‘All In the Family’ Almost Lost Carroll O’Connor in the Middle of the Series

In 1968, the CBS network debuted one of the most iconic sitcoms in TV history, All in the Family. Carroll O’Connor played the show’s lead character, the bigoted “meathead,” Archie Bunker.

Despite the show’s long-standing success, O’Connor almost didn’t make it to the end of the seires.

Carroll O’Connor was sure the show would be a flop

Carroll O'Connor and Jean Stapleton
Carroll O’Connor and Jean Stapleton | Ron Eisenberg/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The show tackled complex and controversial topics, including racism and sexism. Due to the controversial subject matter covered in the show, O’Connor believed that the show would fail.

He expected the pilot episode to be the only episode, so much so that he had it written in his contract that the show’s creator, Norman Lear, promise to pay for O’Connor’s airfare to return to Rome when the show failed.

Even though the iconic actor believed the show would bomb, he immersed himself in the character of Archie Bunker and was determined to perform the role to the best of his ability. Although he had a backup plan included in his contract, he never had to use it because the show was a huge success.

O’Connor almost quit the show

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O’Connor nearly left the show during season five due to a financial disagreement with Lear.

According to Screen Rant, O’Connor sued Lear for more than $60,000 of missed wages. Although O’Connor and Lear eventually reached an agreement and O’Connor resumed his role on the show, the two men had a shaky relationship from then on.

The talented actor didn’t communicate with the All in the Family executive producer after the show’s abrupt cancellation in 1979.

During O’Connor’s audition, Lear immediately knew he found the right actor to bring the stubborn character to life. The former English teacher turned actor was an intelligent man, unlike the character he portrayed. Much to Lear’s dismay, the actor and fictional character shared one distinct personality trait, stubbornness.

The brilliant and tenacious actor rewrote nearly the entire pilot episode and continued to influence the show’s script development throughout the series.

Lear sent the In the Heat of the Night actor a letter many years after the show ended.

Four years later, O’Connor passed away, Lear visited O’Connor’s widow and she revealed that her late husband had kept the letter on his desk for four years. Lear recalled, “It was very difficult dealing with him as Archie Bunker — I worshipped the ground he walked on, there couldn’t be another Archie Bunker in the history of the world, he inhabited it like no one else could. Having said that, it was very difficult.”

Carroll O’Connor’s absence opened the door of opportunity for other cast members

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Isabel Sanford, a fellow cast member on All in the Family, described O’Connor’s absence positively by highlighting how his absence caused other characters to get more screen time. Sanford played Louise Jefferson on the sitcom and had asked the show’s creators to please give her character more lines. Her requests for more lines were fulfilled when O’Connor went on strike.

“Carroll O’Connor went out and joined them,” Sanford explains of the actor’s absence. “Therefore, that gave everybody work for a while. I worked one week after week after week on the show because he wasn’t there. He was out on this strike with these men, which was good for me. I loved it.”

Even though Sanford was quite content with her role on the show, her time in the spotlight opened a new opportunity.

In 1975, her character Louise Jefferson left All in the Family and became a leading character on the spinoff series, The Jefferson’s.

The strike helped shape O’Connor’s career and gave way to other beloved classic sitcoms, including The Jefferson’s. Even though O’Connor and Lear’s relationship was never the same after the strike, the two men held a deep mutual respect for each other.