 1970, Brown appeared on variety programs like The Ed Sullivan ShowDella and The Leslie Uggams Show. He also guest starred in a 1969 episode of the groundbreaking Diahann Carroll sitcom Julia.

Brown later found out he owed his spot on Laugh-In to Sammy Davis Jr. as well. At a dinner with Dan Rowan and Dick Martin, Davis suggested Brown as a new addition to the show. Brown did not let his famous pal down, performing in 52 episodes of the sketch series through 1972. 

After appearing in shows like Night Gallery, Maude and The Rookies, Brown won the role he is best known for, Nathan Bookman in Good Times. He joined during the show’s second season to play the building superintendent, and the subject of constant teasing by the Evans family. Though he didn’t say anything at the time, the ribbing rubbed Brown the wrong way. 

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Brown said in 2019, “Sometimes you can do too much of a thing, and it doesn’t come natural. With everybody [calling Bookman] ‘buffalo butt’ in a scene, it loses something. … They even had Janet [Jackson], who had just come on the show, answering like Mr. Buffalo Butt.” 

Brown even noted, “They used it in every show. They used it when I walked in the show, all through the scene. When I left the scene, they used it. I couldn’t say anything because I have a wife and two kids to support. Now at my age, I would have to say something.”

After Good Times, Brown guest starred in Archie Bunker’s PlaceThe Jeffersons and Fantasy Island. He later appeared in Nineties favorites like MartinFamily MattersSister, Sister, The Jamie Foxx Show, Touched by an Angel and Kenan & Kel.

Brown continued to work in movies and television well into his seventies. He passed away last week at the age of 84. 

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jacko3 26 months ago
Johnny Brown be with Our Risen LORD forever ....
ericdumptee89 26 months ago
R. I. P. Johnnie, you brought laughs n fun for many of us ..... We .loved your imitation on " laugh in", of Tim Moore,who played Kingfish, on the old Amos n Andy TV show, you had his speech and mannerisms down pat..!
RWJgreens 26 months ago
I have a Redd Foxx cd that Johnnie Brown does an intro for, on the cd he tells the story that he was going to play Lamont (he was good friends with Redd Foxx.) on “Sanford and Son” but NBC would not let him out of his contract on “Laugh-in”.
Also remember a commercial for a Write Brothers pen. Part of the jingle, the whole ad was a song, went something like “….you can write your congressman, a poem or a friend, with this 19 cent Write Brothers pen.,
It keeps on writing great, because it’s made by Papermate, Write on brother! write on!, with this 19 cent Write Brothers pen.”
RIP Johnnie.
Jeremy 26 months ago
Poor guy. To die the way he did. I sincerely hope it never happens to me.
CouchPotato19 Jeremy 26 months ago
Well, I guess there's also worse ways than that.
Tresix 26 months ago
I first saw Mr. Brown on “The Leslie Uggams Show”. I also remember him doing one of those “History of Dance”-type routines. The man could move!
loveoletv 26 months ago
What a talented man. Rest In Peace Johnny
Kenner 26 months ago
R.I.P. Johnny Brown. Thanks for all the laughs! You did the best ‘John Wayne’ ever done. IMHO.
WordsmithWorks 26 months ago
I absolutely love these deep dives on less famous but amply talented actors. It's a pity some have to pass before a real interest is show. As "Weezy" once intoned: "Damn, damn, damn!"
WRONG! Weezy was The Jeffersons, it was Florida who said that!
I stand corrected.
Runeshaper 26 months ago
R.I.P. Johnny Brown. Sounds like a very talented man who had the honor of meeting and performing with many other as well.
Lantern 26 months ago
I remember on Laugh-In he and Dick Martin periodically did a sketch as Laurel and Hardy.
cperrynaples Lantern 26 months ago
Yep, and ironically Brown did a great Ed Sullivan! However, look for the episode where he plays Ralph Kramden opposite Art Carney's Norton!
cperrynaples cperrynaples 26 months ago
And a certain poster might also like the fact that Brown did a pretty good Gomer Pyle!
JeffBaker 26 months ago
I remember him vividly! Always amazed he had so many talents!
Barry22 26 months ago
RIP. He was Funny on Laugh-In.
Sway 26 months ago
Versatile, talented. RIP Johnny Brown.
LoveMETV22 26 months ago
R.I.P. Johnny Brown
justjeff LoveMETV22 26 months ago
He had a wonderful voice. It's a shame he didn't have more success with recordings...
WOW! A lovely recording. Thank you, LoveMETV22 for sharing!!
eugenebelvinandmoosefan8 26 months ago
Johnny Brown
Good Times and Laugh In
Nathan Bookman
Johnny Brown was a fantastic actor
And Comedian .
Too many actors and actresses have passed away recently and
Now Johnny Brown of Good Times and Tim Considine of
My 3 Sons have left us .
And Mitchell Ryan from "Dark Shadows"...RIP to all.
Peter_Falk_Fan 26 months ago
I remember Johnny Brown mostly from "Laugh-In". He always had that smile. R.I.P. Johnny Brown
Michael Peter_Falk_Fan 26 months ago
You bet your bippie!
Moverfan Michael 26 months ago
If you don't understand the reference, people, may I suggest you look that up in your Funk & Wagnalls.
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