‘All In the Family’: Carroll O’Connor Wasn’t Anything Like Archie Bunker

Some actors become so identified with their most famous roles that people sometimes assume that they’re just playing themselves, or at least some approximation of themselves. However, that’s usually not the case, and it’s especially not the case with Carroll O’ Connor and Archie Bunker. 

It has been suggested that if O’Connor and Archie Bunker could have met in real life, they probably would have gotten into an All in the Family-like fight with O’Connor calling Archie a “meathead.” 

Who was Carroll O’Connor before Archie Bunker? 

Carroll O'Connor and Jean Stapleton on the set of 'All in the Family' |
Carroll O’Connor and Jean Stapleton on the set of ‘All in the Family’ | Ron Eisenberg/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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According to Your Dictionary, O’Connor, like Archie, hailed from a New York City borough. O’ Connor was from The Bronx, while Archie  lived in Queens. However, the similarities pretty much ended there. After serving in the war with the merchant marines, O’Connor felt like his life was directionless. Then acting came calling in the 1950s, when he began performing in Europe under the stage name George Roberts. 

Roles started to pick up in the 50s, with one of his early credits being an uncredited part as a truck driver in The Defiant Ones, starring Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis. Other early parts included a role in the Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton extravaganza Cleopatra, and in the 1967 movie Point Blank. That Lee Marvin vehicle about a man going to deadly extremes to collect some money, was remade as Payback starring Mel Gibson in 1999.

Finally, in 1971, the actor got a chance to act in a pilot called Justice for All, with Justice being Archie’s last name.

According to Screen Rant, the producers took the rare step of scrapping and remaking that pilot, which was picked up as All in the Family. And from that time on, O’Connor’s life was forever changed, and the line between make believe and reality became blurred. 

Carroll O’Connor and Archie Bunker were opposites

For some people, Archie Bunker was a horrible bigot. At the same time, others saw him as somewhat who told it like it was. However, the nature of the character cut deeper than that. Allan Johnson of the Chicago Tribune wrote, “the character wasn’t just a narrow-minded bigot, he was a confused, sometimes scared middle-aged man who was coming to grips with his place in a world that was changing too fast.”

And as Screen Rant pointed out,  “Carroll was liberal in his views and well-educated, having worked as an English teacher before becoming an actor. Archie’s heavy New York accent was O’Connor’s, but he was supremely well-spoken with an impressive vocabulary.”

However one interpreted Archie, no one questioned that O’Connor was good at his job. The actor won four Emmy awards for playing Archie, three of them consecutively.  The character became such an icon that his living room chair was donated to the Smithsonian Institute. A large part of the reason for that was O’Connor’s performance. 

What did Carroll O’ Connor do after ‘All in the Family?’

All in the Family segued into one of its many spin-offs, Archie Bunker’s Place in 1979, with that show lasting until 1983. Like so many spin-offs, it was considered inferior, not least by legendary All in the Family producer Norman Lear, who never wanted to do the show in the first place. The problem was, it was O’Connor who wanted to continue. 

“The only one who didn’t [want to stop] was Carroll, and he was the most difficult,” Lear told The Hollywood Reporter.  “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.”

Nevertheless, O’Connor went on to further success starring in the series In the Heat of the Night, based on the 1967 movie that won Best Picture at the Oscars. It ran for six seasons, and O’Connor got another Emmy for that show. He passed away in 2001 at the age of 76.