Carroll O'Connor ''copied'' Jackie Gleason

O'Connor cited other inspirations as well in a 1993 interview.

Is imitation truly the sincerest form of flattery? 

Pablo Picasso said, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” You can track a lineage of fine art in Picasso's paintings, as he used the Old Masters who preceded him as ingredients for his work. There's Diego Velázquez in "Guernica" and "L’infante Marie Marguerite." He pilfered African art for a period, stealing entire traditions and repurposing them for Western audiences. While he was one of the most prominent examples of recontextualizing others' work, Picasso wasn't alone.

Einstein, too, spoke regularly about stealing ideas. "The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources," he said, plagiarizing outright from Friedrich Hasenöhrl. Einstein also borrowed heavily from the ideas of Isaac Newton, who famously wrote "If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants."

While there's a long, storied precedent for artists using others' work for inspiration, it's still jarring to read the greats admitting to poaching. 

Carroll O'Connor was asked in 1993 which of his two most famous characters he preferred playing. At the time, O'Connor was on TV's In The Heat of the Night, where he played Southern lawman Bill Gillespie. But, like most O'Connor interviews, he was also asked about Archie Bunker, the iconic character he originated on All in the Family. While the Associated Press journalist asked a fairly straightforward "this or that" question, O'Connor's answer was much more revealing about both the characters and his artistic process.

"Archie was harder to play," he said. "I imitated a guy I knew in New York and also copied Jackie Gleason, James Cagney, and Wallace Beery. And I never paid any of them back.

"The Southern accent for Gillespie was second nature to me. I'd gone to the South a lot as a kid and the Southern people embraced me. I knew that character better than Archie."

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cperrynaples 5 months ago
Noticed that he didn't name Rod Steiger who won an Oscar as the original Gillespie!
frances3agape 5 months ago
Any idea which characteristics of Bunker's were from Gleason, Cagney and Beery?
BTW, I remember the bio TV movie "Gleason"; thought Brad Garrett was very good
Yeah, but i HATED that they whitewashed the Pert Kelton story! She did NOT have heart troubles, rather CBS refused to hire her because of Communist rumors! Jackie remained friends with Kelton and even cast her as Alice's mother in '60's Honeymooners!
I had to google Kelton. Will check YouTube for "lost" HONEYMOONERS videos. Yes, sad the way she was treated (and others.) Looks like she was very proficient in theatre and movies. Kudos for Gleason wanting Kelton.
Interesting aside that I just read at
about when he forgot a line. "What would Gleason do to recover? He simply would look at either Meadows or Art Carney, who played Ed Norton, and pat his stomach. You couldn’t miss Gleason’s stomach as he was weighing between 280 and 300 pounds back in the day.
Once someone saw him pat his stomach, Meadows or Carney would guide Gleason back on script. They might ad-lib something to get back to what the writers put together, yet it usually worked."
Going to have to be on the lookout now when watching!
Thanks, cperrynaples, for enlightening us about Pert.
Runeshaper 5 months ago
That's cool. I think it is flattering to imitate others in this way.
frances3agape Runeshaper 5 months ago
Yes, imitate but not copy 100% as to replace.
Obviously O'Conner took the best of each actor in bringing Bunker to likable life
LoveMETV22 5 months ago
" Is imitation truly the sincerest form of flattery?"
"Archie was harder to play," he said. "I imitated a guy I knew in New York and also copied Jackie Gleason, James Cagney, and Wallace Beery. And I never paid any of them back."
Guess Mr. O'Connor did pay some of his inspirations back, by mentioning them in his 1993 interview
with the Associated Press journalist.
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