We’re sad to hear of the passing of actress Jean Stapleton, who died yesterday, Friday May 31, 2013, at the age of 90. Stapleton died of natural causes in her home in New York City. She’s best know for portraying the lovable “Edith Bunker” on All in the Family, but also enjoyed success on the Broadway stage with “Damn Yankees” and “The Bells Are Ringing,” and with several television movies.
Below are some selections from her 2000 Archive interview:
Her thoughts on how All in the Family dealt with bigotry:
Her description of “Edith Bunker”:
She was a very compassionate individual, had a peculiar way of arriving at things and thoughts. Not very bright, not well educated, but a great sense of wisdom and heart. I guess I would describe it that way. And also fun, a sense of joy about her and great, just great love for everyone, and a perception about people that was instinctive, intuitive, but certainly not intellectual.
And how she’d like to be remembered:
To be remembered? I don’t think about that uh very much, frankly. I don’t think anybody’s remembered too well, after awhile… I really don’t think it’s one of my goals or projects to decide that. I hope that my work stands up, if it’s ever seen in the future.
(Reposted from 2/13/13 MediaPost article by Karen Herman with permission)
In time for Valentine’s Day, the Archive of American Television opens its vault to find out what our interviewees had to say about some of TV’s classic relationships:
Writer Sam Denoff on “That Girl” – Here were these two people who were in love, which made the show work. People remember more about Donald and Ann Marie than all the things that she got into, which is the secret of all the great shows. “All in the Family,” “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “The Honeymooners,” “I Love Lucy” were all love stories….
I don’t think any episode mentioned, “Shall we do it?” It wasn’t if they did or didn’t — it wasn’t important.
There was a responsibility to each other that made for the comedy. “I want to do something, but will he or she be mad?” That’s why marriage works, because it’s a comedy.
Actress Jean Stapleton on “All in the Family” — On the surface, Archie was that incredible, ignorant bigot — but Edith saw more than that. Edith was in love with this man. We had some tender moments that were dramatized, perhaps more off-camera…The whole substance of their marriage is something that was probably very sweet.
Producer Aaron Spelling on “Starsky and Hutch”– We said many times, it was the first heterosexual [all-male] love affair on television. Paul Michael Glaser’s character loved hamburgers, all that jazz, and David Soul liked French food. They disagreed about everything, but they were really terrific together. It was their relationship more than the cases. It had lots of humor in it. It wasn’t just car chases.
Actress Isabel Sanford on the love between “The Jeffersons” — Louise kept George in tow. That’s how it lasted that long. George really loved Louise. He was hotheaded, but he listened to her. Whether he thought he had the last word or not, she had the last word. That’s how that marriage lasted as long as it did. Nobody would put up with George like Louise!
Actress Suzanne Pleshette on the mature love of “The Bob Newhart Show”– Bob and Emily Hartley were a unique couple, something that had never been on television. First, we were a married couple who loved each other. We did not denigrate each other. We were partners; we were equals. We were smart and both working. There were no children to teach us lessons. Howard, our next-door neighbor, was our child, in effect.
We were obviously sexual. I’m very demonstrative, [and] Bob hates that [but] he was obliged to endure it, and that became something wonderful about our relationship.
When we analyze it, what does keep a couple together? I think what… keeps us with that other person more than anything, is not the physical; it’s the common sense of humor. It’s that you laugh at what I say and I laugh at what you do and we both find the same things funny….
I feel like it’s never really mentioned, but Debra loves Ray because he’s fun…. Comedy’s conflict — but every once in a while, he makes her laugh. And you get it.
You may know that Norman Lear created All in the Family and The Jeffersons, but did you know that he also produced “Stand By Me” and “The Princess Bride?” Today the prolific writer/producer/director turns 90 and we take a look back at the career of the man who not only brought “Archie” and “Edith” to the small screen, but helped bring “Princess Buttercup” and “Westley” to the big screen, as well.
Born Norman Milton Lear on July 22, 1922 in New Haven, Connecticut, Lear wanted to follow in his uncle’s footsteps and become a press agent. (Lear’s uncle worked at MCA and always seemed to have a quarter to spare, even during the lean Depression years.) At the end of his senior year of high school, Lear won the American Legion Oratory Contest, earning him a scholarship to Emerson College. He left Emerson in 1942 to become a gunner in the Air Force during World War II, then fulfilled his childhood dream and worked for George and Dorothy Ross as a press agent in New York. Now married with a baby on the way, he returned to Connecticut, but soon moved to California. Leaving the life of a press agent behind, Lear performed odd jobs to make a living, including starting a business to mail celebrity addresses out by request. He and friend Ed Simmons teamed up to dabble in writing, and Lear promptly fibbed his way to the big time. He pretended to be a reporter interviewing Danny Thomas, got Thomas’ phone number, and pitched him a routine about Yiddish words that had no English counterparts. The not-Jewish Thomas wound up using the sketch at Ciro’s nightclub, giving Lear and Simmons their big break:
Agent David Susskind (who happened to be Lear’s first cousin!) then recruited the pair to write for Jack Haley’s Four Star Revue back in New York. Shortly after, in 1950, Jerry Lewis lured the duo away to write for Martin and Lewis on The Colgate Comedy Hour, where a young Bud Yorkin worked as stage manager. Martin and Lewis had recently signed movie contracts in California, so the show and its writers relocated back to the West Coast. This time Lear would stay put in sunny California.
After three years writing for Martin and Lewis, Lear and Simmons moved on to writing for The Martha Raye Show in 1954, where Lear got his first taste of directing. He split with Simmons and became a junior writer on The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show from 1957-58, where Bud Yorkin was a producer and Lear’s boss. Lear and Yorkin soon decided to form a company together, Tandem Productions. The pair complemented each other – Yorkin had more experience as a producer/director, and Lear was by then an experienced writer. They made a deal with Paramount to executive produce variety shows and specials, including The Andy Williams Show, and specials for Carol Channing, Bobby Darren, and Danny Kaye (who Lear says cooked excellent Chinese food).
Lear dabbled in films, writing the 1963 movie “Come Blow Your Horn,” and soon read an article about the British sitcom ‘Til Death Do Us Part, which featured a father-son relationship that reminded Lear of his own relationship with his father. From this premise he created All in the Family in 1968 and sold the show to ABC. He shot a pilot with Carroll O’ Connor and Jean Stapleton, but not Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers, and the show didn’t make it air. Lear then made a second pilot (also without Reiner and Struthers), which CBS picked up when Bob Wood replaced Jim Aubrey as head of the network. Just as All in the Family was starting, Lear wrote and directed the 1971 film “Cold Turkey” and was offered a three picture deal with United Artists. He turned down the deal in order to focus on All in the Family, which premiered to rather poor ratings:
CBS re-ran the series that summer and the audience grew. Then the Emmys that year did a cold open with “the four principles of All in the Family,” putting the show squarely on the map.
All in the Familyshowcased Lear’s talent for intertwining social consciousness with humor. In his Archive interview he explains how he can find comedy in anything:
Lear and Yorkin soon created 1972’s Sanford and Son from the British program Steptoe and Son. Redd Foxx and Demond Wilson were tapped to play the leads:
The duo produced Maude in 1972, which famously aired an episode (“Maude’s Dilemma”) in which the title character decides to have an abortion. Lear describes how the episode initially aired without significant controversy, but caused a raucous when broadcast in reruns:
Lear became master of the spin-off, creating Good Times from Maude in 1974, and The Jeffersons from All in the Family in 1975 (Maude was already an All in the Family spin-off). In 1974 he started T. A. T. Productions with Jerry Perenchio (the name comes from the Yiddish expression “Tuchus Affen Tisch,” which in Lear’s words, roughly translates to, “enough with the talk, put your ass on the table.”) Lear continued creating hit shows with 1975’s One Day at a Time, and the critically acclaimed, but short-lived syndicated show Mary Hartman, Mary Hartmanin 1976. At one point during the 1970s, Lear created/produced four of the five top shows on television. Those were the days.
He had some flops, as well. 1977’s syndicated Fernwood Tonight (aka Fernwood 2-Night) about a local talk show host, All That Glitters about male/female role reversals, and Hot L Baltimore about two prostitutes in The Hotel Baltimore, (the “E” had fallen off the sign, hence Hot L Baltimore), didn’t last beyond one season.
Lear decided to end All in the Family in 1979 (he was not involved with Archie Bunker’s Place) to dedicate more of his time to causes in which he believed – he formed the advocacy group People for the American Way in 1980. He was a member of the first group of inductees into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1984, along with honorees William Paley, Lucille Ball, Edward R. Murrow, David Sarnoff, and Milton Berle. Lear also became active in movie production, buying Embassy Studios (T. A. T. became Embassy Communications), and soon selling it to Coca Cola. Lear then formed (and currently serves as chairman of) Act III Communications, which produced 1986’s “Stand By Me,” 1987’s “The Princess Bride,” and 1991’s “Fried Green Tomatoes,” among others.
Lear remained active in television throughout the 1990s, producing Sunday Dinner in 1991, and 704 Hauser in 1994. More recently he’s produced several movies, including 2000’s “Way Past Cool,” and the 2011 short, “The Photographs of Your Junk (Will Be Publicized!).” We can’t wait to see what he’ll come up with next.
Below are some selections from Hemsley’s 2003 Archive interview:
On his screen test for The Jeffersons’ executive producer, Norman Lear:
On “George Jefferson”:
On playing “Deacon Earnest Frye” on Amen:
On following his own path:
On advice to aspiring actors:
You got something steady telling you everyday, “go, go, go.” So rather than fight the voice, you just got to say ,”whew” and just start. That’s my advice to people – you want to do it? Start … Just go for it. Go for it; it’s fun.
The Archive of American Television is sad to report that director Paul Bogart passed away on Sunday, April 15th of age-related causes. He was 92. Bogart started his career in live television in New York, directing episodes of Kraft Television Theatre, and Armstrong Circle Theatre. From there he went on to direct films and several TV dramas and comedies. He directed over 20 episodes of The Defenders and more than 100 of All in the Family, winning one of his many Emmys for “Edith’s 50th Birthday,” in which Edith Bunker fends off a would-be-rapist.
Here are some selections from Bogart’s three-and-a-half-hour interview:
On being hired as an NBC Floor Manager:
They now call it stage manager. At the time it was floor manager, but they want a little more dignity now so it’s a stage manger. You herded the cast around. You made sure they were there, like a stage manager. You relay instructions from the director over a headset to them if you were on the air, if not you spoke to them over the studio address system, and you cued them went to start, and timed them – you had to figure out hand signals. I had no idea. I made them up … Everybody was making up his job at the time. The directors were making up their time, there were people that had some experience in radio or some minor experience on Broadway, but television was a mystery to everybody. I never learned how a television camera works, and I never want to. And I never learned how a film camera works. I’m not interested in the mechanics of the job. I just want to know what I can do.
On his process for learning how to direct:
Do. I just did it. I used to watch other people’s work; I did it to enjoy it. I’m a great audience, I’d just sit there. I’ll believe anything you tell me, if you tell it right.
On working with writers:
I work with writers always – if they were there – sometimes they would grab the money and run to Bermuda or something. But if the writer was around, I would meet with them and we’d talk about the script, we’d have script sessions … Some of them hated me because if I didn’t like the work, I would direct it away from me, from the way it was written … if it called for heavy emotion, tears, weeping and wailing, and the situation didn’t warrant it, I couldn’t ask an actor to do that. I’d say, “this is not that serious,” so we would adopt a different way to deal with it, and some writers didn’t like that. I think one or two of them wanted to kill me.
On how videotape changed directing:
As soon as you could start making mistakes everything changed. At first you would videotape the whole show straight through as a live show. Then they would play the tape on the air. Then you would have a dress rehearsal, you’d have an air show, you want to combine them … they wouldn’t let you do anything but black to black. When they figured out mechanical systems where you edited electronically by assembly, adding shot after shot instead of literally cutting the tape, you didn’t have to cut anymore, you just had to shoot us. Then the world opened up.
On his favorite episode of The Defenders that he directed:
I used to beg them to do a comedy, cause I was so tired of serious stuff, so I did a comedy called “The 700 Year Old Gang” which was about an old Jewish man who makes wine in his basement and gives it to his friends. Jack Gilford played that and then is I think sued by the government. That became a two parter. That was two hours. That won Emmys.
On returning to directing for television after directing films:
I don’t love television more than films; I never got to same material in films that I got in television. In films, somebody else would get the good scripts before they came to me, and I knew I wasn’t getting top material. Also, I made some mistakes, I turned down things I shouldn’t have done, and missed a couple. We all make mistakes. I made some loo-loos.
On directing the All in the Family episode “Edith’s 50th Birthday:”
On working in front of a live audience on All in the Family:
It’s elevating. It really sparks up the material. Everybody responds to an audience, everybody. Later on when we dropped the audience for the last few shows, I forget how many, I think Carroll just didn’t want to put up with the tension of the performance. Anyway, it just was insane because that audience told you when you went wrong, they taught you what you didn’t do right, they taught you what was good. They made the most of what you didn’t expect they were going to like at all. So you learn a lot. I miss them.
On advice to aspiring directors:
I think an aspiring director should read a lot, expose himself to music, art … because later on he’s going to draw on that knowledge. I draw on everything I ever knew about – painting, music, any kind of art. I use it all the time. I think that’s what a director needs, a good liberal arts education. Instead they learn how to load a camera.
It’s been called “the kiss of infamy.” Sure, there have been many great on-screen kisses over the years — Scarlett and Rhett in Gone with the Wind, Milton and Karen in From Here to Eternity, Winnie and Kevin on The Wonder Years … but the most unexpected and down-right hilarious kiss of all time, at least on the small-screen, has to be that between Sammy Davis Jr. and Archie Bunker on the “Sammy’s Visit” episode of All in the Family.
The February 19, 1972 show featured Archie Bunker moonlighting as a cab driver who had Sammy Davis Jr. as a passenger in his cab one night. Davis left his briefcase in the car and Archie arranges for Davis to come to the Hauser Street house to retrieve the case. The two discuss how Archie’s daughter and son-in-law think he’s prejudiced, and the exchange ends with Davis wanting a picture with Archie. On the count of three, Davis kisses Archie on the cheek, garnering one of the biggest laughs and most memorable moments in TV history:
According to director John Rich, Davis’ appearance on the show stems from Davis expressing an interest in coming on All in the Family during a guest spot on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Writer Bill Dana pitched to All in the Family co-creator Norman Lear a plausible way for Davis to end up in Archie Bunker’s house, but Lear was originally wary, not wanting a big-name entertainer to shift the emphasis of the show. Dana’s premise was believable, though, and his script ultimately highlighted both Archie’s bigotry and the show’s clever sense of sarcasm:
Davis was worried about having to memorize the dialogue for his part and wanted to use cue cards, but Rich wanted Davis to act under the same conditions as the other cast members:
Thanks to all involved with the episode for bringing the “Ace of Spades” and the “whitest man he knows” together for a truly genius Kodak moment. Smile, Archie!
Read more about the famous episode, which placed 13th on TV Guide’s list of “The 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time,” at our “Sammy’s Visit” show page.
On how he became the main director for The Dick Van Dyke Show:
It came about because of my service to the Guild, oddly enough. I had been doing westerns – I did five years of westerns and that was the hot stuff. But I had been on the Director’s Guild Board of Directors all that time. Sheldon Leonard was on the Board. He walked by me one day, he said, “hey, how would you like to come in out of all the dust?” I said, “and do what?” He said, “I got a new show with an actor named Dick Van Dyke and Carl Reiner.” I said, “Carl Reiner?” That got my attention. Van Dyke I had never heard of. I said, “oh, I don’t know, what do you think?” He said, “I think you can do a nice job. I’d like you to come in and meet Carl Reiner and Van Dyke and see if you get along.” Fine. So I was asked to come to Carl Reiner’s house and it very pleasant, and I loved his work on Sid Ceasar’s show. I told him so. And when I met him, I was introduced to Van Dyke and I said, “I thought you were wonderful in ‘Vintage ‘60.’” And he said, “no, that was Dick –” some other actor. My introduction to Dick Van Dyke was to compliment him on a play he was not in. First faux pas, you know. Then I was going to do the show and I did it and God, it was wonderful.
On directing the opening sequence of The Dick Van Dyke Show:
On being asked to direct new series All in the Family and The Mary Tyler Moore Show on the same day:
It was a curious thing, one of those rare days in the life of a freelance director. I had a call from Mary Tyler Moore saying she’s doing a new show, would I read her script. Jim Brooks and Alan Bergman had written it. The same day Norman Lear sent me All In the Family. I read both of them. I thought, God, and I called Mary– as a matter of fact, I met with Jim Brooks and Alan. I said, “you know, having worked with Mary on Dick Van Dyke, I thought this would be a very good show, but it kind of had some overtones of reminiscence. It just feels okay, like another comedy that might be good, but this other thing is outrageous.” It was 1970, and the dialogue that was written then, just blew me away. I called Norman, I said, “you aren’t going to make this, are you?” He said, “yeah.” I said, “is anybody going to put it on?” He said, “they say they will.” Well, I told Mary, I said, “you know, I really got to do that show even if it’s an exercise.” I don’t know if it’s going to get on, but I was committed to the first 6 shows, whatever it was.
On directing the Emmy-winning “Sammy’s Visit” episode of All in the Family:
In his Archive interview, Hector Ramirez discusses his career as a camera operator, from his start on All in the Family, to one of his current positions as an Emmy-winning camera operator on Dancing With the Stars. He speaks of his move from Columbia to the United States, attending the Don Martin School of Radio and Television Arts and Sciences, and his work on Norman Lear sitcoms Maude, The Jeffersons, and Good Times. He details his work shooting several music and comedy specials, including Paul Simon’s Concert in Central Park, as well as his experiences as camera operator for The Academy Awards, The Golden Globes, The Emmy Awards, The Grammys, and MTV’s Award Shows. Ramirez also comments on holding the record for the most number of Emmy nominations, and shares his thoughts on reality television and what forms good composition. Beth Cochran conducted the three-and-a-half-hour interview on May 12, 2011 in Los Angeles, CA.
About the interview:
Regarding his contribution to television, Norman Lear notes: “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.” Norman Lear’s writing career began in the 1950s, and reached its zenith with a series of socially conscious sitcoms, the crown jewel of which was the highly rated, multi-Emmy Award-winning All in the Family. In his Archive interview, 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. For 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. On his collaboration with Carroll O’Connor on the iconic Archie Bunker he 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— 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; andFernwood 2-Night. Lastly, he comments on series he refers to as the “misses and near misses.” Norman Lear was interviewed in Brentwood, CA on February 26, 1998; Morrie Gelman conducted the five-hour interview.