Home / News / Norman Lear, producer of TV’s ‘All in the Family’ and influential liberal advocate, dies at 101

Norman Lear, producer of TV’s ‘All in the Family’ and influential liberal advocate, dies at 101

Norman Lear, the writer, director and producer who revolutionized prime time television with trending hits like “All in the Family” and “Maude” and fueled political and social turmoil in the once insular sitcom world, has died. He was 101 years old.

Lear died in his sleep Tuesday night at his home in Los Angeles surrounded by his family, family spokeswoman Lara Bergthold said.

A liberal activist who loved mainstream entertainment, Lear created bold and controversial comedies that were embraced by TV sitcom viewers who had to watch the evening news for long periods of time to find out what was going on in the world. Their shows helped define prime time comedy in the 1970s and beyond, launching the careers of young performers like Rob Reiner and Valerie Bertinelli and turning Carroll O’Connor, Bea Arthur, and Redd Foxx, among others, into middle-aged superstars.

His signature production was “It’s All in the Family,” which made headlines of the day and also drew on Lear’s childhood memories of his tempestuous father. Racism, feminism and the Vietnam War were flashpoints in the sitcom, which featured blue-collar conservative Archie Bunker, played by O’Connor, and his liberal son-in-law Mike Stivic (Reiner). Jean Stapleton played Edith, Archie’s confused but good-hearted wife, and Sally Struthers played the Bunkers’ daughter Gloria, who frequently clashes with Archie on her husband’s behalf.

In the early 1970s, even as the industry began to change, top-rated programming still included old-school shows like “Here’s Lucy,” “Ironside” and “Gunsmoke.” Lear’s primary network, CBS, will soon enact the “rural purge” and cancel standbys like “Beverly Hillbillies” and “Green Acres.” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” the groundbreaking sitcom about a single career woman in Minneapolis, premiered on CBS in September 1970, just months before “All in the Family” debuted.

But Lear said ABC passed on “All in the Family” twice, and CBS was initially reluctant to take on the bold series. When the network finally aired “It’s All in the Family,” it started with a disclaimer: “The show you are about to watch is ‘It’s All in the Family.’ It aims to shed humorous light on our weaknesses, prejudices and anxieties. By making them a source of laughter, we hope to show them in a mature way how ridiculous they are.”

By the end of 1971, “All in the Family” was No. 1 in the ratings and Archie Bunker was a pop culture fixture whose fans included President Richard Nixon. Some of his insults became catchphrases, such as calling his son-in-law “Meathead” or his wife “Dingbat”. He would also attack anyone who dared to occupy his pale orange-yellow wing chair, the centerpiece of the Bunker home in New York City’s Queens borough, an artifact eventually housed in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

Even the show’s opening segment was innovative: Instead of an off-screen theme song, Archie and Edith sit at the piano in their living room and belt out a nostalgic song called “Those Were the Days” with Edith screaming out of tune. Archie was muttering things like “He didn’t need the welfare state” and “Girls were girls and boys were boys.”

Based on the British comedy series “Til Death Us Do Part,” “All in the Family” was the No. 1 series for an unprecedented five years in a row and won four Emmy Awards for best comedy series. Five-time winner “Frasier” in 1998.

The hits continued for Lear and his then-partner Bud Yorkin, including “Maude” and “The Jeffersons,” both spinoffs of “All in the Family” and a winning combination of one-liners and social conflict. In a two-part episode of “Maude” in 1972, the title character (played by Arthur) became the first person to have an abortion on television, and with the show’s high ratings came an increase in protests. Nixon objected to the “All in the Family” episode about a close friend of Archie’s who turns out to be gay, and privately bristled at White House aides, telling them that the series “glorified” same-sex relationships.

“Debate shows that people are thinking about something. But first of all, it’s better to laugh, otherwise he’s a dog,” Lear told The Associated Press in a 1994 interview.

Lear and Yorkin also created “Good Times,” about a working-class black family in Chicago; “Sanford & Son,” starring Foxx as junkyard salesman Fred Sanford; and “One Day at a Time,” starring Bonnie Franklin as a single mother and Bertinelli and Mackenzie Phillips as their daughter. During the 1974-75 season, Lear and Yorkin produced five of the top 10 shows. Around the same time, “In the Family” spearheaded one of TV’s best evening shows; Besides Lear, CBS’ Saturday slate includes hits “M(star)A(star)S(star)H,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “The Bob Newhart Show” and “The Carol Burnett Show.”

The late Paddy Chayefsky, a leading writer on the early “golden age” of television, once said that Lear “took television away from the stupid wives and stupid fathers, the pimps, the prostitutes, the hustlers, the private detectives, the junkies, the cowboys and the thieves who made up television.” He created chaos and replaced them with the American people.”

Lear’s serials reflected his passionate political beliefs, and the success of his work allowed him to express this magnificently. In 2000, he and a partner bought a copy of the Declaration of Independence for $8.14 million and sent it on a nationwide tour.

He founded the nonprofit, liberal advocacy group People for the American Way in 1980 in response to the growing power of conservative religious groups. In a 1992 interview with Commonweal magazine, Lear said he acted because he felt people like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson were “exploiting religion.”

“And I started saying: This is not my America. You don’t mix politics and religion like that,” Lear said. He was also an active donor to Democratic candidates.

With that wry smile and perky boat hat, Lear remained a youthful presence for most of his life, continuing to create television well into his 90s, including the 2017 reboot of “One Day at a Time” for Netflix and the docuseries “America Divided.” He researched income inequality for . He also appeared in two documentaries: 2016’s “Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You” and HBO’s 2017’s “If You’re Not” Obit, a look at active non-teenagers like Lear and Rob Reiner’s father, Carl Reiner. Eat Breakfast at.

When he became one of the first seven inductees into the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame in 1984, he was praised as “the innovative writer who brought realism to television.” He later received the National Medal of Arts and was honored at the Kennedy Center. In 2020, he won an Emmy as executive producer of “Live In Front of a Studio Audience: ‘All In the Family’ and ‘Good Times’.”

Lear surprisingly managed to overcome tough TV odds. At least one of its programs was in the prime-time top 10 for 11 consecutive years (1971-82). But Lear also had his failures.

Shows like “Hot L Baltimore,” “Palmerstown” and a rare Spanish drama, “aka Pablo,” received critical acclaim but failed to find an audience; Others, like “All That Glitters” and “The Nancy Walker Show,” failed to win either. He also faced resistance from the cast, including “Good Times” stars John Amos and Esther Rolle, who frequently objected to scripts as racially insensitive and endured a midseason walkout from Foxx, who missed eight episodes in 1973-74. a contract dispute.

The 1990s comedy “704 Hauser,” which returned to the Bunker house with a new family, and the political satire “The Powers that Be” were short-lived.

Meanwhile, Lear’s business moves were almost consistently fruitful.

Lear founded TAT Communications in 1974 as “the sole creative captain of his ship,” former business partner Jerry Perenchio told the Los Angeles Times in 1990. The soap opera parody “Mary Hartman Mary Hartman”, which Lear distributed himself after being rejected by the networks.

In 1982, Lear and Perenchio acquired Avco-Embassy Pictures and formed Embassy Communications as the successor to TAT; has successfully appeared in movies, home video, pay TV, and cable property. In 1985, Lear and Perenchio sold Embassy to Coca-Cola for $485 million. They had sold their cable assets a year ago for a huge profit.

In 1986, Lear was on Forbes magazine’s list of the 400 richest people in America, with an estimated net worth of $225 million. He failed to make the cut the following year following a $112 million divorce settlement for his second wife, Frances. They were married for 29 years and had two daughters.

He married his third wife, psychologist Lyn Davis, in 1987, and the couple had three children. (Frances Lear, who founded the now-defunct Lear’s magazine along with the settlement, died in 1996 at the age of 73.)

Lear was born on July 27, 1922, in New Haven, Connecticut, to Herman Lear, a securities broker who was imprisoned for a time for selling counterfeit bonds, and Jeanette, a housewife who inspired Edith Bunker. Norman Lear will remember his family life as a kind of sitcom, full of oddities and grudges; When he took the stage at John F. Kennedy in 2004, he explained that it was “a bunch of people living at the top of their nerves and at the top of their lungs.” Presidential Library in Boston.

His political activism had deep roots. In a 1984 interview with The New York Times, Lear recalled how, when he was 10, he went to live with his Russian immigrant grandfather for two years. His job was to mail Shia Seicol’s letters to Franklin D. Roosevelt, beginning “Dear darling, Mr. President.” Sometimes an answer came.

“The fact that my grandfather was important made me feel that every citizen is important,” he said. By the time he was 15, Lear was sending his own messages to Congress via Western Union.

He left Emerson College in 1942 to enlist in the Air Force and was awarded the Decorated Air Medal. After the war, she worked in public relations in New York, then moved to California.

Lear began his writing career in the early 1950s, working with comedians such as Martha Raye and George Gobel on programs such as “The Colgate Comedy Hour.” In 1959, Lear and Yorkin founded Tandem Productions, which produced such films as “Come Blow Your Horn,” “Start the Revolution on Me Without” and “Divorce American Style.” Lear also directed the 1971 satire “Cold Turkey,” starring Dick Van Dyke, about a small town who accepts a $25 million offer from a tobacco company to quit smoking for 30 days.

In later years, Lear, along with Warren Buffett and James E. Burke, founded The Business Enterprise Trust, which honors businesses that look long-term at their impact on the country.

He also founded the Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication, which explores the relationship between entertainment, commerce, and society. In 2014, he published his memoir “I Will Experience Even This”.

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