Guest Author - Edie Dykeman
Born on July 27, 1922, Norman Lear hails from New Haven, Connecticut. He has experienced a long and illustrious career in television writer and producer.
After serving in the Air Force during the Second World War, Lear began a career as a writer in 1950 for such early television shows as The Ford Star Revue starring Jack Haley, Martin and Lewis Colgate Comedy Hour, The Martha Raye Show, The George Gobel Show, and The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show.
In 1958, Lear and director Bud Yorkin formed Tandem Productions and produced several feature films. In 1959, he created a half-hour television series The Deputy. The star? Henry Fonda.
All in the Family was his next big success. The show premiered on January 12, 1971 after three attempts trying to convince producers that the TV viewing audience would accept a show featuring a common working family.
Conceived from the British show Til Death Us Do Part, All in the Family started out slowly with disappointing ratings. It gained momentum and earned several Emmys the first year. After performing well during summer reruns, the show continued to pick up steam during its second season, and then continued as one of the highest ranked shows on CBS over the next several years. All in the Family ended after a nine-year run.
After getting All in the Family off the ground, Lear went on to create such shows as Maude, Sanford and Son (based on the British hit Steptoe and Son), The Jeffersons, One Day at a Time, Good Times, and the cult hit Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. Most of his sitcoms were character driven and dealt with the day-to-day issues viewers could relate to which was probably why his shows were so popular.
In 1980, Lear decided to leave television. He formed the non-profit People for the American Way to work on films. He also founded several other nonprofit organizations. In 1999, he received the National Medal of Arts from then President Bill Clinton.
Lear sold his vast television and film conglomerate in 1985. His later TV attempts received critical acclaim, but none of the shows reached his previous success.
Lear was instrumental in helping Rob Reiner get his start when he financed This is Spinal Tap. His Act III Communications also produced Reinerís films Stand By Me and The Princess Bride.
Lear created the Declaration of Independence Road Trip in 2001 with wife Lyn. They purchased a copy of the document for $8.1 million and organized the tour across the United States so the public could see the document. The tour ended in 2004.
A dramatic reading of the Declaration of Independence was produced and filmed by Lear and Rob Reiner. Introduced by Morgan Freeman, the film featured many well-known readers who took turns reading the document aloud.
As part of the above project, Lear created Declare Yourself, a voter registration initiative that registered well over four million new young voters for the 2004, 2006, and 2008 elections, significantly contributing to the dramatic increase in young voters for the 2008 elections - 24 million at last count.
Norman Lear has enjoyed continued success as an executive, activist, and environmentalist well into his senior years. His legacy will live on for many years to come.