At the time that All in the Family star Carroll O’Connor was still the show’s future star, the actor was convinced the sitcom would never be a success, feeling it was too offensive for American audiences.
With that in mind, he made it clear to creator and producer Norman Lear that he would only sign on to play the role of Archie Bunker with the condition that a specific demand be reflected in his contract.
Here’s what O’Connor demanded, got, and in the end, didn’t need.
Lear compared choosing O’Connor to pornography
In his 2014 memoir Even This I Get to Experience the renowned creator and producer of sitcoms said he knew, in auditioning actors for the role of Archie Bunker, when he had finally met the only man who could portray him.
“When Carroll came to audition, he entered as the cultured, New York- and Dublin-trained actor he was,” he wrote. “When he turned to the script to read, his voice, his eyes, and the attitude of his body shifted; he opened his mouth, and out poured Archie Bunker. Carroll hadn’t reached page 3 before I wanted to run into the street shouting for joy.”
The moment, he said, was akin to a justice’s remark regarding pornography.
“Not that I knew exactly what I wanted to hear before Carroll started to read. It was more like Justice Potter Stewart’s oft-quoted definition of pornography: ‘I know it when I see it.’”
The clause the Archie Bunker actor insisted on
O’Connor and his family had been living in Italy when he learned of the role on All in the Family. Lear in his memoir wrote of O’Connor’s belief that the show wouldn’t last. He was so sure it wouldn’t, he asked that his contract stipulate Lear’s guarantee of airfare to fly him back to Italy when the show bombed.
“Carroll O’Connor bet me, and put it in writing, that CBS couldn’t keep the show on the air,” he said. “He had an apartment in Rome that he would not vacate because he was so sure he’d be back there in six weeks.”
Once Lear made a deal with CBS for the show, he wrote that “I phoned Carroll in Rome and he couldn’t believe we had been picked up.”
O’Connor’s view of Archie Bunker
Speaking with the Television Academy Foundation in 1999, O’Connor recalled a lunchtime conversation at which he was told by a CBS writer, “‘I’m surprised that you would do a show like this. You’re a liberal man and you come on playing a guy like this. I’m really shocked at you,’” O’Connor recalled.
The New York City-born actor replied that the show’s point was to “make a fool out of Archie Bunker. And that’s how we’re going to repay his racism by making a fool out of him. We did make a fool out of him and everybody saw him being made a fool.”
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