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Norman Lear is a television producer, comedy writer, and political activist from the United States known for sitcoms produced in the 1970s, including "All in the Family", "The Jeffersons", "Good Times", "Maude, "One Day at a Time", and "Sanford and Sons". His is an outspoken supporter of First Amendment rights, many other progressive causes, and founded both People for the American Way and Born Again America, political advocacy group in the U.S.

Youth and Family

Norman Milton Lear was born in New Haven Connecticut, on July 27, 1922, to a Jewish family. Herman Lear and Jeanette Sokolovsky, his parents, worked in sales and he had a younger sister named Claire.[1] Herman Lear was born to Russian immigrants in Connecticut and Jeanette was born in Elizabethgrad, Ukraine and emigrated to the U.S.[2]Norman Lear’s father was caught selling fake bonds and went to jail when Lear was age nine. He considered his father a “rascal” and partly inspired the character Archie Bunker. His mother partially inspired by Lear’s mother.[3]

The family sent Lear to live with his Aunt Sadie and Uncle Jack in Hartford, Connecticut, but he did not stay long before being sent to live with his grandparents in New Haven, Connecticut. When Lear’s father served his sentence, he rejoined the family and they moved to Brooklyn, New York. They lived there for four years when Herman Lear got into a serious car accident and suffered severe injuries, forcing the Lear family’s return to Hartford. [4]

Education and Military Service

Norman Lear enrolled in Boston’s Emerson College after graduating from Weaver High School in 1940. [5] In 1942, he dropped out to join the U.S. Army Air Force following the attack on Pearl Harbor in the Second World War. He served on Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bombers as a gunner/radio operator in the Mediterranean Theater with the Fifteenth Airt Force’s 772nd Bombardment Squadron, 463rd Bombardment Group (Heavy).

Lear witnessed bombings of Germany on his 52 combat missions. The Army awarded him the Air Medal with 4 Oak Leaf Clusters and discharged honorably in 1945.[6]

Writing Before Archie Bunker’s Place

Norman Lear worked in public relations in New York City for a brief time. There he married his first wife, Charlotte Rosen, and they produced a daughter named Ellen. The family moved to Los Angeles for Lear to write comedy with his cousin, Ed Simmons.

Norman Lear’s political views slowly worked their way into all of his writing, even before the creation of All in the Family.

They collaborated on many different television series, including “Colgate Comedy Hour” (1950-1955, NBC), The Martha Raye Show (1954-1956, NBC), and movies, including 1953’s Scared Stiff with Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin, and 1940’s The Ghost Breakers. Lear wrote alone for “The George Gobel Show” (1954-1960, NBC), and others. He created his first television program, “The Deputy,” which aired on NBC from 1959 to 1961. It starred Henry Fonda working as a U.S. Marshall in Arizona.

Lear med Tandem Production’s director, Bud Yorkin, and they produced several series together like “The Andy Williams Show” which aired on CBS/NBC from 1959 to 1971. He worked with many other well-known screenwriters of the day and received an Academy Award nomination for 1967’s “Divorce American Style” which he co-wrote with Robert Kaufman. The 1971 satirical comedy “Cold Turkey” marked Lear’s debut directing.[7]

All in the Family and Other Popular Shows

Norman Lear next obtained the rights to BBC’s “Til Death Do Us Part,” a British series about a racist and anti-socialist working-class father at odds with his daughter’s socialist husband living in the same home. He revamped the series to include his political beliefs and address how generational differences affect modern U.S. politics and then sold it to ABC. In 1968 and 1969, they made two pilots, but the network hesitated to air the show. Fred Silverman of CBS saw the pilot episodes, now known as “All in the Family,” and brought it to CBS.

The “All in the Family” cast consisted of Carroll O’Connor (Archie Bunker) as the racist dockworker in Astoria, Queens, New York, Jean Stapleton as his sweet, silly wife Edith, Sally Struthers as Bunker’s daughter, Gloria, and Rob Reiner as her socialist husband, Michael or Meathead. “All in the Family” was one of the first television sitcoms to be filmed on videotape and the controversial subject matter included Archie and Michael/Meathead arguing about civil rights, gender issues, and the Vietnam War.

The entire cast of “All in the Family” won an Emmy, a first for tv sitcoms, and from 1971-1973 Lear accepted the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series. They also won a Golden Globe for Best Comedy Series from 1972-1974. This sparked the creation of more shows that broke barriers and talked about uncomfortable realities.

Lear joined Yorkin to create “Sanford and Son” (1972-1977, NBC), which reached #2 in television ratings three years in a row. Lear wrote the first “All in the Family” spin-off called “Maude” in 1972, another show that pushed boundaries like depicting the first legal abortion ever on television. The first tv series written entirely by black writers, “Good Times” (1974-1979, CBS) was a spin-off of “Maude” and produced by Lear. “The Jeffersons” (1975-1985, CBS) was the second “All in the Family” spin-off and focused on Bunker’s neighbors George and Louise Jefferson.[8]

Political Activism, Family, and Later Life

Norman Lear founded a progressive, liberal advocacy group, People For the American Way (PFAW) in 1981. The organization worked to protect the First Amendment, promote immigration and electoral reform, and strength public education.

Norman Lear has never written anything as popular or successful at addressing controversial issues as “All in the Family” again, but remains a dedicated liberal activist.

In 1999, U.S. President William Clinton awarded Lear the National Medal of Arts for holding “up a mirror to American society and chang[ing] the way we look at it.” He founded USC’s Norman Lear Center in 2000, which focuses on researching the connection between society and entertainment. In 2004, Lear founded a nonpartisan voter registration program for youths called Declare Yourself.

Currently, Norman Lear lives with his third wife, Lyn Davis, in Los Angeles California. They married in 1987 after he divorced his second wife, Frances Loeb, with whom he produced two daughters. Lear and Lyn Davis bore three children, Benjamin, Brianna, and Madeline. They couple cofounded the advocacy organization, Born Again America, committed to reinvigorating citizenship with thoughtful and informed activism.[9]

References

Bibliography

Biography.com Editors. Norman Lear Biography Screenwriter, Television Producer (1922–). The Biography.com Website.[3]

Leonard Maltin Classic Movie Guide. (2010). Overview for Norman Lear. Turner Classic Movies.[4]


Lopate, L. (2014, October 15). “Norman Lear's Storytelling, the Brooklyn Museum's Killer Heels". The Leonard Lopate Show. WNYC.[5]

Footnotes

  1. Biography.com Editors
  2. The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). (1930). Norman Lear United States Census, 1930. Family Search.[1]
  3. Lopate, 2014
  4. Biography.com Editors
  5. Biography.com Editors
  6. Aish.com Staff. (2001, March 6). An Interview with Norman Lear.[2]
  7. Leonard Maltin Classic Movie Guide, 2010
  8. Leonard Maltin Classic Movie Guide, 2010
  9. Biography.com Editors

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