He is known for creating some of the most ground-breaking sitcoms on television – All in the Family, Maude, and Good Times, to name a few – but what an audience of more than 400 at the Rancho Mirage Public Library discovered Feb. 20 is that there’s even more to Norman Lear.
In an onstage conversation with Geoffrey Cowan, president of the Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands (2010-2016), the 92-year-old writer and producer spoke about other aspects of his life. He considers himself a U.S. patriot who left college to join the military during World War II. He’s responsible for sending an original copy of the Declaration of Independence on a tour of all 50 states, and he founded the liberal advocacy group People for the American Way.
Lear, who is traveling the country with his new memoir Even This I Get to Experience, attributed his patriotism to the civics classes that he and others of his generation were required to take in high school. “I learned to love the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution,” he said.
In his appearance at the Rancho Mirage Library, presented jointly by the Sunnylands Speaker Series and the Rancho Mirage Writers Festival, Lear entertained the crowd with anecdotes of his life. Here’s a recap:
On writing his memoirs: “I didn’t remember singular experiences so much as how I felt” about different events, Lear said, talking about the time his father went to prison on fraud charges when he was just 10-years-old. “That vertical journey into oneself is most profound.”
On his rocky relationship with actor Carrol O’Connor (Archie Bunker): “Carrol O’Connor was a special kind of intellect. But I’m not sure he was the intellect he thought he was.”
On his first encounter with Frank Sinatra: “From the time he opened his mouth, we were in love with him,” Lear said, recalling how Sinatra endured a comedic hazing to win over a crowd of soldiers stationed in Italy.
On television censorship: “It was basically silliness,” Lear said of censors’ attempts to change the scripts of programs like All in the Family, adding that the plotlines of his shows were merely inspired by “everyday conversations. It was stuff out of a kid’s playground.”