Norman Lear

Writer/Producer/Director


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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About
About this interview

In his five-hour Archive interview, Norman Lear speaks about his early work in publicity and his move to Los Angeles, where he teamed up with comedy writer Ed Simmons. He recounts how he broke into the business by finagling Danny Thomas's phone number from his office and pitching a comedy routine idea to him personally. He enumerates his continued television writing jobs for such stars as Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis on television's The Colgate Comedy Hour. He fondly recalls writing for The Martha Raye Show, which he also directed, and describes how the show ran afoul with its ad agency and was cancelled. He outlines the creation of his own production company, with producing partner Bud Yorkin, and his work on The Andy Williams Specials and The George Gobel Show. Regarding All in the Family, he discusses the creation of the show (based on a British series but inspired by his own family), the struggles to get it picked up by a network and the show's impact. He discusses his collaboration with Carroll O'Connor on the iconic Archie Bunker and candidly comments: "When Carroll O'Connor realized he had to embrace the script, not without some of the changes he suggested but without the wholesale changes he would insist upon; that when he finally accepted it and slipped into the character, none of us could write Archie Bunker the way it flew out of him— in his understanding of the character, and the idiom, the language, the malapropos. It was worth all of the aggravation to get to that moment. I'd wait for that moment with awe." He outlines the conception and casting of the numerous successful series he subsequently launched, including: Sanford and Son, Maude, Good Times, The Jeffersons, One Day at a Time, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and Fernwood 2-Night. Lastly, he comments on series he refers to as the "misses and near misses." Morrie Gelman conducted the interview in Brentwood, CA on February 26, 1998.

"Flying across country [one] night I remember looking down and thinking, 'hey, it's just possible, wherever I see a light, I've helped to make somebody laugh.'"

Interviewee(s)
Highlights
Norman Lear on how he got CBS to buy Sanford and Son with Redd Foxx, and on casting Demond Wilson
Norman Lear on what prompted him to create shows about upwardly mobile black families with Good Times and The Jeffersons
Norman Lear on what he sees as the best of television, from the days of Edward R. Murrow and the "golden age" of television
Norman Lear on his parents being similar to "Archie" and "Edith" on All in the Family
Norman Lear on making his audience laugh
Full Interview

Chapter 1

On his childhood in Hartford, CT; on wanting to grow up to be a press agent like his uncle; on his early interest in humor writing, listening to radio shows, and on Emerson College
On his early experience writing a humor column, and how his family influenced All in the Family; on his education; on his parents' similarity to "Archie and Edith Bunker"
On his time in the Air Force during World War II; on his first job at a PR firm in New York City, ghost-writing for Walter Winchell; on his first child and marriage
On moving to Los Angeles and his first impressions; on Circle Theater

Chapter 2

On moving to Los Angeles and seeing Charlie Chaplin; on partnering with comedy writer Ed Simmons and their struggles to 'make it' as writers, and on scheming to meet Danny Thomas
On writing for a variety show and having a sketch get noticed by Jerry Lewis, which lead to a gig on The Colgate Comedy Hour; on meeting Bud Yorkin

Chapter 3

On working with Ed Simmons on The Colgate Comedy Hour; on working for Jerry Lewis; on Lewis' relationship with Dean Martin
On working with Ed Simmons on The Martha Raye Show; on the challenges of working all day and night in the days of live television; on working with Neil Simon on The Martha Raye Show
On the end of The Martha Raye Show; on the rigorous schedule writers had in the Golden Age of Television; on his personal life at the time

Chapter 4

On writing for The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show; on being asked to be a front for blacklisted writers; on starting a production company with Bud Yorkin
On writing for The Andy Williams Show; on writing for The George Gobel Show

Chapter 5

On his and Bud Yorkin's production company Tandem producing situation comedy, and on trying to get Frank Sinatra to read a script; on creating pilots for television sitcoms that never aired
On the British TV sitcom Till Death Do Us Part being the inspiration for All in the Family, and on making and selling the various pilots; on casting the various All in the Family pilots (Jean Stapleton, and eventually Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers) and on the show being rejected by ABC and picked up by CBS
On casting being critical to a show's success, and on the "magical" casting of Carroll O'Connor, Jean Stapleton, Rob Reiner, and Sally Struthers on All in the Family; on casting Carroll O'Connor as "Archie Bunker" on All in the Family, and on Mickey Rooney being considered for the role

Chapter 6

On the first script of All in the Family being meant to show "360 degrees of Archie Bunker"; on how William Tankersley, then head of Standards & Practices at CBS, fought him over a line on Maude; on the initial reaction to All in the Family and what helped its later success
On All in the Family winning Emmy Awards; on Bernie West and Mickey Ross writing for All in the Family; on the business aspects of the show and Tandem Productions
On introducing Beatrice Arthur as "Maude" on All in the Family, and similarities between her character and his then-wife, Frances Lear; on syndicating All in the Family, and his other shows; on how creative differences with Carroll O'Connor were worth it for his masterful portrayal of "Archie Bunker"

Chapter 7

On his favorite episodes of All in the Family; on the issues tackled by All in the Family and his other shows; on making his audience laugh
On how he got CBS to buy Sanford and Son with Redd Foxx, and on casting Demond Wilson; on the rapid success of Maude, and on casting Bill Macy as "Walter Findlay"; on the controversial abortion episode of Maude
On juggling so many successful shows in the '70s

Chapter 8

On his success; on creating Good Times and The Jeffersons; on creating One Day at a Time, and on winning Emmy Awards
On the culture of profit-making in television to the detriment of the medium, and on his dislike of ratings; on creating Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and selling the show; on casting Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, including Louise Lasser, Mary Kay Place, and Dabney Coleman

Chapter 9

On the profitability of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, and the genesis of Fernwood 2Night; on All That Glitters and Hot l Baltimore; on ending All in the Family and starting his advocacy group People For the American Way
On his non-involvement in Archie Bunker's Place, and on selling his production company, and being involved with feature films, including producing Rob Reiner's first films; on Sunday Dinner and 704 Hauser; on career highlights

Chapter 10

On his opinion that the "best" of television was represented by TV's Golden Age; on his legacy; on various people with whom he's worked in his career
On his wife Lyn Lear; on A.k.a. Pablo, and his then-plans for new shows
Shows

704 Hauser

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Norman Lear on the All in the Family spin-off 704 Hauser starring John Amos, which used the home from the original show as its setting

A.k.a. Pablo

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Norman Lear on A.k.a Pablo, which starred Paul Rodriguez and was about a Latino family, and then-hopes for new shows

All in the Family

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Norman Lear on his parents being similar to "Archie" and "Edith" on All in the Family
Norman Lear on the British TV sitcom Till Death Us Do Part being the inspiration for All in the Family, and on making and selling the various pilots
Norman Lear on casting the various All in the Family pilots (Jean Stapleton, and eventually Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers), and on the show being rejected by ABC and picked up by CBS
Norman Lear on casting being critical to a show's success, and on the "magical" casting of Carroll O'Connor, Jean Stapleton, Rob Reiner, and Sally Struthers on All in the Family
Norman Lear on casting Carroll O'Connor as "Archie Bunker" on All in the Family, and on Mickey Rooney being considered for the role
Norman Lear on the first script of All in the Family being meant to show "360 degrees of Archie Bunker"
Norman Lear on the initial reaction to All in the Family and on what helped its later success
Norman Lear on writers Bernie West and Mickey Ross on All in the Family
Norman Lear on introducing Beatrice Arthur as "Maude" on All in the Family, and similarities between her character and his then-wife, Frances Lear
Norman Lear on All in the Family winning Emmy Awards
Norman Lear on the business aspects of All in the Family and Tandem Productions
Norman Lear on syndicating All in the Family, and his other shows
Norman Lear on how creative differences with Carroll O'Connor were worth it for his masterful portrayal of "Archie Bunker" on All in the Family
Norman Lear on his favorite episodes of All in the Family
Norman Lear on the issues tackled by All in the Family and other of his shows
Norman Lear on the importance of the live studio audience on All in the Family and where it was taped
Norman Lear on All in the Family winning multiple Emmys during its run
Norman Lear on ending All in the Family and starting his advocacy group People For the American Way

All that Glitters

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Norman Lear on the boundary-pushing gender-bending show All that Glitters 
Norman Lear on the cast of All that Glitters

Andy Williams Show, The

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Norman Lear on writing for The Andy Williams Show

Archie Bunker's Place

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Norman Lear on his non-involvement in Archie Bunker's Place, and on selling his production company

Colgate Comedy Hour, The

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Norman Lear on Jerry Lewis asking for him to write on The Colgate Comedy Hour after seeing a sketch he had written on the Ford Star Revue
Norman Lear on the revolving hosts of The Colgate Comedy Hour
Norman Lear on writing for Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin on The Colgate Comedy Hour with partner Ed Simmons

Emmy Awards, The (Primetime and Daytime)

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Norman Lear on All in the Family winning Emmy Awards
Norman Lear on All in the Family winning multiple Emmys during its run

Fernwood 2 Night

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Norman Lear on creating the show Fernwood 2-Night, its nonsensical nature and the comic talents of Martin Mull and Fred Willard

Ford Star Revue

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Norman Lear on writing for the Ford Star Revue and its host Jack Haley

George Gobel Show, The

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Norman Lear on writing for The George Gobel Show

Good Times

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Norman Lear on Good Times, and criticism of the character of "J.J. Evans"

Hot L Baltimore

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Norman Lear on Hot L Baltimore and how Michael Eisner liked it so much that he never missed a taping

Jeffersons, The

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Norman Lear on spinning off The Jeffersons, casting Sherman Hemsley as "George Jefferson," and his portrayal of black life on various shows

Martha Raye Show, The

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Norman Lear on working with Martha Raye as a writer on her show on The Martha Raye Show
Norman Lear on the challenges of working all day and night in the days of live television during his time on The Martha Raye Show, and on working with Neil Simon
Norman Lear on Tallulah Bankhead guest-starring on the The Martha Raye Show and a racial incident that almost got the show cancelled, followed up by a racy appearance with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.

Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman

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Norman Lear on creating Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and selling it
Norman Lear on casting Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, including Louise Lasser, Mary Kay Place, and Dabney Coleman
Norman Lear on the profitability but not great popularity of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman

Maude

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Norman Lear on how William Tankersley, then head of Standards & Practices at CBS, fought him over a line on Maude
Norman Lear on introducing Beatrice Arthur as "Maude" on All in the Family, and similarities between her character and his then-wife, Frances Lear
Norman Lear on the controversial abortion episode of Maude
Norman Lear on the rapid success of Maude, and on casting Bill Macy as "Walter Findlay"

One Day at a Time (1975-84)

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Norman Lear on creating One Day at a Time, and on casting Bonnie Franklin as "Ann Romano"
Norman Lear on casting Pat Harrington, Jr. as "Schneider" on One Day at a Time

Palmerstown U.S.A.

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Norman Lear on working with Michael J. Fox on Palmerstown, USA

Sanford and Son

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Norman Lear on how he got CBS to buy Sanford and Son with Redd Foxx, and on casting Demond Wilson

Sunday Dinner

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Norman Lear on Sunday Dinner

Tennessee Ernie Ford Show, The

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Norman Lear on writing for The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show, and on how Roland Kibbee influenced his writing
Topics

Censorship / Standards & Practices

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Norman Lear on how William Tankersley, then head of Standards & Practices at CBS, fought him over a line on Maude

Comedy-Variety

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Norman Lear on the challenges of working all day and night in the days of live television

Creative Influences and Inspiration

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Norman Lear on his parents being similar to "Archie" and "Edith" on All in the Family

Criticism of TV

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Norman Lear on the culture of profit-making in television to the detriment of the medium, and his dislike of ratings

Diversity in Television

View Topic
Norman Lear on the controversial abortion episode of Maude
Norman Lear on what prompted him to create shows about upwardly mobile black families with Good Times and The Jeffersons

Emmy Awards

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Norman Lear on All in the Family winning Emmy Awards
Norman Lear on All in the Family winning multiple Emmys during its run

First Big Break

View Topic
Norman Lear on how he schemed to reach out to Danny Thomas and write a bit for him that turned out to be his big break

Historic Events and Social Change

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Norman Lear on his experience with World War II in the Air Force

Hollywood Blacklist

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Norman Lear on how he turned down requests to be a front for blacklisted writers during the Hollywood Blacklist

Industry Crossroads

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Norman Lear on how he turned down requests to be a front for blacklisted writers during the Hollywood Blacklist

Minorities

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Norman Lear on what prompted him to create shows about upwardly mobile black families with Good Times and The Jeffersons

Pivotal Career Moments

View Topic
Norman Lear on his parents being similar to "Archie" and "Edith" on All in the Family
Norman Lear on how he schemed to reach out to Danny Thomas and write a bit for him that turned out to be his big break

TV's Golden Age (1940s & '50s)

View Topic
Norman Lear on the challenges of working all day and night in the days of live television
Norman Lear on what he sees as the best of television, from the days of Edward R. Murrow and the "golden age" of television

Television Industry

View Topic
Norman Lear on how he turned down requests to be a front for blacklisted writers during the Hollywood Blacklist
Norman Lear on creating pilots for television sitcoms that never aired
Norman Lear on how William Tankersley, then head of Standards & Practices at CBS, fought him over a line on Maude
Norman Lear on the culture of profit-making in television to the detriment of the medium, and his dislike of ratings
Norman Lear on what he sees as the best of television, from the days of Edward R. Murrow and the "golden age" of television

War

View Topic
Norman Lear on his experience with World War II in the Air Force

Women

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Norman Lear on the controversial abortion episode of Maude

World War II

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Norman Lear on his experience with World War II in the Air Force
Professions

Show Creators

View Profession
Norman Lear on the rigorous schedule writers had in the Golden Age of Television and on his personal life at the time
Norman Lear on starting a production company with Bud Yorkin
Norman Lear on casting being critical to a show's success, and on the "magical" casting of Carroll O'Connor, Jean Stapleton, Rob Reiner, and Sally Struthers on All in the Family
Norman Lear on the business aspects of All in the Family and Tandem Productions
Norman Lear on juggling so many successful shows in the '70s
Norman Lear on making his audience laugh
Norman Lear on starting TAT Productions

Writers

View Profession
Norman Lear on the rigorous schedule writers had in the Golden Age of Television and on his personal life at the time
Genres

Comedy Series

View Genre
Norman Lear on his parents being similar to "Archie" and "Edith" on All in the Family
Norman Lear on creating, writing, and producing All in the Family
Norman Lear on creating, producing and writing All in the Family
Norman Lear on creating and producing All in the Family
Norman Lear on creating and producing Sanford & Son
Norman Lear on creating and producing Maude
Norman Lear on creating and producing The Jeffersons
Norman Lear on creating and producing Good Times
Norman Lear on creating and producing One Day at a Time
Norman Lear on creating and producing Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman

Music Shows & Variety Shows/Specials

View Genre
Norman Lear on writing for Ford Star Review and The Colgate Comedy Hour
Norman Lear on writing for The Colgate Comedy Hour
Norman Lear on writing for The Martha Raye Show
Norman Lear on writing for The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show
Norman Lear on writing for The Andy Williams Show
Norman Lear on writing for The George Gobel Show
People

John Amos

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Norman Lear on the All in the Family spin-off 704 Hauser starring John Amos, which used the home from the original show as its setting

Beatrice Arthur

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Norman Lear on introducing Beatrice Arthur as "Maude" on All in the Family, and similarities between her character and his then-wife, Frances Lear

Fred Astaire

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Norman Lear on meeting Fred Astaire

Tallulah Bankhead

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Norman Lear on Tallulah Bankhead guest-starring on The Martha Raye Show and a racial incident that almost got the show cancelled, followed up by a racy appearance with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr

Charlie Chaplin

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Norman Lear on his very first day in Los Angeles, and being treated to a surprise performance by Charlie Chaplin

Dabney Coleman

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Norman Lear on casting Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, including Louise Lasser, Mary Kay Place, and Dabney Coleman

Michael Eisner

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Norman Lear on Hot L Baltimore and how much Michael Eisner liked it, he never missed a taping

Douglas Fairbanks, Jr

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Norman Lear on Tallulah Bankhead guest-starring on the Martha Raye Show and a racial incident almost got the show cancelled, followed up by a racy appearance with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr

Tennessee Ernie Ford

View Person Page
Norman Lear on writing for The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show, and how Roland Kibbee, the show's head writer, influenced his own writing

Michael J. Fox

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Norman Lear on working with Michael J. Fox on Palmerstown, USA

Redd Foxx

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Norman Lear on how he got CBS to buy the show Sanford and Son with Redd Foxx, and on casting Demond Wilson

Bonnie Franklin

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Norman Lear on creating One Day at a Time, and on casting Bonnie Franklin as "Ann Romano"

George Gobel

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Norman Lear on writing for The George Gobel Show

Pat Harrington, Jr.

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Norman Lear on casting Pat Harrington, Jr. as "Schneider" on One Day at a Time

Sherman Hemsley

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Norman Lear spinning off The Jeffersons,, casting Sherman Hemsley as "George Jefferson," and his portrayal of black life on various shows

Hal Kanter

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Norman Lear on the comedic talents of Hal Kanter and Larry Gelbart

Roland Kibbee

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Norman Lear on writing for the Tennessee Ernie Ford Show, and how Roland Kibbee, the show's head writer, influenced his own writing

Louise Lasser

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Norman Lear on casting Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, including Louise Lasser, Mary Kay Place, and Dabney Coleman

Jerry Lewis

View Interview Page
Norman Lear on Jerry Lewis asking for him to write on The Colgate Comedy Hour after seeing a sketch he had written on the Ford Star Revue
Norman Lear on writing for Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin on The Colgate Comedy Hour with partner Ed Simmons

Bill Macy

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Norman Lear on the rapid success of Maude, and on casting Bill Macy as "Walter Findlay"

Dean Martin

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Norman Lear on writing for Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin on The Colgate Comedy Hour with partner Ed Simmons

Martin Mull

View Person Page
Norman Lear on creating the show Fernwood 2-Night, its nonsensical nature, and the comic talents of Martin Mull and Fred Willard

Carroll O'Connor

View Interview Page
Norman Lear on casting Carroll O'Connor as "Archie Bunker" on All in the Family, and on Mickey Rooney being considered for the role
Norman Lear on casting being critical to a show's success, and on the "magical" casting of Carroll O'Connor, Jean Stapleton, Rob Reiner, and Sally Struthers on All in the Family
Norman Lear on how the creative differences with Carroll O'Connor was worth it for his masterful portrayal of "Archie Bunker" on All in the Family

William S. Paley

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Norman Lear on William S. Paley

Jerry Perenchio

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Norman Lear on the entrepreneurial talents of Jerry Perenchio, who he met while working on The Andy Williams Show

Mary Kay Place

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Norman Lear on casting Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, including Louise Lasser, Mary Kay Place, and Dabney Coleman

Martha Raye

View Person Page
Norman Lear on working with Martha Raye as a writer on The Martha Raye Show
Norman Lear on Tallulah Bankhead guest-starring on the Martha Raye Show and a racial incident almost got the show cancelled, followed up by a racy appearance with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr
Norman Lear on the challenges of working all day and night in the days of live television during his time on The Martha Raye Show, and on working with Neil Simon

Rob Reiner

View Interview Page
Norman Lear on casting the various All in the Family pilots (Jean Stapleton, and eventually Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers), and on the show being rejected by ABC and picked up by CBS
Norman Lear on casting being critical to a show's success, and on the "magical" casting of Carroll O'Connor, Jean Stapleton, Rob Reiner, and Sally Struthers on All in the Family
Norman Lear on being involved with feature films, and helping Rob Reiner finance his first four films

Mickey Rooney

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Norman Lear on casting Carroll O'Connor as "Archie Bunker" on All in the Family, and on Mickey Rooney being considered for the role

Michael Ross

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Norman Lear on writers Bernie West and Mickey Ross on All in the Family

Ed Simmons

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Norman Lear on writing for Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin on The Colgate Comedy Hour with partner Ed Simmons

Neil Simon

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Norman Lear on the challenges of working all day and night in the days of live television during his time on The Martha Raye Show, and on working with Neil Simon

Frank Sinatra

View Person Page
Norman Lear on his and Bud Yorkin's production company Tandem producing situation comedy, and on trying to get Frank Sinatra to read a script

Jean Stapleton

View Interview Page
Norman Lear on casting the various All in the Family pilots (Jean Stapleton, and eventually Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers), and on the show being rejected by ABC and picked up by CBS
Norman Lear on casting being critical to a show's success, and on the "magical" casting of Carroll O'Connor, Jean Stapleton, Rob Reiner, and Sally Struthers on All in the Family

Sally Struthers

View Person Page
Norman Lear on casting the various All in the Family pilots (Jean Stapleton, and eventually Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers), and on the show being rejected by ABC and picked up by CBS
Norman Lear on casting being critical to a show's success, and on the "magical" casting of Carroll O'Connor, Jean Stapleton, Rob Reiner, and Sally Struthers on All in the Family

William Tankersley

View Interview Page
Norman Lear on how William Tankersley, then head of Standards & Practices at CBS, fought him over a line on Maude

Danny Thomas

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Norman Lear on how he schemed to reach out to Danny Thomas and write a bit for him that turned out to be his big break

Grant Tinker

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Norman Lear on the talents of Grant Tinker

Bernard West

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Norman Lear on writers Bernie West and Mickey Ross on All in the Family

Fred Willard

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Norman Lear on creating the show Fernwood 2-Night, its nonsensical nature, and the comic talents of Martin Mull and Fred Willard

Andy Williams

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Norman Lear on writing for The Andy Williams Show and how he and Bud Yorkin brought Williams to television

Demond Wilson

View Person Page
Norman Lear on how he got CBS to buy the show Sanford and Son with Redd Foxx, and on casting Demond Wilson

Walter Winchell

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Norman Lear on working for a PR firm in New York City, and ghostwriting for Walter Winchell

Bud Yorkin

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Norman Lear on starting a production company with Bud Yorkin
Norman Lear on his and Bud Yorkin's production company Tandem producing situation comedy, and on trying to get Frank Sinatra to read a script

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