Marla Gibbs Remembers Giving Regina King Tough Love on '227' Set: 'We Can Argue If You Want To'

The TV icon played the future Oscar winner's mother from 1985 to 1990 on NBC's 227, King's first professional role

Marla Gibbs made her name — and scored five Emmy nominations — playing The Jeffersons' no-nonsense maid Florence Johnston for 11 seasons. In her next project as headliner of NBC's 227, she naturally brought that same spirit to her on-screen relationship with future Oscar winner Regina King.

In fact, a mother-daughter collaboration was at the heart of 227 from its inception.

The show — which aired on NBC from 1985 to 1990 and portrayed the daily life of a middle-class Black family in Washington, D.C. — was greenlit by Jeffersons creator Norman Lear after he heard about a stage play Gibbs and her daughter, actress Angela Gibbs, were producing at their Crossroads Arts Academy and Theatre in Los Angeles.

"One day, Norman said, 'I hear you got a good play over there," Gibbs, 91, tells PEOPLE. "I told him I did, and he said, 'Why don't you and I do it [for TV]?'"

227 not only made a star of series regular Jackée Harry, it introduced audiences to King as Brenda, the teenage daughter of Gibbs' Mary and Hal Williams' Lester Jenkins.

"I fought for Regina [to be cast]," the actress recalls. "She had light brown hair and light eyes and she really looked like Hal."

Maria and Angela Gibbs rollout

Gibbs remembers fondly working with King, now 52, even when the lines of their on-screen mother-daughter relationship blurred.

"Regina went to regular school while she was on the show, and her friends would tell her the clothes her character wore made her look like a doofus," Gibbs remembers with a laugh. "I had to tell her, 'Now, look, do you want to be on TV? Or do you want to be with your friends, watching TV?' You're not dressing the way you want to dress; you're dressing the way I make you dress. We can have an argument about it if you want to.' She never forgot that."

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Gibbs says her tough love was, among other things, a lesson in career longevity.

"Sometimes she'd come ask me if the clothes made her look too [young]," says Gibbs. "And I'd say, 'I'll tell you one thing: If you get too old, [the producers] are going to send your behind to college, and you won't be on the show anymore! So be young as long as you can!"

Marla Gibbs
Alliance for Women in Media Foundation/Getty

Gibbs's daughter Angela, who currently stars in the ABC sitcom Not Dead Yet, can vouch for her mother's stern parenting style.

"You see how she was with Regina! She was strict! " says the 68-year-old actress and producer, whose credits also include Bounce's Finding Happy, HBO's Hacks and Adult Swim's Black Jesus. "I couldn't wear makeup. Had to be home at a certain time. If I was on a date and had to be home at 10 p.m., she was there, standing on the porch."

Maria and Angela Gibbs rollout

For a wide-ranging interview with Marla and Angela Gibbs in honor of Black History Month, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now.

Like King, Angela credits her mother with setting a strong example at home and exercising uncompromising integrity within the industry.

"In this business, especially as Black artists, you wait so long for something to happen, you get the job and here comes the money. You figure, 'Down the line I'll put my foot down, but right now I need to give in,'" says Angela. "But if you play the game too hard, the game will play you. My mother was not going to play the game."

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