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Remembering TV legend Norman Lear's Connecticut ties

Norman Lear, the famed TV producer and creator, sits for a portrait at his home in Los Angeles, CA, May 21, 2009.
Liz O. Baylen
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Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Norman Lear, the famed TV producer and creator, sits for a portrait at his home in Los Angeles, CA, May 21, 2009.

Norman Lear, the writer, director and producer who revolutionized prime time television with "All in the Family" and "Good Times," propelling political and social turmoil into the once-insulated world of sitcoms, has died. Lear, a Connecticut native, was 101.

Lear died Tuesday night in his sleep, surrounded by family at his home in Los Angeles, said Lara Bergthold, a family spokesperson.

Lear was born in New Haven in 1922. In his autobiography "Even This I Get to Experience," he vividly remembered selling souvenirs before football games at the Yale Bowl during the Great Depression, and going to see movies at the old Roger Sherman Theatre with his cousins.

Lear and his family lived on York Street on what Lear described as a “small two-bedroom, fourth-floor walk-up with patterned oilcloth on the kitchen table and on the floor.” Lear's family life on York street would be the inspiration for some of his most iconic characters. For instance, Lear modeled the bigoted, homophobic Archie Bunker after his father, Herman.

“My father was the blusterer,” Lear said. “He had an opinion on everything, he knew everything. And he was a bit of a racist, although he would never, ever have thought so, or admitted it. So, he had shades of that.”

When Lear was nine years old, his father was arrested for selling fake bonds. In his memoir, Lear recalled how the arrest and incarceration of his father when he was nine years old was a turning point in his life.

“The night that he was taken away, there were a ton of people at the house,” Lear told PBS NewsHour in 2014. “And someone put their hands on my shoulder and says ‘you’re the man of the house Norman.’ Nine years old – I'm the man of the house. What a fool that person was. But somehow I got it. You know, a sense of the foolishness of the human condition.”

Lear said “the foolishness of the human condition” was the philosophy behind the sitcoms he created, like “All in the Family,” “The Jeffersons,” “One Day at a Time,” and “Maude.”

Actors Jean Stapleton, seated, left, and Carroll O'Connor, seated, right, from "All in the Family" hold their Emmys for outstanding lead actress and actor in a comedy series, as they pose with co-star Rob Reiner, who won for supporting actor in a comedy series, standing left, producer Norman Lear, and executive producer Mort Lachman, standing right, in Los Angeles on Sept. 18, 1978. Lear, the writer, director and producer who revolutionized prime time television and propelled political and social turmoil into the once-insulated world of sitcoms, died Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023, at age 101.
YARNOLD
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AP Photo, File
Actors Jean Stapleton, seated, left, and Carroll O'Connor, seated, right, from "All in the Family" hold their Emmys for outstanding lead actress and actor in a comedy series, as they pose with co-star Rob Reiner, who won for supporting actor in a comedy series, standing left, producer Norman Lear, and executive producer Mort Lachman, standing right, in Los Angeles on Sept. 18, 1978. Lear, the writer, director and producer who revolutionized prime time television and propelled political and social turmoil into the once-insulated world of sitcoms, died Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023, at age 101.

After stints living in Massachusetts and Brooklyn, the Lear family settled in Hartford, where Norman graduated from Weaver High School in 1940. Lear went to Emerson College, but dropped out in 1942 to join the U.S. Army Air Forces.

"All in the Family," based on the British sitcom, "Til Death Us Do Part," was the No. 1-rated series for an unprecedented five years in a row and earned four Emmy Awards as best comedy series, finally eclipsed by five-time winner "Frasier" in 1998.

Hits continued for Lear including "Maude" and "The Jeffersons," both spinoffs from "All in the Family." Both shows had the same winning combination of one-liners and social conflict. In a 1972 two-part episode of "Maude," the title character became the first on television to have an abortion, drawing a surge of protests along with the show's high ratings. Nixon himself objected to an "All in the Family" episode about a close friend of Archie's who turns out to be gay, privately fuming to White House aides that the show "glorified" same-sex relationships.

"Controversy suggests people are thinking about something. But there'd better be laughing first and foremost or it's a dog," Lear said in a 1994 interview with the Associated Press.

Lear and Bud Yorkin also created "Good Times," about a working class Black family in Chicago; "Sanford & Son," a showcase for Foxx as junkyard dealer Fred Sanford; and "One Day at a Time," starring Bonnie Franklin as a single mother and Bertinelli and Mackenzie Phillips as her daughters. In the 1974-75 season, Lear and Yorkin produced five of the top 10 television shows.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Ray Hardman is Connecticut Public’s Arts and Culture Reporter. He is the host of CPTV’s Emmy-nominated original series Where Art Thou? Listeners to Connecticut Public Radio may know Ray as the local voice of Morning Edition, and later of All Things Considered.

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