Author: Norman Lear
Publisher: Penguin Books
Author: Norman Lear
Publisher: Penguin Books
From his early childhood and now into his 90's Norman Lear certainly can brag that in his ninety plus years he has been there, seen that and done that and when he says “even this I get to experience,” he really means it. As he mentions in his memoir, Norman Lear: Even This I Get To Experience, he certainly had developed a deep appreciation for the absurdities amid the gravity of our existence.
Lear is an iconic figure who is well-known for his innovative television sitcoms in the 1970's that included All in the Family, Maude, Good Times, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, Sanford And Son, The Jeffersons, as well as such films as Divorce American Style and Cold Turkey. Throughout his career he was a trail blazer opening doors in covering topics that were previously taboo such as race, poverty, homosexuality, sex, divorce, bigotry, and racism and was never afraid of controversy. He even tangled with the evangelical preacher Jerry Falwell who once labelled him the “number one enemy of the American family.”
Beginning with his early life, Lear describes his family that hardly met their daily expenses and where his father was always trying to make a “fast buck” in some kind of “monkey business” that eventually landed him in prison for trying to sell phony bonds to a brokerage house. You can well imagine the effect it had on Lear when at the tender age of nine he witnessed his father being taken away in hand cuffs. Incidentally, the character of Archie Bunker in All in the Family was patterned after his father and Edith's character was inspired after his mother.
At sixteen, Lear and his family moved back from Brooklyn to Hartford and it was here that he fell in love with vaudeville, which, as he states, “without being aware of this at the time, used it as a course of study.” His appetite for writing began in high-school and he had been talented enough to win a scholarship to Emerson College in Boston in a National Oratorical Contest. In his third semester when the USA entered into the Second World War Lear enlisted in the Army and was a radio operator and was discharged in 1945.
Lear did not initially set out to become a Hollywood writer but rather preferred a career in publicity. After being discharged from the army, he drew up a one-page announcement describing himself as someone that had spent the greater part of twenty-four years dreaming and preparing for such a career where he would promote others. He sent the announcement to his uncle Jack who passed it onto sixteen publicity houses in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. He heard from two of them and received a job offer, which he accepted, from one of them. This was a firm that represented Broadway shows as well as personalities. It was here where he began writing witticisms, making up stories as well as attention-getting comments concerning actors, playwrights, producers, and designers that would be placed into the columns of several newspapers.
Eventually, Lear and his first wife and child found their way to Los Angeles where he teamed up with his cousin Elaine's husband, Eddie Simmons and the two begin writing for such comedians as Danny Thomas, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, and several others. After several years, Lear's relationship ended and he next teamed up with Bud Yorkin and formed Tandem Productions that proved to be a huge success.
Over the years Lear had been involved with over one hundred television shows either as a producer, creator or developer. His primary focus, as he mentions, was to create good television using characters that represented real Americans, even if that meant stepping on toes or fighting with the various networks and others, which happened quite frequently.
It is difficult to estimate the impact Lear had on American television and well beyond, but these sitcoms, which were unconventional, brought forth a new generation of comedy that veered completely away from the light domestic plots of television's early years. Lear quotes Paddy Chayefsky who said: “Norman Lear took television away from dopey wives and dumb fathers, from the pimps, hookers, hustlers, private eyes, junkies, cowboys and rustler that constituted television chaos and, in their place, put the American people. He took the audience and put them on the set.” And now thanks to his candid memoir we are able to understand who he was, what made him tick and in his own words, how he made comedy safe for reality.