Norman Lear, most known for his TV producing as the creator of such shows as All in the Family, The Jeffersons, Maude, Sanford and Son, Diff'rent Strokes, Mary Hartman, Mary, One Day at a Time and Good Times has passed at the age of 101. Lear worked as a tireless activist as well. He received many awards, including six Primetime Emmys, two Peabody Awards, the National Medal of the Arts, Kennedy Central Honors and the Golden Globe Carol Burnett Award.
Lear left this earth on December 5, 2023, surrounded by his loving family. They are quoted with saying, “Thank you for the moving outpouring of love and support in honor of our wonderful husband, father, and grandfather.” The family further stated, “Norman lived a life of creativity, tenacity, and empathy. He deeply loved our country and spent a lifetime helping to preserve its founding ideals of justice and equality for all. Knowing and loving him has been the greatest of gifts. We ask for your understanding as we mourn privately in celebration of this remarkable human being.” Even at 101, Lear was in the middle of producing multiple TV shows and a movie when he passed.
Lear was born in New Haven, Connecticut, and moved to Chelsea, Massachusetts, at the age of nine. He was taking classes at Emerson College when World War II started, so Lear dropped out to enlist in the service. He served as a radioman and gunner onboard a B-17 during the war. He served in the Mediterranean Theater with the 772nd Bomb Squadron, 463rd Bomb Group of the Fifteenth Air Force. He flew 52 combat missions and was awarded the Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters. He transitioned out of the service and into public relations following the war.
Lear, back row, far right, with his crew during World War II. Photo courtesy of the USA Today.
Lear spent much of the 1950s and 60s working different jobs to pay bills while writing sketch comedy. Through networking and his family connections, he got his start with Ed Simmons, a fellow aspiring comedy writer. They initially teamed up to sell home furnishings door-to-door, which they later sold family photos in door-to-door sales. The two writers wrote sketches for comedy acts such as Martin and Lewis and Rowan and Martin. They broke in big with the Colgate Comedy Hour writing for Martin and Lewis. Lear also wrote for Honestly, Celeste! and for The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show. His last success of the 50s was creating a western show named The Deputy, starring fellow veteran Henry Fonda.
Lear in his Army Air Corps uniform during his service. Public domain.
Lear's big successes in the 1960s came with the films Divorce American Style and Cold Turkey, both starring Dick Van Dyke. Van Dyke is another fellow veteran with whom Lear collaborated. Many of his collaborators had military service, mostly World War II veterans, including Bud Yorkin, Carrol O'Connor, Sherman Hemsley, Bea Arthur, Bob Newhart and many more. Following his theatrical success, Lear hit the big time with All in the Family, a show about a working-class family with the lead star being an out-of-touch, middle-aged, and crabby union worker, Archie Bunker. The show was a hit and ran for nine seasons, with the spinoff, Archie Bunker's Place, running another four seasons.
Norman Lear, center, with the cast of All in the Family. Photo courtesy of news.wfsu.org.
An even better spin-off from All in the Family was The Jeffersons, which lasted 11 seasons and was one the longest-running sitcoms in TV history. It is the second longest-running sitcom with a mainly African-American cast. The show follows the success of George and Louise Jefferson as they gain wealth and status from George's successful drying cleaning business. The show was a sitcom, however, it did focus on social issues such as alcoholism, racism, suicide and adult literacy. The show ran for a total of 253 episodes. Another popular spin-off from All in the Family included Maude, starring real-life Marine Corps veteran, Bea Arthur, as an outspoken, politically charged woman with progressive views who sometimes gets herself in trouble with her strong opinions. The show ran for six seasons in the 1970s.
The cast of The Jeffersons. Public domain.
By the 1980s Lear had founded the People for the American Way and bought Avco Embassy Pictures with his friend and business partner Jeremy Perenchio. Embassy Pictures was run by Air Force veteran, Alan Horn, who has had a successful career as a studio executive at Warner Brothers and Disney. By the mid-1980s, Lear sold Embassy to Columbia Pictures and founded Act III Communications. Many of his shows had run their course, with Diff'rent Strokes going off the air in 1986 and the same with The Jeffersons the year before. Into the 1990s, Lear purchased several business journals through Act II and branched into TV business programs. From the 2000s until his passing, Lear worked on many different projects, which included a reboot of One Day at a Time. Lear announced he would executive produce a revival of Who's The Boss and a reboot of Mary Hartman, Mary among his many projects. He lived a life of service, creativity and compassion. We will miss Mr. Lear and all the joy, humor and good times he brought to this world.