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The Lady Behind 227: Christine Houston

citizen | 5/17/2011, 6 a.m.

by Thelma Sardin

227 was a popular television show in the 1980s that captivated audiences with its humor. Most people are not aware that the shows mastermind is a Chicago native who created the show while she was a student at Kennedy King College (KKC).

Christine Houston was married and the mother of three teenage sons when she enrolled at KKC.

She became involved in the schools theatre department and aspired to be an actress. I always wanted to be an actress, Houston said.

Houston did not immediately declare her major at KKC. She told her classmates she was journalism major because she had an interest in writing.

One day, her classmates challenged her to write a play. Im the type of person that always looks for a challenge, she added.

Houston says once she was propositioned to create the stage play, she began to think of story ideas.

I knew I had to dig deep, she continued.

Suddenly, Houston decided she would write about growing up in an apartment building located on 227 East 48th Street in Chicago.

The playwright says when she wrote the script for the play; she spelled out the words Two Twenty Seven as its title. Once the play became a television show, the title changed to 227.

When Hollywood got it, they decided that they wanted to try to make it their own. So, they changed it to the numbers, Houston said.

Houston admits that she never aspired to be a writer because she wanted to be an actress. Though she did enjoy writing, she never suspected that she had a talent. I went to Kennedy King to be an actress. It was the students who challenged me to write.

Once the stage play was written, Houston was approached by the head of the theatre department at KKC. She was presented with the opportunity to produce the play and have students act it out.

When the shows ran, the play gained popularity rapidly. People started calling the school and asking about the play Two Twenty-Seven and when they could see it, she recalled.

After a great run in the KKC theatre, the play was entered into several contests including: The Lorraine Hansberry Playwriting Contest and the Norman Lear Playwriting Contest.

Houston won first place in the Lear competition and second place for the Hansberry.

As part of her prize for the Lear Award, Houston had to create a teleplay for the television show of her choice. She decided to write the piece for The Jeffersons. She met the cast of the show including Sherman Helmsley, Isabelle Stanford and Marla Gibbs.

Eight years later, The Jeffersons came to an end and TV executives began to look for a spin-off vehicle for Gibbs.

Houston had been busy touring 227 all over the country. Gibbs had a theatre and decided to run the show. She also starred as the plays main character, Mary Jenkins.

Audiences loved the play and Gibbs performance. Due to the stellar response from theatregoers, Gibbs re-opened the play. During the next run, she invited three major television networks, NBC, CBS and ABC to view the play. NBC saw it the first night and grabbed the option and thats how it ended up [being] on NBC, Houston said.