Those Were The Days: An All In The Family TV Reunion

Whether you loved it or hated it, All in the Family certainly left its mark on television. One of the most influential shows of all times, it pushed limits and knocked down barriers, paving the way for other shows to take root. Without it, the “Seinfelds” and “Family Guys” we’ve all come to know, love, and occasionally cringe at might have never existed.

Still, even though it was groundbreaking, it wasn’t always smooth sailing. Creative differences, contract disputes, and casting difficulties found their way into the script, just as they do on any set, anywhere.

Carrol O’Connor Thought It Would Never Take Off

CBS
CBS

Before signing on to do the show, Carroll O’Connor read about the BBC series Till Death Do Us Part on which All in the Family was supposed to be based. He allegedly told his wife that no one would be able to get away with such a bold show on American television.

Still, he signed on to play the lead and the show really took off. Can you imagine anyone else playing the iconic role of Archie Bunker?

Actors Thought The Show Was Too Offensive

CBS
CBS

Before the final cast was set, there were a lot of other names in the mix that were candidates to appear on the show. Harrison Ford was asked to play son-in-law Michael Stivic, but he turned down the role because he allegedly thought Archie Bunker’s bigotry was too offensive.

Luckily turning down the role didn’t hurt Ford’s career at all. Other people up for the role of “Meathead” were actor Tim McIntire and Oakland Raiders linebacker, Chip Oliver.

Archie Bunker Was Much More Liberal in Real Life

CBS
CBS

He might have played a bigot, but in actuality, Carroll O’Connor’s views better mirrored those of the left-leaning sect. He was even ahead of his time in demanding that Jean Stapleton receive top billing along with him (originally, O’Connor was the only one slotted for this).

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen: Archie Bunker was a feminist. We bet that’s something you never thought you’d see anyone write. O’Connor’s incredible actions helped pave the way for female stars of later series to demand equal pay and billing as well.

Jean Stapleton Wasn’t Actually Tone Deaf

jean stapleton
Ron Galella/WireImage
Ron Galella/WireImage

One of the shows running gags was Edith Bunker’s singing ability (or lack thereof). But, in actuality, Jean Stapleton was an accomplished songstress. Her voice even helped land her what would become her defining role: Lear made the offer after watching her shine in a performance of Damn Yankees.

For pretending she didn’t know how to hold a note, Stapleton was awarded two Golden Globes and Three Emmy’s. Not bad for someone who started her career in musicals on Broadway.

Carroll O’Connor Wasn’t the First Choice

mickey rooney
Amanda Edwards/WireImage
Amanda Edwards/WireImage

It’s hard to picture anyone else as Archie, but Carroll O’Connor wasn’t the original casting choice. ABC, who first had the rights to the show, wanted the part retooled for Jackie Gleason. When Lear sold the show to CBS, he offered Archie Bunker Mickey Rooney the role.

Rooney read the script and promptly declined, believing Lear would be ostracized for his audacity. His refusal turned into a blessing in disguise for O’Connor. Of course, other roles almost went to different actors as well.

There Were Many Firsts

CBS
CBS

As you’d expect from a show with so much influence, All in the Family featured many firsts. For instance, it was the first show to be videotaped in front of a live studio audience. Other shows, such as I Love Lucy, had been broadcast in front of an audience but this was the first to be recorded.

It was also the first show to feature the sound of a toilet flushing in prime time. My, my… won’t they ever think of the children?

All in the Family Had Many Spinoffs

CBS
CBS

All in the Family was well known for its spinoffs. There was The Jeffersons, Archie Bunker’s Place, Good Times and Maude. Incredibly, many of these spinoffs were quite successful. In total, seven shows spun off the parent program.

The only other show in history to rival that is Happy Days. That show had five spin-offs, including Mork and Mindy, Joanie Loves Chachi, and Laverne and Shirley. Of those shows, the last one on the list was the most successful, running for eight seasons.

A Reunion Years In The Making

all in the family reunion
Beck Starr/Getty Images
Beck Starr/Getty Images

In 2019, Jimmy Kimmel announced on his late night show that he was working with Normal Lear to bring back both All in the Family and The Jeffersons. The 90 minute television event will recreate and re-imagine classic episodes for modern audiences.

Together, Lear and Kimmel are pulling out all the stops. Actors already confirmed for the special include Will Ferrell, Wanda Sykes, and Jamie Foxx. Lear said he agreed to do the special serves on purpose, to show “the timelessness of human nature.”

Norman Lear Mourned Edith’s Death

edith-death-56409.jpg
CBS
CBS

Edith died before the series ended (hopefully, you knew that). When Jean Stapleton found out that her character was scheduled to be killed off, she was lackadaisical about it, stating that it didn’t matter how Edith died as she wasn’t real.

Lear allegedly retorted that it did matter, as she was real to him. Edith’s death would go on to affect the characters he had poured his heart and soul into. The pain he felt losing her was similar to losing a close friend.

Archie Bunker Had A Special Place For His Wedding Ring

CBS
CBS

While Archie and Edith loved each other, their relationship was interesting. Suffice to say, there weren’t any dull moments. Archie showcased this by wearing his wedding ring on a very special finger: his middle one.

This way, he got to show it off whenever a driver cut in front of him during rush hour. Talk about bring a little love to your morning commute! The ring gag was just one of the subtle touches Lear used to help flesh out the characters on the show.

Rob Reiner Didn’t Win His Role the First Time Through

Leon Bennett/Getty Images
Leon Bennett/Getty Images

Rob Reiner was passed over for the original pilot. He was passed over for the second one as well. It was the third time that proved to be the charm, when Lear gave him yet another chance.

Reiner has stated in interviews that, to this day, he still gets called “Meathead” by random strangers. If you ever wondered what happened to Reiner after the show ended, sleep easy knowing he became an Oscar nominated director.

Jean Stapleton Lived a Long Life

CBS
CBS

While Edith might have met an untimely end, the woman who played her did not: Jean Stapleton died in 2013 at the age of 90. The lights of Broadway dimmed in her honor as she had begun her career on the stage.

Her coworkers also spoke highly of her. Lear, in particular, stated that she could have given lessons on how to be a human being. The world lost a special person the day she left this world.

Sally Struthers Rebooted Her Role in the Early 1980s

sally struthers
Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic
Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic

Although Sally Struthers left All in the Family in 1978 (as did Reiner, her TV husband), she came back for Gloria, a spinoff of Archie Bunker’s Place. Unfortunately, it proved to be short-lived, lasting only a season. But Sally’s career hasn’t been so brief. She was on the game show circuit for a time before going back to mainstream (on shows such as Gilmore Girls).

Recently, she’s returned to the stage; in 2014, she toured with Hello Dolly. Reiner, on the other hand, never returned for the spinoff; he’s been just a little too busy.

Carroll O’Connor Was on Television for Forty Years

CBS
CBS

While Carroll O’Connor will always be Archie Bunker in the eyes of many, his career certainly couldn’t fit into his living room recliner. He was much more than the man who introduced us to the catchphrase “Meathead.”

He had roles on shows such as The Heat of the Night, Mad About You, and The Untouchables. He also starred in dozens of films before his death in 2001. Unfortunately, he’s not the only cast member who has passed away.

Sherman Hemsley Passed Away in 2012

sherman hemsley
Michael Rozman/FilmMagic for Nickelodeon Magazine
Michael Rozman/FilmMagic for Nickelodeon Magazine

Sadly, Sherman Hemsley, the man who played George Jefferson on All in the Family as well as The Jeffersons died in El Paso, Texas from lung cancer in 2012. But while he’ll always be recognized as the man who moved on up to the East Side, Hemsley was so much more.

He was a former member of the United States Air Force as well as a jazz keyboardist (he even released a few singles). He was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame the same year he passed away.

Archie Bunker Might Have Hated Her In Real Life

CBS
CBS

Actress Betty Garrett played the Bunker’s feisty neighbor Irene Lorenzo, who acted as a tomboyish liberal foil to Archie Bunker. Years before she appeared on the show, however, Garrett was blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee for her affiliations with the Communist Party and as a result, it was difficult to find work.

So landing the role of Irene was a big break in her acting career. Eventually, other blacklisted actors and writers would return to work as well.

O’Connor Didn’t Want To Play A Bigot

carroll o'connor
Steve Eichner/WireImage
Steve Eichner/WireImage

Even though Norman Lear always had Carroll O’Connor in mind to play Archie Bunker, there were still some other actors who were offered the part. Mickey Rooney declined the role “amid concern of how audiences would react to Bunker’s bigotry” Fox News reported.

The role turned out to be a blessing for O’Connor. By the end of its run, he had been nominated for eight Emmy Awards and six Golden Globe Awards, winning once for each.

The Show Had Plenty Of Naysayers

lucille ball
Gene Lester/Archive Photos/Getty Images
Gene Lester/Archive Photos/Getty Images

A lot of people at the time thought that All in the Family was too controversial of a show. One of those people was actress Lucille Ball, who reportedly hated All in the Family. She was once quoted as saying that the show was “un-American, and how could CBS air my show and that show on the same channel?”

Ball, as you know, was the face of the network for years thanks run of successful comedy series.

The Words Unspoken

CBS
CBS

CBS knew that All in the Family would cause a stir among more conservative viewers and took some precautions to ease the shock. While writing the first episodes, Lear received a notice from the CBS Program Practices department that warned him to avoid writing in certain words and phrases.

Lear ignored the request. He envisioned the show as a look into real life. Censoring harsh words and phrases would have stripped away the realism of the show.

Bracing Themselves For Backlash

CBS
CBS

Knowing that All in the Family was bound to offend the average American viewer, CBS posted a disclaimer prior to the first episode. They even hired extra operators at the switchboard to handle calls from outraged viewers.

Surprisingly enough, the viewers were not offended as CBS thought they would be and they actually embraced the brazen figure that was Archie Bunker. Today, the character is still remembered for his blunt brazenness and toxic masculine demeanor.

Bea Arthur had a Golden Career

bea arthur
Chris Polk/FilmMagic
Chris Polk/FilmMagic

Bea Arthur played Maude for so long that it’s almost impossible to tell one from the other. But for those born in later decades, Arthur was better known as Dorothy, the dry-humored widow on The Golden Girls. That show ran for seven seasons on NBC, giving Arthur an amazingly long television career.

During her career, Arthur won awards for both television and stage. She even returned to Broadway in the sunset of her life. She died in 2009 at the age of 86.

Norman Lear Owns a Piece of History

Paul Hawthorne/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
Paul Hawthorne/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

While some people collect stamps and coins or maybe even stranger things like balls of cat fur, Lear has collected something much more valuable: an original copy of the Declaration of Independence.

He purchased it for $8.1 million and touted it around the nation showing it to those who were interested. It’s not surprising, given that he is a fierce supporter of First Amendment rights. We wonder what he thinks of the world and its views today.

Rob Reiner Found Greater Success Behind the Camera

rob reiner
Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic
Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic

As mentioned above, Reiner will always be Meathead, but his television persona aside, it’s in the director’s chair where he’s really left his mark. He seems to be all over Hollywood, having directed When Harry Met Sally, Misery, A Few Good Men, This is Spinal Tap, and the Princess Bride (to name a few).

Today, he’s still working as much as he can, and was even behind the camera for Shock and Awe, a film about the invasion of Iraq.

All in the Family Barely Survived

CBS
CBS

Due to its tendency to offend, All in the Family was nearly canceled shortly after it first aired. In the witching hours of the 1971-1972 season, it received its renewal, less than a month before the first episode was due to hit the screen.

It returned to much stronger ratings the following seasons. The decision by CBS to stick by the show wasn’t an easy one, but it day pay off in spades. The money they still make from re-runs is enough to keep them smiles for years to come.

Mike’s Parents Weren’t Too Attentive

CBS
CBS

Mike’s parents never appear onscreen during the run of the entire series. At his and Gloria’s wedding, they didn’t show up; his uncle, instead, was the family member present. When Mike was mugged and hospitalized, they were also never seen.

This wasn’t the only point of vagueness: the name of the college Mike attended was never revealed. Meathead – a man of mystery! Perhaps this mysterious nature is one of the reason Meathead became a fan favorite character.

O’Connor and Lear Were Often at Odds

CBS
CBS

It’s rumored that O’Connor and Lear had a strained relationship — one mired by contract disputes, creative differences, and even conflicting opinions about the dialogue (O’Connor occasionally rewrote it).

Their unease carried into the 1980s, as O’Connor sued Lear for royalties from The Jeffersons, believing he too was entitled to a piece of the pie. Of course, O’Connor had nothing to do with the creation of the show, and it was determined he wasn’t entitled to any of the profits.

Show Me The Money

CBS
CBS

Of the many differences that the cast and the producers encountered, contract disputes were certainly one of them. Carroll O’Connor claimed that he was owed $64,000 in back pay from Tandem Productions, in addition to demanding a 12-week vacation during his 24-week work schedule.

O’Connor’s demands prompted Norman Lear create five Archie-less episodes and Lear also threatened to kill off Archie Bunker if O’Connor didn’t lay off his demands. Maybe O’Connor was more like Archie Bunker than we all thought!

Can Archie Bunker Be Replaced?

CBS
CBS

As Lear threatened to kill off O’Connor’s character, he already had a replacement lined up. James Cromwell played Stretch Cunningham, who was slated to take the place as the male foil for the family dynamic on the show, but O’Connor’s contract was settled and Stretch died after two seasons.

According to the New York Post, O’Connor had Cromwell written off the show “because [he] was getting too many laughs,” with Cromwell adding that “he did me a great favor, because I might have ended up as another Fonzie, an actor totally identified with one character.”

How A Show Can Hold An Actor Back

CBS
CBS

Actress Sally Struthers wanted to do films during her time working on All in the Family. She even auditioned for the lead in the film The Day of the Locust.

However, All in the Family producers refused to give her time off to film if she landed the role and Tandem Productions revised Struthers’s contract to make it so that she could not appear as an actress anywhere else other than on All in the Family.

The Biggest Blowup

CBS
CBS

As a result of her contract provisions, from 1974 to 1975 Struthers tried to sue Tandem Productions, but to no avail. This caused her to go through what she later labeled as a “prima donna period.”

Struthers told People magazine, “I was terrible. I was not happy at the time and dumped all my anxieties, hostilities and frustrations on everyone else.” Looking at all the drama behind the scenes, it’s amazing the show stayed on the air with the same cast for so long!

Daddy’s Punishment

CBS
CBS

Not all the actors on set could handle Struthers’ reign of terror. According to People magazine, Carroll O’Connor is the one who finally blew up and gave Struthersa piece of his mind.

Director Paul Bogart recalled, “He told her off like only he can… She fled the set, weeping. When we found her, she asked, ‘Did you hear what he said? I thought of him like my father.” Without O’Connor’s blow up, who knows what would have happened to Struthers’ character.

Like A Surrogate Father

CBS
CBS

Perhaps Carroll O’Connor had good reason to yell at his on-screen daughter the way he did. Struthers’s own father died before the series began and she often thought of O’Connor as a stand-in father.

While cameras weren’t rolling,she even called O’Connor “Daddy.” O’Connor told People, “My wife, Nancy, and I think of Sally as a daughter.” She may have come into their lives as an adult, but they clearly thought of her as one of their own.

O’Connor Played Daddy Behind The Scenes

CBS
CBS

Because O’Connor and his real-life wife thought of Sally Struthers as a daughter, they certainly were concerned for her as any parent would be. Good thing they didn’t have to deal with the awkward teenage years!

Sally Struthers recounted to People, “He saw me go through an engagement, dates, boyfriends… He always disapproved of them because he thought none of them was good enough for me. Just like my own father would have.” It was even O’Connor who introduced Struthers to her eventual husband.

The Extra Work Is Kept “All In The Family”

CBS
CBS

All in the Family‘s theme song was originally meant to be performed by an orchestra, however, the show’s budget wouldn’t allow for it. As a result, producers of the show turned to the top billing actors.

Carroll O’Connor and Jean Stapleton performed the song seated at the piano, updating their rendition of it every year. And of course, Jean made sure to miss all the high and low notes, just like her character would have!

The First To Show Full Frontal Nudity

Reddit
Reddit

As previously mentioned, All in the Family is a pioneer in televising moments that were once considered apropos for television audiences. In addition to featuring the first on-screen toilet flush, All in the Family was the first show to have full male frontal nudity on screen.

This happened in 1976 when an episode featured three-week-old baby Joey Stivic, who was tastefully nude as a part of the episode’s plot. What, you should the show forced O’Connor to bare himself to the world?

Ideas From Across The Pond

BBC
BBC

Norman Lear got the idea for All in the Family after reading a Variety article about a British sitcom on the BBC network called Till Death Do Us Part in the late ’60s. The show featured a conservative British patriarch named Alf Garnett who lived with his wife, daughter and liberal son-in-law.

Lear thought that the show was similar to his own family and decided to make an American version of the show. That also meant putting a uniquely American twist on it.

The Longest Laugh In History

CBS
CBS

Carroll O’Connor and singer Sammy Davis Jr. were close friends in real life, so rest assured, there was good chemistry when Davis Jr. appeared on All in the Family. In “Sammy’s Visit,” the episode ends when Davis Jr. plants a big one right on Archie’s cheek as they’re taking a picture.

The bit was O’Connor’s idea and it was orchestrated perfectly, as the studio audience’s reaction was the loudest and longest laugh in the history of All in the Family.

Normal Lear Based The Family On His Own

CBS
CBS

Writers are often told that in order to be successful they must write what they know, and that’s exactly what Norman Lear did. He based the entire series on the relationship he had with his father (as well as the relationship his father had with his mother).

Many of the catchphrases, such as “stifle yourself,” were things he’d heard his father say. Next time you’re watching the show, think about just what Normal Lear went through growing up!

The Captain Can’t Do Archie

ABC
ABC

The Love Boat star Gavin MacLeod also reluctantly read for the role of Archie Bunker. But the actor, who is a known Christian activist today, was reportedly against bigotry of all kinds and thought that the subject matter of the show was inappropriate for a comedic sitcom.

It’s safe to say he’s not regretting his decision. His own career was filled with just as much success as Carroll O’Connors. He just did it in a more conventional way.

Norman Lear Has a South Park Connection

Comedy Central
Comedy Central

Given their propensity for stirring the pot, it’s not that surprising that the creators of South Park and the creator of All in the Family have a connection. Lear previously lent his voice to an episode of the animated series; he also officiated the wedding of Trey Parker, one of the creators.

South Park is one of the longest running animated series of all-time, coming up just behind The Simpsons in longevity. Unlike All in the Family, though, it is yet to inspire a spin-off.