‘All in the Family’s Creator Said the Show Was His ‘Love Letter’ to His Father

When legendary television producer Norman Lear launched All in the Family in the early 1970s, no one would have imagined that the comedy’s lead character was modeled after Lear’s own father.

The man behind so much of what is now classic television opened up in his memoir Even This I Get to Experience about his decision to immortalize his father in the short-tempered, hard-headed, and complex character of Archie Bunker.

Actors Carroll O'Connor and Jean Stapleton pose by a piano as Archie and Edith Bunker in a scene from 'All in the Family'
Actors Carroll O’Connor and Jean Stapleton as Archie and Edith Bunker from ‘All in the Family’ | CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

‘All in the Family’ premiered in 1971

The comedy marked its 50th year in 2021, enduring through the decades even as the times changed. When it premiered in the early 1970s, it scandalized American viewers with Archie’s over-the-top, bigoted personality and the show’s fearlessness in approaching previously taboo topics such as racism, sex, and social inequity. As alarmed as the viewing public seemed to be, the show starring actors Carroll O’Connor and Jean Stapleton was a ratings hit.

“I would get mail by the tens of thousands,” USA Today quoted Lear as saying in 2009. “Whether they agreed with Archie or disagreed with Archie, what they all said was, ‘My father … my mother … my sister … my family … we argued about this, that and the other thing.’ I think conversation about those issues is what our democracy is all about.” 

‘All in the Family’s Creator Said the Show Was His ‘Love Letter’ to His Father

Lear’s relationship with his father was a strained one, although Lear admired his father from afar.

“I can’t overstate how much Herman Lear — H.K., my father, ‘Dad!’ — affected everything in my life from my earliest memories,” he said. “He was a flamboyant figure with what appeared to me to be an unrivaled zest for life, and he seemed to fill every room he was in. He loved my mother, but no more than he loved strawberries.

“I wrote love letters to [my father] all my life, many of them in All in the Family, in which Archie has so many of my father’s characteristics.”

Lear’s other comedy that was close to home

As much as Lear’s father is like Archie Bunker in character and disposition, the man who brought us The Jeffersons, Good Times, and One Day at a Time says the series character who is closest to Lear himself is that of Maude Findlay from, of course, his sitcom Maude.

“Of all the characters I’ve created and cast, the one who resembles me most is Maude,” he wrote. “That’s the character who shares my passion, my social concerns, and my politics — not as articulately as ‘the professor’ in me would wish — still, pleading to be heard and understood. Oh, and as important as all the rest combined, it was Maude who dealt best with the foolishness of the human condition because she knew herself to personify it. Oh, my Maude!”

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