Jackie Gleason and Carroll O'Connor wrote to each other about the similarities between Ralph Kramden and Archie Bunker

The two TV heavyweights had a real-life crossover.

Do you know the saying, "History doesn't repeat itself, it rhymes"? It's a great pair of glasses to view the world in. One of life's biggest lessons is that nothing is exactly the same twice, but sometimes things can feel so familiar it's like you're putting a mirror up to your own memories.

We were lucky enough to watch history rhyme when, in 1971, just 15 years after we said goodbye to Ralph Kramden in The Honeymooners, we were introduced to Archie Bunker in Norman Lear's All in the Family. The two characters share a number of traits that make both of them memorable; Archie and Ralph are both quick to anger, known for their outbursts and overconfidence and aren't afraid to share their opinions (loudly, if necessary). 

These similarities were visible to viewers and fans, but it also wasn't lost on the actors themselves. As discussed in the book Archie & Edith, Mike & Gloria: The Tumultuous History of All in the Family by Donna McCrohan, actors Carroll O'Connor and Jackie Gleason understood that the two men were more alike than different, so much so that they actually chatted about it at one point.

According to an article in The Washington Post, Carroll O'Connor wrote to Jackie Gleason regarding his role in All in the Family and the inspiration that Gleason had served in his portrayal of Bunker. O'Connor apparently wrote, "I know I am doing some of the things you did." Gleason responded to O'Connor, and wrote, "I wish I had done some of the things you're doing."

While both characters are entertaining to watch and laugh at, the creators of All in the Family and The Honeymooners, Norman Lear and Jackie Gleason, respectively, ensured that these characters weren't so wild that they became too theatrical. Moreover, both creators were also sure to point out that, like everyone, Kramden and Bunker both had moments where they could be downright tolerable. 

While O'Connor was basing his portrayal of Bunker on Ralph Kramden, Lear was writing the character based on his own father. Lear once said of his father, "I could never forgive him for being a bigot. But I found there were other things to love him for." So while Archie Bunker obviously isn't a carbon copy of Ralph Kramden, it's interesting to find that there are slivers of similarity to other people in the character's journey throughout the series, both fictional and real.

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16 Comments

MadMadMadWorld 2 months ago
"...Moreover, both creators [Lear and Jackie Gleason] were also sure to point out that, like everyone, Kramden and Bunker both had moments where they could be downright tolerable."

That's a hilarious way to look at the two characters! Ralph Kramden never got into any political discussions with either wife Alice, or good friend Ed. He was mostly into getting tricked (or bad luck) into some get-rich-quick scheme. It was Archie who spouted the political lines (some outdated now with Nixon then the president), that he loved. One of my favorite and funniest lines said by Archie was on the gun control discussion with his family. Archie said this after daughter Gloria said something about needing more control: "Would you be happier if they were pushed out of windows?!" Hey, a murder is a murder, the "weapon" is not that important, it is the mindset of the murderer who will use any type of way to kill someone he wants to murder. So, Archie had a good point. The same for knife murders, baseball-bat murders, car murders, etc. Murder is murder, so as in car murders, nobody blames or demands "car controls." So, why is the inanimate object (only the gun) highlighted [by loony left-wing wackos, who demand only government owns them--contrary to the desire of liberty and the U.S. Constitution] when other inanimate (i.e., no-brain objects that can't do anything without a human) things are not blamed? Nothing special about a gun, just as in a knife, a car, a scarf (strangulation), a baseball bat, etc.!
Sw0rdfish MadMadMadWorld 2 months ago
Right you are!

There are no “car controls”. I don’t need a license to drive a car, the car doesn’t have to be registered….

Oh, wait….
MadMadMadWorld 2 months ago
Somebody (ies) on the MeTV staff doesn't know how to do basic subtraction. 1971 is not 25 years after 1956, when The Honeymooners ended its short 39-episode run, but only 15 years! Can we get a correction soon, or will the error stay on forever?
I already said that! And yes it was introduced on Dumont's Calvacade Of Stars!
cperrynaples cperrynaples 2 months ago
PS They did correct the error, but they only count the Classic 39, not the lost or color episodes!
Pacificsun 2 months ago
Reply to Cperrynaples

25 years would put it at approximately the year 2000. A glaring miscalculation. When they should've added, what, another 50 years to the calculation. Irrespective of "Specials" wasn't the Series in its heyday, in the Fifties. Which would represent the true mindset of those times (rather than even the Seventies being quite different in perspective).
MadMadMadWorld Pacificsun 2 months ago
1956 + 25 = 1981. Not 1971, nor 2000.
Well, as I said The Honeymooners stretches from 1951 to 1978! Fun Fact: In the summer of 1971, CBS ran a string of color shows with Sheila MacRae as Alice!
Pacificsun 2 months ago
I never thought bigotry was an excuse for a comedy. But admire Carroll O'Connor (and Norman Lear) for setting aside their humanitarian belief in order to accomplish a counter-purpose. In terms of greater viewership, especially in those times. An audience could hide behind the humor for excusing their own prejudice. Which (in this day) is assumed to be so much of an obvious display that it's unmistakable. And yet many people have a version of it which they could never admit in public (or at all). Lear's purpose of course, was to slide back the curtain of pretense as permission to initiate discussion, discovery (and hopefully) purposeful truth. Because the first step always needs to be recognition. And this is a well-admitted explanation in many NL and AITF writings. And for reason is why Norman Lear is to be recognized more so than Gleason (for example). Because of the risk NL took as a Creator / Producer. Which worked only because the audience (and later, fandom) was so accepting. Had he been severely criticized or rejected in the beginning, would've generated a very different story for NL. Although even that result wouldn't have stopped him.

Gleason, on the other hand, presented a novel approach to (physical) comedy. Through gestures, expressions, euphemisms, assumptions, and a whole array of (very quickly) revolving emotions. The real difference was in how close the Ralph Kramden character bordered on spousal abuse. Again, the comedic approach was supposed to excuse his character flaw. Meaning with a (shallow) hug and a kiss or his profession of love at the very end. But seldom within the episode itself. Which definitely made Alice to be the long suffering spouse trapped with Kramden who seldom suffered much (if any) consequence. Except a dent to his pride, or a financial setback. Audiences of the times were very forgiving, and prejudiced towards male (familial) supremacy. As if the Writers back then, couldn't think any differently. This premise required very talented and comically talented actors to pull off, well. Meaning they have to be extremely likeable, so that audiences would keep rooting for them to succeed!
Runeshaper 2 months ago
Both EXCELLENT characters and the fact that Bunker was taking a bit of Kramden was really cool. Thanks for sharing, MeTV! (-:
cperrynaples 2 months ago
That picture reminds me of those old cartoons where a devil and an angel were over a character's shoulder! I wonder which one Ralph represented...LOL! BTW, Jackie was offered Archie Bunker but refused as did Mickey Rooney! BTW, RIP Norman Lear!
cperrynaples cperrynaples 2 months ago
BTW, WTH with the quote "25 years after saying Goodbye to Ralph Kramden"? The Honeymooners began in 1951 and continued with specials through the '70's!
cperrynaples cperrynaples 2 months ago
Apologies for all the BTWs! I write so fast that sometimes I miss the duplications...LOL!
It was another goof by the MeTV staff. From 1956 end of The Honeymooners (39 episodes), to 1971 start of AITF is 15 years; not the 25 years which was the error made.
Yes, but The Honeymooners was also done on Gteason's variety shows as well as specials! You can catch the Lost Episodes on Catchy Comedy! They even include a few of the rarely seen episodes with Pert Kelton as Alice!
cperrynaples cperrynaples 2 months ago
Gleason NOT Gteason! I wrote that at 3 AM!
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