Archie Bunker, the “bigoted working-class family man” whose views clash with everyone he meets, was the glue of All in the Family. For nine seasons, audiences worldwide tuned in to watch the Bunker family antics – some made us laugh hysterically, get angry or had us crying, either way, no one missed an episode. Thanks to Norman Lear, the producer, and the cast of Carroll O’Connor, Jean Stapleton, Sally Struthers, and Rob Reiner – it became one of America’s greatest shows of all time. As a result, we rolled up our sleeves and dug deep to uncover some surprising facts you didn’t know about the show – sit back, relax, and get a load of this.
Based on British TV
There’s a British BBC1 show called Till Death Us Do Part, and that my friends, is the sitcom that All in the Family is based off of. So if you’ve got time, watch the British version and see how it comes to one of the greatest television shows of all time.
As it turns out, not everyone was a fan of the show. In fact, Lucille Ball, the star of I Love Lucy, hated the show. Not only did she consider it “un-American” but she was despised that it ran on the same network as her show. Hmm.
Once ABC viewed the show’s pilot, they actually requested a second pilot. Why? Oh, they didn’t the actors! Candice Azzara and Chip Oliver were originally cast to play the roles of Gloria and Michael. Guess ABC knew what they were talking about!
We’ve already mentioned that Archie Bunker was a bit of a “lovable bigot” and there was no changing that. Which is why “that” kiss was so instrumental to the show’s overall image. Moreover, when Sammy Davis kissed Bunker, it received the biggest laugh in the show’s entire run. Hey, when it works, it works.
The Rural Purge
During this era, there were a lot (like, a lot) of western-type television shows on air. However once that phase burned out, due to CBS’s Royal Purge, a lot of new programs were ordered – ergo All in the Family was born.
Paging Harrison Ford
Michael Stivic, the stubborn Polish-American hippie with progressive social values – or as we like to call him, the polar opposite of Archie Bunker. Well, Harrison Ford was actually sought out for the role, but he turned it down.
Norman Lear is the creator and producer of All in the Family who read a Variety about the British show Till Death Us Do Part – and it immediately reminded him of his relationship with his dad. So he put pen to paper and All in the Family was brought to life.
While Norman Lear was developing the first 13 episodes, CBS kept sending him memos – instructing him on what he could and couldn’t use on the show. CBS were looking for something “edgy” but not all that edgy. However Lear ignored each and every memo – thank goodness for that.
What a Wig
So Rob Reiner began to get bald quite early therefore the on production team kept a slew of wigs and toupees on set for the actor. Yikes.
Based On A True Story
Do you remember the episode when Archie and Michael are arguing about the proper way to put on socks and shoes? Turns out that it was based on real life! Rob Reiner and Carroll O’Connor really did get into a debate about the whole thing so when Reiner relied the story to Norman Lear, he loved it so much that he incorporated it into the show!
Those Were the Days, that was the original name for the show. However at the time, there was a popular song of the exact same name which forced the production team to come up with a new name for the show, good decision.
Everyone in the production team prepared themselves for serious backlash – particularly over Archie Bunker’s crude nature. They manned a whole crew of support staff, who were ready at a moment’s notice to answer phone calls of disgruntled viewers. However, that didn’t happen, at all. Viewers absolutely loved the show!
What’s In A Name
Not only did the show have a different original name, but it turns out that the same is true for the Bunker family name. Originally, the Bunker family name was ‘Justice’ and the show’s title was going to be ‘Justice For All’. Safe to say, that’s not a very good title so we’re happy it didn’t make the light of day!
So remember how we said Harrison Ford turned down the role of Michael Stivic, well there’s a reason for that. He despised the charter of Archie Bunker and his bigotry.
Not A Happy Ending
During earlier seasons of the show, Sally Struthers was incredibly unhappy with how discontented her part was. Which is why in 1974, she actually sued in order to get out of her contract. But the writers eventually helped develop the character and Struthers was happier but just for a while.
After Sally Struthers sued the producers, they went ahead and added a provision to her new contract which prevented her from appearing as her All in the Family character anywhere other than on the show itself. Ouch.
Even Carroll O’Connor was unhappy with the show at certain times. Especially about his contract, he had a huge dispute when he demanded 12 weeks of vacation and $64K in backpay. To which Norman Lear responded by filming three episodes without the beloved Archie. Additionally he threatened to kill off the character of Archie Bunker altogether.
Sing In Tune
While it’s true that Edith Bunker cannot sing whatsoever, Jean Stapleton actually can. She did get her start on Broadway, folks! Starring in many hit musicals, like Damn Yankees and Funny Girl.
Edith Bunker’s nasally voice is a pretty big part of the show, well it is. And be that as it may, the nasally voice was born from Stapleton’s Broadway days. While she was performing in the musical Damn Yankees, her character had a bit of nasally voice. Stapleton loved it so much that she used it for All in the Family.
Carroll O’Connor is a jack of all trades, he even wrote the lyrics for the closing song on All in the Family, titled ‘Remembering You’. Not bad at all.
When Rob Reiner was finally cast as Michael Stivic, All in the Family got the green light to air! How crazy.
Close But No Cigar
Scott Brady, who you probably recognize from the Western TV show Shotgun Slade, was considered for the role of Archie Bunker. A role which he obviously turned down. However Brady did appear on the show four times back in 1976 as the character Joe Foley.
All in the Family In Black and White
Initially Norman Lear wanted All in the Family to air in black and white – because that’s how the original British version was done. CBS, however, flat-out refused. Lear responded by furnishing the entire set in neutral tones so that everything appeared devoid of color. Rita Riggs, the costume designer, said Norman Lear only wanted sepia tones so that the viewers would feel like they were looking at an old family album.
Did you know that All in the Family was the first program to air full frontal male nudity? Yup, it’s true. The male in question is Joey Stivic, the three week baby of Gloria and Michael.
Picture this: Norman Lear told Carroll O’Connor that his name would appear first in the second season credits, however O’Connor forced Lear to change this. Why? O’Connor wanted Jean Stapleton to get equal footing as co-lead. So that’s what happened.
Norman Lear held the role of George Jefferson for Sherman Hemsley
Think back to the first time the Jefferson’s were introduced. Remember how we didn’t actually see George, just Louise. The reason for this is because Sherman Hemsley was working on another production and couldn’t be present at filming. So instead of re-casting the role, Lear decided to wait for Hemsley to become available.
Over a span of 15 years, there were actually seven different spin-off shows which stemmed from All in the Family. Seven! Including Maude, The Jeffersons, Gloria, Archie Bunker’s Place, and 704 Hauser.
Turns out that back then toilets on television were completely taboo. However All in the Family was all about breaking the norm and they became the first network TV show to air (wait for it) the sound of a toilet flushing. OH.
Good ol’ Carroll O’Connor was living in Italy when he was told that he landed the role of Archie Bunker. As a result, the producers went ahead and paid for O’Connor to return to the states in order to start filming. Must be nice.
Jean Stapleton Was Loyal To All in the Family
Get this: Jean Stapleton was cast in the hit film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory but she actually turned it down. WHY? Stapleton said she wanted to carry on filming for All in the Family. Talk about loyalty.
During the 60’s, many of the sitcoms would film with single-camera format without a live audience. They instead used a laugh track in order to simulate audience responses. However Lear made the decision to use multiple-cameras format and all in front of a live audience! Like they did back in the 50’s.
Norman Lear used tape to film in front of an audience, and this became the format during the 70’s through the 90’s, due to their success. Furthermore the use of videotape also gave All in the Family a kind of look from early live television, like The Honeymooners.
Back in 1975, CBS went ahead and cut episodes by three minutes in order to play more commercials. However Norman Lear absolutely hated this and offered CBS more money so that they could include all of the three minutes, but CBS still declined.
Mickey Rooney almost starred in the show!
We just can’t picture anyone but Carroll O’Connor as Archie Bunker. So when we learned that the former child actor Mickey Rooney was offered the part, our heads spun! However he turned the part down as he believed “it was too controversial for TV”. Moreover, he didn’t think the show would even be successful – he was wrong.
The Future Mrs. Reiner Almost Played Mrs. Stivic
Penny Marshall, Rob Reiner’s wife, auditioned for the role of Gloria. As she and Reiner were living together, Sally Struthers truly believed they would have better on-screen chemistry and that she wouldn’t end up with the role. With that in her mind, she went into that audition, gave it her all, and landed the part. Later on, a producer told her that she got the part because she had “a fat face and blue eyes like Carroll O’Connor.”
Initially the producers wanted to use an orchestra for the theme tune however due to budgetary concerns, they used Carroll O’Connor and Jean Stapleton instead, singing and playing at the piano. What a good decision in the end!
Whose Line Is It Anyway?
Remember when we said that the network believed they would receive lots backlash over the language used on the show and regarding Archie’s character? So that never happened, but they did get flooded with calls over one nagging question – “What is the second to last line of the opening theme song?” Yeah! No one could understand it, so O’Connor and Stapleton had to actually re-record the part and carefully enunciated, “Gee, our old LaSalle ran great”.
Yup, All in the Family was one of the very first to discuss controversial issues that no other American network television even dared to touch. Topics such as racism, women’s liberation, rape, homosexuality, religion, breast cancer, the Vietnam War, and menopause all appeared somehow on the show.
An NFL player almost starred in the show!
Chip Oliver, the former NFL star, originally played Michael Stivic however the network didn’t like him so he got the ax. Although the Oakland Raider linebacker brushed it off and carried on!
The Life of Politics
Not all that hard to believe that the charter you’re portraying isn’t how you are in real life – which is true in this case. Carroll O’Connor actually doesn’t share the same views as his character, Archie, does. Especially when it comes to politics and social issues, O’Conner is quite the liberal.
O’Connor and Stapleton’s Reunion
While on the Donny and Marie talk show in 1991, O’Connor and Stapleton were reunited! “It was the first time they had gotten together on screen since ‘All In The Family,’ and also Donny and Marie asked if they would do their Archie and Edith voices but they refused.”
Once All in the Family went off air, the spin-off Archie Bunker’s Place picked up not long after. However Jean Stapleton was weary of portraying Edith Bunker so after the first season wrapped off, she left the show and Edith was killed off. So Lear asked Stapleton how to respectfully kill Edith off. To which Stapleton said, “Just have her die off, she’s only fiction.” Lear then paused and replied, “Not to me, she isn’t.” Edith died of a stroke, off-camera.
Originally Norman Lear had planned for the show to end after season eight with the episode finale of All in the Family: The Stivics Go West. They even hosted a goodbye party after filming that episode, moreover they even had a People Magazine cover to help commemorate the finale. However Carroll O’Connor and CBS didn’t want the show to end! So they pulled a few strings, held a few talks, and Jean Stapleton returned, while Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers didn’t.
There was a story arc, which revolved about Gloria’s pregnancy and the birth of Joey, that was meant to air in season five. However after one of Carroll O’Connor’s contract disputes, new scripts had to be written in order to explain Archie’s unexpected and very sudden absence. Oh well, could be worse.
Carroll O’Connor and Norman Lear had a lot of fights during production – not fist fights, verbal ones. In fact there were even boycotts and contract holdouts because of all the fighting. See, O’Connor would argue with Lear over the show’s direction, that he wasn’t always happy with it. Moreover, as O’Connor was also a writer, he would often rewrite some of Archie’s dialogue, and Lear didn’t always approve of this.