Lear, Norman 1922–

views updated Jun 27 2018

Lear, Norman 1922–


Full name, Norman Milton Lear; born July 27, 1922, in New Haven, CT; son of Herman (in sales) and Jeanette (maiden name, Seicol) Lear; married second wife, Frances A. Loeb (an entrepreneur), December 7, 1956 (divorced, 1986); married Lyn Davis, 1987; children: (first marriage) Ellen Lear Reiss; (second marriage) Kate B. Lear LaPook, Maggie B.; (third marriage) Benjamin Davis, Brianna Elizabeth and Madelaine Rose (twins). Education: Attended Emerson College, 1940–42.

Addresses: Office—Act III Productions, 100 North Crescent Dr., Suite 250, Beverly Hills, CA 90210.

Career: Producer, director, writer, and actor. Worked in public relations, 1945–49; freelance comedy writer, 1950–59; Tandem Productions, founder (with Alan "Bud" Yorkin), 1959; T.A.T. Communications (also known as Embassy Communications), founder, producer, production supervisor, and television series developer, beginning 1974; Act III Productions, Beverly Hills, CA, founder, 1987, partner, 1987–; Crescent, principal; Concord Records, chair; Stax Records, owner; also owner or past owner of movie theatres. Museum of Television and Radio, trustee emeritus; Business Enterprise Trust, founder, 1989. American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, cofounder and president, beginning 1973; People for the American Way, founder, 1980, and member of the board of directors; also board member of Constitutional Rights Foundation, Helsinki Watch, Los Angeles Urban League, Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and National Women's Political Caucus. Once worked as furniture salesman and as a sidewalk photographer specializing in baby pictures. Military service: U.S. Army Air Force, radio operator, 1942–45; became technical sergeant; served in European theatre; received Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters.

Member: Writers Guild of America, Directors Guild of America, Producers Guild of America, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, Screen Producers Guild (member of executive board, 1968), Caucus of Producers, Writers, and Directors, Environmental Media Association (cofounder, 1989).

Awards, Honors: Named one of top ten motion picture producers of the year, Motion Picture Exhibitors, 1963, 1967, 1968; Golden Laurel Award nomination, outstanding producer, Producers Guild of America, 1967; Academy Award nomination (with Robert Kaufman), best story and screenplay written directly for the screen, and Screen Award nomination, best written American comedy, Writers Guild of America, both 1968, for Divorce American Style; honorary H.H.D., Emerson College, 1968; Emmy Awards, outstanding new series, 1971, and outstanding comedy series (with John Rich), 1971, 1972, 1973, Golden Globe Awards, best comedy or musical television series, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1977, Emmy Award nominations, outstanding comedy series (with Rich), 1974, and outstanding comedy series (with others), 1976, and George Foster Peabody Broadcasting Award, Henry W. Grady School of Journalism and Mass Communications, University of Georgia, 1978, all for All in the Family; Emmy Award nominations, outstanding writing achievement in comedy, 1971, for "Meet the Bunkers," and 1972 (with Burt Styler), for "The Saga of Cousin Oscar," both All in the Family; Emmy Award nomination, outstanding single dramatic or comedy program, 1972, for "Sammy's Visit," All in the Family; named showman of the year, Publicists Guild, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, and Association of Business Managers, 1972; named broadcaster of the year, International Radio and Television Society, 1973; named man of the year, Hollywood chapter, Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, 1973; Emmy Award nominations (with Rod Parker), outstanding comedy series and outstanding new series, 1973, for Maude; Humanitarian Award, National Conference of Christians and Jews (now National Conference for Community and Justice), 1976; Emmy Award nominations, outstanding individual achievement and outstanding comedy series (with others), both 1976, for Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman; Mark Twain Award, International Platform Association, 1977; Valentine Davies Award, Writers Guild of America, 1977; William O. Douglas Public Counsel Award, 1981; First Amendment Lectureship Award, Ford Hall Forum, 1981; Gold Medal, International Radio and Television Society, 1981; Emmy Award nomination (with others) and Television Award (with others), Writers Guild of America, both outstanding writing in a variety or music program, 1982, for I Love Liberty; Distinguished American Award, 1984; inducted into Television Academy Hall of Fame, 1984; Michael Landon Special Award, outstanding contribution to youth through television, Young Artist Awards, 1984; Emmy Award nomination, outstanding drama, 1984, for Heartsounds; Mass Media Award, Institute of Human Relations, American Jewish Committee, 1986; International Award of the Year, National Association of Television Program Executives, 1987; Lifetime Achievement Award, American Comedy Awards, 1987; Lifetime Achievement Award, Casting Society of America, 1991; Emmy Award nomination (with others), outstanding informational special, 1991, for All in the Family: 20th Anniversary Special; Wise Owl Award (with others), television and theatrical film fiction category, Retirement Research Foundation, 1992, for Fried Green Tomatoes; Laurel Award, television writing achievement, Writers Guild of America, 1993; Lucy Award, Women in Film, 1999; Career Achievement Award, Television Critics Association, 1999; National Medal of the Arts, 1999 (some sources cite 2002); First Freedom National Award, Council for America, 2003; Golden Laurel Award, lifetime achievement in television, Producers Guild of America, 2006; received star on Hollywood Walk of Fame; Norman Lear Center was established at University of Southern California to explore the convergence of entertainment, commerce, and society.


Television Work; Series:

Coproducer and director, The Martha Raye Show, NBC, 1954–56.

Creator, The Deputy, 1959.

Creator and executive producer, The Andy Williams Show (also known as The Andy Williams Series), NBC, 1965.

Creator and executive producer, All in the Family (also known as Those Were the Days), CBS, 1971–79.

Cocreator and co-executive producer, Sanford and Son, NBC, 1972–77.

Creator and co-executive producer, Maude, CBS, 1972–78.

Executive producer, Good Times, CBS, 1974–79.

Creator, The Jeffersons, CBS, 1975–85.

Coproducer, Hot L Baltimore, ABC, 1975.

Executive producer, One Day at a Time, CBS, 1975–84.

Cocreator and executive producer, The Nancy Walker Show, ABC, 1976–77.

Creator, All's Fair, CBS, 1976–77.

Creator and executive producer, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, syndicated, 1976–77.

Cocreator and producer, All that Glitters, syndicated, 1977.

Executive producer, A Year at the Top, CBS, 1977.

Creator, Fernwood 2-Night, syndicated, 1977.

Executive producer, Forever Fernwood, syndicated, 1977–78.

Creator, Apple Pie, ABC, 1978.

Executive producer, Hanging In, CBS, 1979.

Creator and executive producer, The Baxters, syndicated, 1979.

Cocreator and co-executive producer, Palmerstown, U.S.A. (also known as Palmerstown), CBS, 1980–81.

Creator and executive producer, a.k.a. Pablo, ABC, 1984.

Creator and executive producer, Sunday Dinner, CBS, 1991.

Executive producer, The Powers that Be, NBC, 1992–93.

Creator and executive producer, 704 Hauser Street (also known as 704 Hauser), CBS, 1993.

Executive producer, Channel Umptee-3, The WB, 1997.

Television Work; Specials:

Producer, "Love Is a Lion's Roar," General Electric Theatre (also known as G.E. Theatre), CBS, 1961.

Coproducer, The Danny Kaye Show, CBS, 1961.

Coproducer, Henry Fonda and the Family, CBS, 1962.

Coproducer, The Andy Williams Special, NBC, 1962.

Producer, The TV Guide Awards Show, 1962.

Producer, Robert Young and the Family, 1970.

Creator and co-executive producer, I Love Liberty, ABC, 1982.

Executive producer, Good Evening, He Lied, 1984.

Executive producer, All in the Family 20th Anniversary Special, CBS, 1991.

Co-executive producer, "Declaration of Independence," Independence Day 2001, ABC, 2003.

Also cocreator and coproducer of Another Evening with Fred Astaire, An Evening with Carol Channing, and The Many Sides of Don Rickles.

Television Director; Episodic:

"And Justice for All," All in the Family, CBS, 1968.

"Those Were the Days," All in the Family, CBS, 1969.

"The Love Child: Part 1," The Powers that Be, NBC, 1992.

Premiere episode, 704 Hauser Street (also known as 704 Hauser), CBS, 1993.

Television Work; Pilots:

Producer, "Band of Gold," General Electric Theatre (also known as G.E. Theatre), CBS, 1961.

Co-executive producer, King of the Road, CBS, 1978.

Executive producer, A Dog's Life, NBC, 1979.

Co-executive producer, P.O.P., NBC, 1984.

Television Work; Movies:

Executive producer, Heartsounds, ABC, 1984.

Television Work; Other:

Producer, The Thief Who Came to Dinner, 1973.

Television Appearances; Specials:

Bob Hope's World of Comedy, NBC, 1976.

The 30th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, CBS, 1978.

The American Comedy Awards, ABC, 1987.

Hollywood's Favorite Heavy: Businessmen on Prime-time TV, PBS, 1987.

The Television Academy Hall of Fame, Fox, 1987.

Fifty Years of Television: A Golden Celebration, CBS, 1989.

The Fourth "R", CBS, 1990.

Living in America, VH1, 1991.

Host, All in the Family 20th Anniversary Special, CBS, 1991.

The Meaning of Life, CBS, 1991.

Himself, Color Adjustment (also known as Color Adjustment: Blacks in Prime Time), PBS, 1992.

Laughing Matters (also known as Funny Business), Showtime, 1993.

The 9th Annual Television Academy Hall of Fame, The Disney Channel, 1993.

The Gospel According to Jesus, Cinemax, 1995.

Gail Sheehy's New Passages, ABC, 1996.

Corwin, PBS, 1996.

CBS: The First 50 Years, CBS, 1998.

League of Legends, 1998.

Intimate Portrait: Valerie Bertinelli, Lifetime, 1998.

Mackenzie Phillips: The E! True Hollywood Story, E! Entertainment Television, 1998.

Intimate Portrait: Betty Friedan, Lifetime, 1999.

Norman Jewison on Comedy in the 20th Century: Funny Is Money, Showtime, 1999.

All in the Family: The E! True Hollywood Story, E! Entertainment Television, 2000.

Inside TV Land: The Dick Van Dyke Show, TV Land, 2000.

Intimate Portrait: Rue McClanahan, Lifetime, 2000.

"Ben Stein" (also known as "Ben Stein's Brain"), Biography, Arts and Entertainment, 2001.

"Carroll O'Connor: All in a Lifetime," Biography, Arts and Entertainment, 2001.

TV's Most Censored Moments, Trio and USA Network, 2002.

Inside TV Land: Taboo TV, TV Land, 2002.

Inside TV Land: African Americans in Television, TV Land, 2002.

Intimate Portrait: Linda Gray, Lifetime, 2003.

Intimate Portrait: Bonnie Franklin, Lifetime, 2003.

Intimate Portrait: Bea Arthur, Lifetime, 2003.

Intimate Portrait: Isabel Sanford, Lifetime, 2003.

Television Appearances; Episodic:

Himself, The Colgate Comedy Hour (also known as Colgate Summer Comedy Hour, Colgate Variety Hour, and Michael Todd Revue), NBC, 1952.

Host, Saturday Night Live (also known as NBC's Saturday Night, Saturday Night Live '80, SNL, and SNL 25), NBC, 1976.

Guest, Dinah! (also known as Dinah! & Friends), 1977.

Guest, Creativity with Bill Moyers, PBS, 1982.

Interviewee, "Isabel Sanford," This Is Your Life, syndicated, 1984.

The Class of the 20th Century, Arts and Entertainment, 1992.

Himself, "The First Six Years," Everybody Loves Raymond (also known as Raymond), CBS, 2002.

"A Funny Business," Imagine, BBC, 2003.

Voice of Benjamin Franklin, "I'm a Little Bit Country," South Park (animated), Comedy Central, 2003.

The Oprah Winfrey Show (also known as Oprah), syndicated, 2004.

Future Peter Benedict, "Legacy," Jack & Bobby, The WB, 2005.

"All in the Family Episodes," TV Land's Top Ten, TV Land, 2006.

Television Appearances; Miniseries:

TV Land Moguls, TV Land, 2004.

The 100 Most Memorable TV Moments, TV Land, 2004.

The 100 Most Unexpected TV Moments, TV Land, 2005.

Television Appearances; Series:

Host, Quiz Kids, 1981.

Film Producer:

(With Alan "Bud" Yorkin) Come Blow Your Horn, Paramount, 1963.

Never Too Late, Warner Bros., 1965.

Divorce American Style, Columbia, 1967.

The Night They Raided Minsky's (also known as The Night They Invented Striptease), United Artists, 1968.

(And director) Cold Turkey, United Artists, 1971.

Film Executive Producer:

Start the Revolution without Me (also known as Two Times Two), Warner Bros., 1970.

The Princess Bride (also known as The Bridges' Bride), Twentieth Century-Fox, 1987.

(With others) Fried Green Tomatoes (also known as Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe), Universal, 1991.

(With others) Way Past Cool, SNP Home Entertainment, 2000.

Film Appearances:

(Uncredited) Party guest, Come Blow Your Horn, Paramount, 1963.

A Different Approach, 1978.

A Note of Triumph: The Golden Age of Norman Corwin, 2005.



She Turned the World On with Her Smile: The Making of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," 2002.

Audio Recordings:

Norman Lear Takes On the Religious Right, Pacifica Radio Archive, 1983.


Television Series:

Staff writer, Ford Star Revue, NBC, 1951.

The George Gobel Show, NBC, between 1954 and 1959.

Staff writer, The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show, NBC, 1955–57.

Head writer, All in the Family, CBS, 1971–72.

Television Episodes:

The Colgate Comedy Hour (also known as Colgate Summer Comedy Hour, Colgate Variety Hour, and Michael Todd Revue), NBC, 1952.

Premiere episode, The Deputy, 1959.

"And Justice for All," All in the Family, CBS, 1968.

"Those Were the Days," All in the Family, CBS, 1969.

"Stephanie and the Crime Wave," All in the Family, CBS, 1979.

a.k.a. Pablo, ABC, 1984.

Premiere episode, Sunday Dinner, CBS, 1991.

Premiere episode, 704 Hauser Street (also known as 704 Hauser; also based on story by Lear), NBC, 1993.

Also writer for the animated series South Park, Comedy Central.

Television Pilots:

McGurk, 1979.

P.O.P., NBC, 1984.

Television Specials; With Others:

Bobby Darin and Friends, 1961.

The Danny Kaye Show, CBS, 1961.

Henry Fonda and the Family, CBS, 1962.

The Andy Williams Special, NBC, 1962.

I Love Liberty, ABC, 1982.


(With others) Scared Stiff, Paramount, 1953.

Come Blow Your Horn (based on play by Neil Simon), Paramount, 1963.

Divorce American Style, Columbia, 1967.

(With others) The Night They Raided Minsky's (based on novel by Rowland Barber; also known as The Night They Invented Striptease), United Artists, 1968.

Cold Turkey (also based on story by Lear), United Artists, 1971.


The television series Maguy was based on Lear's series Maude.



New York Observer, November 15, 2004, pp. 1, 21, 24.

Washington Post, October 15, 2002, pp. C1, C4.

Norman Lear

views updated May 14 2018

Norman Lear

While much of television's history is filled with banality, writer/producer Norman Lear (born 1922) is credited with enlarging the scope of the medium. With such groundbreaking television series as All in the Family, Maude, and Sanford and Son to his credit, Lear helped usher in an age of enlightenment in American entertainment, where sensitive social and political issues could be discussed without awkwardness.

Norman Milton Lear was born in New Haven, Connecticut on July 27, 1922. His father Herman was a securities broker; mother Jeanette was a homemaker. Lear attended Boston's Emerson College, but dropped out in September 1942 to join the U.S. Air Force during World War II. Writing a war memoir for People magazine in 1995, Lear, an avowed pacifist, admitted he "just had to get into it. I was Jewish and I wanted to kill Germans." Lear received a Decorated Air Medal for his wartime accomplishments. Upon leaving the Air Force in 1945, Lear married and got a public relations job in New York City with George and Dorothy Ross, making $40 a week.

In 1949, Lear moved his family to Los Angeles, California where he entered the world of television, working as a writer for shows such as The Colgate Comedy Hour, and for such comedians as Martha Raye and George Gobel. Several years after arriving in Los Angeles, he divorced his first wife and, in 1956, married Frances Loeb. In 1959, Lear and partner Bud Yorkin created Tandem Productions, which produced motion pictures such as Come Blow Your Horn (1963), Divorce American Style (1967), The Night They Raided Minsky's (1968) and Start the Revolution Without Me (1969).

Broke the TV Mold

In the early 1970s, Lear created a popular situation comedy series that would have a major impact upon television programming. Tandem Productions' new comedy was based on a British series called Until Death do Us Part. Lear and Yorkin secured the American rights to the show and, on January 12, 1971, All in the Family aired on CBS, breaking the taboos of television comedy with hilarious aplomb. Carroll O'Connor was cast as Archie Bunker, a cranky, self-assured working class bigot; Jean Stapleton played Edith Bunker, Archie's dim-witted, doting, and big-hearted wife; Sally Struthers was cast in the role of daughter Gloria; and Rob Reiner took the role of Mike Stivic, Gloria's liberal husband who was in constant conflict with Archie.

In a March 1999 interview on the news program Dateline NBC, Lear addressed the blandness permeating television at the time. "The biggest problem in comedy was Mom's dented the car, and how do we keep Dad from finding out, or the boss is coming to dinner and the lamb roast is ruined. We paid attention to our children. We paid attention to our marriages. We paid attention to the newspapers we read and the culture. And we chose our subjects from all these things that were influencing us." Lear received many professional and humanitarian awards, ranging from the William O. Douglas Award and a Man of the Year Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Both critics and television historians agree that All in the Family had the most impact of any of Lear's productions. After living through the socially and politically charged climates of the 1960s, Lear pulled his stories out of the nation's newspapers and news broadcasts and made them relevant to viewers from all walks of life. The episodes caused controversy, but not at the expense of entertaining the nation. The show explored such charged issues as prejudice, rape, sexual dysfunction, menopause, homosexuality, and religion. As a result, it became a bastion of popular culture, spawning such consumer goods as soundtrack records, T-shirts, and board games. Carroll O'Connor's portrayal of Archie, the working-class bigot, struck a chord with viewers, who made his colorful vocabulary, "Meathead" (referring to his son-in-law) and "Dingbat" (his wife), part of the national lexicon. But while the Archie character was an icon for working class Americans, the show also raised the public consciousness about women's issues through Stapleton and Struthers' characters. Although often overshadowed by her boorish husband, many of the show's strongest episodes revolved around the Edith Bunker character. The role of daughter Gloria closely paralleled the views of the women's movement in the United States at the time.

Despite the accolades and attention given to him in the wake of the show's success, Lear stressed that he did not intend to remedy societal ills. In a 1990 interview with the Los Angeles Times, he explained that the purpose of his show was to "lift up the apparent. They were saying far worse things than this in the schools and on the playgrounds. If I had any sense that this little half-hour situation comedy was going to reverse or change or even seriously affect 2000 or 2500 years of bigotry, I would have to be some kind of fool."

Launched Spin-Off Shows

Lear and Yorkin created several successful spin-off shows based upon characters that originally debuted on All in the Family. Maude featured Bea Arthur as a thoroughly liberated modern woman. Lear's wife, Frances, took credit for the character. In a 1975 People magazine interview she explained that "a great deal of 'Maude' comes from my consciousness being raised by the women's movement; and from Norman's being raised by me." The Jeffersons dealt with African-American bigot, George Jefferson, (played by Sherman Helmsley) and his travails as a successful businessman in white America. Lear created other shows with varying degrees of success, including the Afro-centric comedy Sanford and Son, and its spin-off, Grady; the suburban, surrealist dark comedy Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman; Good Times; and Hot L Baltimore.

Formed Political and Business Ventures

In addition to his television programs, Lear found other ways to express his political convictions. In 1981, he formed People for the American Way, a liberal coalition that promoted pluralism and raised public awareness about issues related to the First Amendment. Lear raised the ire of conservatives by creating a commercial featuring movie star Gregory Peck decrying the 1987 nomination of Judge Robert Bork to the U.S. Supreme Court. Lear scripted a 1982 TV special, I Love Liberty, which promoted liberal politics while acting as a salute to the Bill of Rights.

While Lear has creatively expressed his political viewpoints, his business acumen has made him a wealthy man. Residuals from his various shows have allowed him to amass a $225 million empire. When he dissolved his partnership with Yorkin, Lear started TAT Communications, which was later developed into Embassy Communications. In 1986, Lear and then-partner Jerry Perenchio sold Embassy to the Coca-Cola Company for $485 million. With the proceeds from his share of the sale, Lear financed a new company, Act III, which acquired trade magazines, television stations, and multiplex movie theater chains in secondary markets, in addition to bankrolling motion pictures. Two of the features that the company funded, Stand By Meand The Princess Bride, were directed by All in the Family star, Rob Reiner. When Lear divorced his wife of 29 years in 1986, she walked away with $112 million.

Despite a self-imposed retirement from the world of television in 1977, Lear returned in 1984 with ideas that tried to recapture the thought-provoking climate that made All in the Family and Maude such commercial successes. A situation comedy, a.k.a. Pablo, starring Hispanic comedian Paul Rodriguez stalled. Other Lear shows such as 1991's Sunday Dinner and 1994's 704 Hauser Street failed to capture the success of his previous ventures. In a 1984 interview with the Washington Post, Lear decried the business trends prevalent in the television industry. "God forbid anything be an acquired taste. There's no chance for the public to acquire a taste because they yank it so quickly. As a result of America's fixation and obsession with short-term thinking, everything suffers. In every business, we innovate less and experiment less because of the need not to diminish a current profit statement but to have one that exceeds the last. Wherever we look."

Lear is still active in political and social groups such as People for the American Way and Common Cause. He married his third wife, psychologist Lyn Davis Lear, in 1987, and readily acknowledges that she is a conduit for his inner spiritual growth. In 1989, he founded the Business Enterprise Trust to promote social consciousness and vision in business. The following year, Lear showed support for the NAMES Project's AIDS memorial quilt by making a donation towards its maintenance. He has three daughters; Ellen, Kate and Maggie (from his first two marriages), and a stepson, Benjamin Davis (from Lyn Davis Lear's previous marriage). Lear resides in Mandeville Canyon, California. In late 1998, Lear told reporters he was working on a new show similar to Sunday Dinner that would explore human spirituality. "Every member of the species from the beginning of time has been seeking some understanding of why we're here and what [life is] all about," he told National Public Radio in 1994. "The varieties of religious experience are infinite."

When a reporter from the Washington Post asked Lear if he was worried that his reputation would diminish if each new project wasn't as successful as All in the Family, Lear gave a lucid response. "Of course it crosses my mind. But if you're sufficiently busy, you don't think about it. And I am sufficiently busy. I wake up every morning of my life hopeful, and I believe in the possible."

Further Reading

McNeil, Alex., Total Television: The Comprehensive Guide to Programming from 1948 to the Present, 1996.

Chicago Tribune, May 31, 1991.

Forbes, January 25, 1988.

Globe and Mail, February 8, 1984.

Los Angeles Times, September 20, 1987; December 2, 1990.

Newsday, June 2, 1991

People Weekly, August 7, 1995; October 14, 1996.

San Diego Union-Tribune, May 23, 1995.

Star-Tribune Newspaper of the Twin Cities Minneapolis.-St. Paul, July 2, 1989.

Toronto Star, May 24, 1992.

Wall Street Journal, April 8, 1988.

Washington Post, March 4, 1984

Weekend Edition January 8, 1994.

"Norman Lear Helps Pave the Road to DC," http://www.aidsquilt.org/newsletter/archive/winter95/lear.html □