‘All in the Family’: How Carroll O’Connor Really Felt About Archie Bunker

Carroll O’Connor played the character Archie Bunker on All in the Family from 1971 to 1979. He also played Archie on the spinoff Archie Bunker’s Place from 1979 to 1983. Here’s how O’Connor really felt about playing this controversial character.

Who was Archie Bunker based on?

Jean Stapleton, Rob Reiner, Carroll O'Connor, and Sally Struthers | CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images
Jean Stapleton, Rob Reiner, Carroll O’Connor, and Sally Struthers | CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

Archie Bunker was a prejudiced, conservative man living in Queens, New York, with his wife, Edith (Jean Stapleton); son-in-law, Mike Stivic (Rob Reiner); and daughter, Gloria (Sally Struthers). The show was created by Norman Lear and Alan “Bud” Yorkin. The Archie Bunker character was based partly on Norman Lear’s father and a character from the British sitcom Till Death Do Us Part.

Carroll O’Connor’s feelings about Archie Bunker

Although some people thought O’Connor wanted to get as far away as possible from his All in the Family image, the actor said this wasn’t true. He enjoyed being associated with the character and he liked interacting with fans who knew him from the show. During an interview with Bob Costas, O’Connor spoke about the joy Archie Bunker brought him.

“I never did mind the identification with Archie Bunker,” said O’Connor. “The press thought that I was trying to get away from that image and nothing could be further from the truth. It’s an image that I treasure. People say, ‘Hello, Archie’ to me on the street. That’s wonderful. That never bothered me.”

Was Carroll O’Connor anything like Archie Bunker?

One question O’Connor received a lot was whether he was anything like his opinionated character. During a 1994 interview with the Los Angeles Times, O’Connor said he was not like Archie. He said Archie “wasn’t even close” to who he was in real life. However, he also said this was the most fulfilling character he had ever played.

Earle Marsh, co-author of The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows, said O’Connor made Archie likable despite the fact the character was often abrasive.

“One of the unusual things about ‘All in the Family’ was that people saw the absurdity of his prejudice and all his bizarre attitudes,” Marsh told the Los Angeles Times. “[But] you couldn’t hate him. He was a fool, but he had a good heart. O’Connor made Archie likable.”

Stapleton described O’Connor and Archie Bunker during an interview with the Archive of American Television. “On the surface [Archie] was that incredible, ignorant bigot,” said Stapleton. “But of course, [Edith] saw more than that. They were in love; she was in love with this man.” When asked about her working relationship with O’Connor, Stapleton said they worked very well together.

Kerry Washington, who starred in Live in Front of a Studio Audience: Norman Lear’s All in the Family and The Jeffersons, says the characters on Lear’s shows, specifically All in the Family and The Jeffersons, were relatable.

“Part of what’s so revolutionary is that they’re just families,” said Washington during an ABC special titled All About All in the Family and The Jeffersons. “They’re families that are very recognizable and relatable. They’re sort of dipping their toe into difficult areas and having conversations that we are still having.”

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