"That was Archie. All his preconceptions keeping him from enjoying life. That was my message. Because Archie never enjoyed anything. Something was poisoning life for him. He didn't realize that [it] was from inside of himself."
About This Interview
In his four-hour Archive interview, Carroll O'Connor (1924-2001) talks about being a struggling actor in New York: "Carroll O'Connor from the Gate Theater meant nothing. They did an O'Casey play. I was probably the one actor in New York who really could sound like a Dublin man…. I thought to myself innocently, 'I'll just do my thing and I got to get into this O'Casey play.' Nobody knew what I was doing. Nobody cared. And nobody even wanted to see me." Carroll O'Connor made his mark on television as "Archie Bunker" on the landmark sitcom All in the Family and as "Chief Bill Gillespie" on the police drama In the Heat of the Night. O'Connor speaks about his background and childhood pursuits and outlines his early years studying acting, notably at University College in Dublin. He describes acting at the renowned Gate Theatre in Dublin, "the best experience" he ever had as an actor. He briefly discusses his television debut, in the early 1950s, on the BBC and his American TV debut on Kraft Television Theater. He recounts how he came to be cast in the stage play "Ulysses in Nighttown" and notes how his performance led to increased television work. He also gives his impressions of co-star Zero Mostel and director Burgess Meredith. He speaks about his numerous appearances on television in the 1960s, including: "The Sacco-Vanzetti Story" for Sunday Showcase and multiple appearances on Armstrong Circle Theater. He also discusses how he came to make his feature film debut in "A Fever in the Blood." O'Connor relates how he began to contribute to the writing of the parts he played on television and how, when All in the Family was picked up, he put his stamp on the written material. Regarding All in the Family, he describes the filming of the series' pilots, talks about his contentious relationship with series developer/executive producer Norman Lear, speaks about his co-stars and directors and discusses his walk off of (and return to) the series during the show's fifth season. He explains how the follow-up series Archie's Bunker's Place came about and recalls how and why the character of "Edith Bunker" died at the start of the show's second season. Additionally, he comments on his co-stars, talks about casting Martin Balsam's real-life daughter in an episode he wrote that mirrored real life and acknowledges how the series came to an end. He discusses his involvement in the spin-off series Gloria, and how, without his knowledge, the show's initial writers and producer were replaced. He then speaks in detail about his work as writer/star of the television movie The Last Hurrah and In the Heat of the Night. Regarding In the Heat of the Night, O'Connor recalls his early displeasures with the direction of the show, proudly notes the commendation the series received from the NAACP and describes his favorite series episode. Lastly, he touches on various guest appearances he made on television in the 1990s and how he came to write his memoirs. In response to whether All in the Family changed television, O'Connor suggests: "No…. Television got right back into its old habits… the goal of comedy, sitcom, was to make people feel good, get a lot of laughs and get the big ratings. Those were not really our goals. The goals of all the shows that came after us were that just." Charles Davis conducted the interview in Malibu, CA on August 13, 1999.
Best known for his portrayal of cantankerous Archie Bunker on the long-running CBS series All in the Family, Carroll O'Connor has been one of television's most recognized actors for over twenty years. For his work on All in the Family and In the Heat of the Night the actor has received five Emmy Awards, eight Emmy nominations, a Golden Globe Award and a Peabody Award.
O'Connor's acting career began while he was a student in Ireland in the 1950s. Following on experiences in American and European theatre, he established himself as a versatile character actor in Hollywood during the 1960s. Between films he made guest appearances on television programs such as the U.S. Steel Hour, Kraft Television Theatre, the Armstrong Circle Theatre and many of the filmed series hits of the 1960s. But O'Connor became a television star with his portrayal of outspoken bigot Archie Bunker, the American archetype whose chair now sits in the Smithsonian Institution.
In 1968, ABC Television, which had the first rights to the series, financed production of two pilot episodes of All in The Family (then under the title Those Were the Days). But the network's trepidation about the program's socially controversial content led ABC to reject the show. Producer Norman Lear sold the series to CBS, where All in The Family was broadcast for the first time on 12 January 1971 with O'Connor as Archie Bunker. By using humor to tackle racism and other sensitive subjects, All in The Family changed the style and tone of prime time programming on television. It may also have opened the door for political and social satires such as Saturday Night Live and other controversial programs.
Throughout its thirteen seasons the show gained immense popularity (in its heyday, it was said to have reached an average of fifty million viewers weekly), and maintained a groundbreaking sense of social criticism. Archie Bunker's regular stream of racial epithets and malapropisms catalyzed strong reaction from critics. All in the Family was attacked by conservatives who thought that the show made fun of their views, and by liberals who charged that the show was too matter-of-fact about bigotry. The show's successor Archie Bunker's Place, was broadcast on CBS from 1979 TO 1983, and the earlier show also begat two successful spinoffs, Maude and The Jeffersons, one of television's longest-running series about African Americans.
From 1988 to 1994 O'Connor starred in and served as executive producer and head writer for the hit prime time drama In the Heat of the Night. Set in fictional Sparta, Mississippi, but shot on location in Covington, Georgia, In the Heat of the Night may be seen as a continuation of O'Connor's association with television programs designed to function as social commentary by addressing issues of racism and bigotry. O'Connor plays Bill Gillespie, a Southern police chief whose top detective (played by Howard Rollins) is African American. In its 1993 season, the show also featured the marriage of Chief Gillespie to an African American city administrator. The series has received two NAACP Image Awards for contributing positive portrayals of African Americans on television. When the series version of In the Heat of the Night ended, O'Connor produced several made-for-television-movies using the same locations and characters. In 1995, O'Connor's son and co-star on In the Heat of the Night, Hugh O'Connor died of a drug overdose. O'Connor chose to speak out publicly about his grief and his views on the legalization of drugs, and gave a number of well-publicized interviews on these topics on television. He continues to devote much of his time to the social problems surrounding drug addiction.
Bennetts, Leslie. "Carroll O'Connor as Detective Chief." The New York Times, 20 March 1985.
Du Brow, Rick. "Thriving in the Heat of Adversity Despite Heart Bypass Surgery and the Personal Problems of his Co-Star Howard Rollins, Carroll O'Connor is Happy in his Work." Los Angeles Times, 17 March 1990.
Farber, Stephen. "An Actor Stands In As Writer." The New York Times, 9 January 1989.
Lamanna, Dean. "Carroll O'Connor: These Are the Days." Ladies' Home Journal (New York), October 1991.
CARROL O'CONNOR. Born in New York City, U.S.A., 2 August 1924. Died 21 June 2001. Educated at the University of Montana; National University of Ireland, B.A., 1952; University of Montana, M.A., 1956. Married: Nancy Fields, 1951, child: Hugh (deceased). Stage actor in Ireland, 1950-54; substitute teacher in New York, 1954-56; appeared in plays Ulysses in Nightown, 1958, and The Big Knife, 1959; appeared as a character actor in numerous motion pictures, 1961-71, including Fever in the Blood, 1961, Cleopatra, 1963, and Kelley's Heroes, 1970; star of television series All in the Family, 1971-79; star of Archie Bunker's Place, 1979-83; co-executive producer and star of In the Heat of the Night, 1987-94. Recipient: Golden Globe Award; Emmy Awards for best actor, 1973, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1989; George Foster Peabody Award, 1980; named to Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame, 1990. Address: Lionel Larner Ltd., 130 West 57th St., Suite 10A, Culver City, California 10019.
1971-79 All In the Family 1979-83 Archie Bunker's House 1987-94 In the Heat of the Night 1994 Party of Five
1969 Fear No Evil 1985 Brass 1986 Convicted 1987 The Father Clements Story 1994 In the Heat of the Night: A Matter of Justice 1995 In the Heat of the Night: Grow Old with Me 1995 In the Heat of the Night: By Duty Bound
1972 Of Thee I Sing 1973 Three for the Girls 1977 The Last Hurrah 1981 Man, Myths and Titans (writer) 1991 All in the Family 20th Anniversary Special
Fever In the Blood, 1961; By Love Possessed, 1961; Lad a Dog, 1961; Lonely are the Brave, 1962; Cleopatra, 1963; Not With My Wife, You Don't, 1966; Warning Shot, 1967; What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?, 1968; Marlowe, 1969; Death of a Gunfighter, 1969; Kelly's Heroes, 1970; Doctors' Wives, 1971; Law and Disorder, 1985
Ulysses in Nightown, 1958; The Big Knife, 1959; Brothers, 1983; Home Front, 1984