Thursday, July 27, 2023

Norman Lear celebrates his 101st birthday

"At close to 99, I can tell you that I've never lived alone.   I've never laughed alone.  And that has as much to do with my being here today as anything else I know."

- Norman Lear in a 2021 speech after he receiving the Carol Burnett Award at the Golden Globes

"I get the kind of care at this age that I see children getting, toddlers getting.  So I'm now a 101-year-old toddler and I'm thinking of two little words that we don't think of often enough or pay attention to: over and next."

- Norman Lear In a video he posted on Instagram today as part of his "#breakfastthoughts" series,

For better or worse, Norman Lear changed the face of American television.  In doing so, he made an indelible mark on social mores and popular culture.  Norman turns 101 years old today, and it can be said without hesitation that has lived a long and fruitful life. Norman is a remarkable screenwriter and producer  He is the man who developed or created such influential sitcoms of the 1970s, such as All in the Family, The Jeffersons, Maude, Good Times, Sanford and Son and One Day at a Time and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.  He is also an outspoken social and political activist.

Norman Milton Lear was born in New Haven, Connecticut on July 27, 1922, the eldest child of Jeanette (née) Seicol and Hyman (Herman) Lear, a travelling salesman.  Norman was raised in a Jewish home and had a Bar Mitzvah ceremony.  His mother was a native of Ukraine and his father's family was from Russia.  Norman spent the earliest days of his childhood in Connecticut, and he had a younger sister, Claire Lear Brown (1925-2015).

By the time Norman was nine years of age, his family had moved to Chelsea, Massachusetts.  His father was sent to prison for selling counterfeit bonds. Norman described his father as a "rascal."  He said that the character of Archie Bunker, a white Protestant on  All in the Family, was partly based on him, while the character of Edith Bunker was partially inspired by his mother.

In 1942, Norman dropped out of Emerson College in Boston and he enlisted in the United States Army Airforces.  After World War II, he moved to California with the intention of becoming a press agent.  Throughout the 1950s, however, he worked with his cousin's husband, Ed Simmons. Simmons and Norman created comedy sketches for the television appearances of such performers and Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, and Dan Rowan and Dick Martin.

Norman wrote the screenplay and produced the 1967 film Divorce, American Style, starring Dick Van Dyke and Debbie Reynolds,  The film was directed by Bud Yorkin.  Yorkin became Norman's longtime producing partner, and the duo went on to produce All in the Family, Sanford and Son, What's Happening!!, Maude and The Jeffersons.

In the late 1960s, Norman tried to pitch the concept of a sitcom based on a blue-collar American family to ABC.  ABC rejected his idea, but the sitcom was eventually picked up by CBS.  All in the Family premiered on January 12, 1971.  The show was loosely based on the British comedy Till Death Us Do Part, about a hot-tempered working-class Tory and his socialist son-in-law.  All in the Family's initial ratings were disappointing, but by the 1971-1972 season, it was top-rated.  

Prior to the groundbreaking All in the Family, CBS's schedule was full of rural comedies such as The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres and Petticoat Junction.  All in the Family changed all that.  It had an urban setting (New York City) and it brought the political and social issues of the day into the living rooms of America.  Norman's politics are decidedly of the liberal persuasion.  However, on All in the Family, Archie's son-in-law, Mike "Meathead" Stivic's liberal attitude was also held up to scrutiny, and  Archie's wife, Edith (Jean Stapleton), was the voice of reason.

Norman has often sparked controversy due to his liberal views and his staunch support for First Amendment and progressive causes.  He is a longtime critic of the politics of the radical Religious Right.  In 1981, he founded People for the American Way (PFAW), a nonprofit organization dedicated to defending the First Amendment.  

At the age of 100, Norman told USA Today that he had no plans to retire.  "I don't consider retirement," he said, "not so long as there's something I want to do when I wake up in the morning.  And there always is.  Some people run.  I don't run.  I wake up and do the things that please me.  That's my present to myself.  That's my prayer.  That's everything."

Norman Lear has been married three times.  He has six children from his three marriages  He wed his first wife, Charlotte Rosen, in 1943,  Norman and Charlotte had a daughter, Ellen (born 1947).  In 1990, the Los Angeles Times reported that Ellen was "divorced" and that she worked "as a sex therapist" in New York.

In 1956, Norman married Frances Loeb in Las Vegas,  They divorced in 1985, after 28 years of marriage.  Norman and Frances had two daughters, Kate (born 1957) and Maggie (born 1959).

Lear married his current wife, producer Lyn Davis on September 5, 1987.  They had three children.  Their son is Benjamin "Ben" Lear. (born 1988).  Ben studied music at New York University and then directed his first film, They Call us Monsters, a documentary about juvenile offenders.  He also wrote directed a 2017 comedy short entitled Bad For The Boats.  Norman and Lyn are also the parents of twin daughters, Madelaine Rose and Brianna Elizabeth Lear (born 1994).  At the time of the twin's birth, Norman was 72 and Lyn was 47.


* Norman Lear's memoir, Even This I Get To Experience, was published in 2014.  

* Most of Norman's sitcoms were shot on videotape before a live studio audience.

* In 1987, Norman became one of the first seven television pioneers to be inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame.

* Norman's second wife, Frances, died of breast cancer on September 30, 1996.  She was 73 years old at the time of her passing.  Frances is generally acknowledged. and she herself claimed to be, the inspiration for the title character of the sitcom Maude, a feisty, liberal feminist played by Beatrice Arthur.  Frances invested some $25 million her divorce settlement from Norman into starting a new magazine called Lear's, aimed at women like herself.  The magazine began publication in 1988 and ceased publication in 1994.

* In 2019, at the age of 97, Norman Lear became the oldest person to win a Creative Arts Emmy.

SOURCES Hollywood Life, "Norman Lear's Kids: Meet The Legendary TV Producer's 6 Grown Children," by Jason Brow, September 22, 2022; ABC News, "Norman Lear celebrate 101st birthday with video about living second childhood,"" by Angeline Jane Bernabe; The New York Times, "Frances Lear, a Mercurial Figure of the Media and a Magazine Founder, Dead at 73," by Enid Nemy, October 1, 1996; Wikipedia; Internet Movie Database (IMDb. Stay updated with breaking celebrity news, old and current television shows or old television shows news by reading TV Banter Blogs.

- Joanne

EDITOR'S UPDATE:  Norman Lear died of natural causes on December 5, 2023 at his home in Los Angeles.  He was 101 years old at the time of his death.

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