Carroll O'Connor had ''a very stressful relationship'' with All in the Family producer Norman Lear

The tension behind one the best shows of all time.

Some of the best creative partnerships are fraught with hardship. There's a tension that's necessary in creating great art. George Martin, famed producer of Beatles records, described the Lennon-McCartney dynamic as "two people pulling on a rope, smiling at each other and pulling all the time with all their might." Keeping the rope taught in the middle is exactly what led to so many collaborative wins. However, that same tension ruined the friendship at the center of all those great songs.

Lennon and McCartney were equals in the Beatles, but the energy is very different when the two parties are on unequal footing. A great example is the creative relationship between Norman Lear and Carroll O'Connor. Throughout the production history of All in the Family, these two titans of television battled for creative control of the series.  Lear, as producer, had more impact on each script before it was delivered for the table read. However, O'Connor, as the show's lead, was very vocal in his displeasure towards many of the initial stageplays.

"It was a very stressful relationship," Lear told HuffPost Live in 2014, "but it was joyful stress because it always turned out to be great. I don't know if I can say that for Carroll — I don't know if he was built to accept the idea of joyful stress," Lear said. "But we had a victory at the end of every show because we made 250 people sitting in that audience laugh."

Lear further explained the situation in his memoir, Even This I Get to Experience, describing some of O'Connor's troublesome behavior on set: 

"Carroll sat down to every reading worried and unhappy. It seemed to make little difference whether his problems with the script turned out to be few or many, small or large. Most of the time we'd hear, "It just doesn't work." He wasn't always wrong, of course. But much of the time we were facing fear, a fear that could render Carroll impossible to deal with...For the next eight years, Carroll would continue to dislike every script at the start. It was nothing but fear and blind anger was his only defense. Certainly, he bettered many a scene with it, but it needn't have taken his belligerence to get there."

While the painstaking back-and-forth surely created some headaches for the people who worked on All in the Family, the results are undeniable. The series is one of the greatest of all time, and wouldn't have been the same without either individual's input.

Luckily, too, the relationship between Lear and O'Connor was mended by the early 2000's. 

Lear wrote, "At [O'Connor's]  home on his desk — which was a clear, clean desk —  there was a letter I had written him four years before, in which I blessed him for what he meant for Archie and [said I] was sorry we had the kind of disagreements that stressed him so much," Lear said. "And he kept it on his desk. It was the only thing on his desk, and it had been that way for some time."

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5 Comments

Mark112763 3 months ago
Those were the days... One of my very favorite sitcoms of all time. Archie Bunker reminds me so much of myself and so does the real guy, Carroll O'Connor. I'm just glad to know that he and Lear eventually resolved their differences.
Garylobo3333 3 months ago
It's the greatest American show of all time. Without it, there's no Seinfeld or anything else that was controversial. I'm sorry that COC had to be so negative at times, as Norman Lear said. But the results were glorious!
Claramae Garylobo3333 3 months ago
Carroll O'Conner was my favorite actor. I would think his type A personality and perfectionism may have been misinterpreted as a negative, but as you stated the results were always positive. I believe I've read where Sally Struthers stated that he was a father figure to her.
We can all agree that the show is the best of the best. No other show in my lifetime can touch it. I still watch it and will continue as long as I live.
jodyh05 3 months ago
I love this show. My husband had never seen it and we enjoy watching it together.
Runeshaper 3 months ago
That's very interesting. It's something that O'Connor kept just that lone letter on his desk like that.
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