For Sally Struthers, the movies were a chance to break out
Prior to All in the Family, Sally Struthers had done a decent amount of work in Hollywood, but she wasn't exactly a known commodity. Before joining Archie and Edith, Struthers appeared in eight episodes of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, thirteen episodes of The Tim Conway Comedy Hour, and two movies: The Phynx and Five Easy Pieces. While those are certainly some significant performances, most of the general public did not yet recognize Struthers by name.
That all changed, however, when the first season of All in The Family was put into re-runs during the summer after its first season aired. Then, for the first time, millions and millions of viewers began to identify Struthers. The problem for her, though, was that she was really only identified as her character on the show, Gloria Bunker-Stivic.
The Getaway, released in 1972, granted Struthers the opportunity to try something new and distinguish herself from her television persona.
"Boy, it better be a good movie," said Struthers in The Miami Herald. "Then the world's going to find out that I'm not Gloria Bunker!"
The Getaway, a heist thriller based on the 1958 novel of the same name, allowed Struthers to work with Sam Peckinpah, an innovative filmmaker famous for his depictions of untethered characters and unrelenting violence. He notably directed movies like The Wild Bunch and Straw Dogs, while his Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid featured a soundtrack album by Bob Dylan.
"Everything I've done on TV," Struthers explained "I've been a silly, sweet, American apple-pie little girl, homespun. And every time I've done a movie, I've been cast as a sort of loose woman, a trampy lady, almost a prostitute type. I guess the two media see me in different ways and I enjoy it because it gives me a chance to go a full 180 degrees."
While Struthers described herself as closer in personality to Gloria, the way the public conflated the two led to some awkward encounters. During the show's original broadcast, folks would constantly walk up to Struthers and address her by her character's name. She hoped, though, that more consistent film work might demarcate her from her television role. There was a problem, though, with timing.
"[The film roles] have been spaced so far apart that each time something new comes out, people think it's the first time I've done something. I did Five Easy Pieces and I got a lot of acclaim, even though I was only on the screen for a total of four or five minutes."
It seems those few moments were not enough to upend the perception that comes with being broadcast into people's homes for hours and hours every week. And while Struthers was grateful for the opportunity to do new things, she was also thankful for her work as Gloria Bunker.
"I like the regularity of it, knowing every morning what I'm going to do, where I'm going to be. Flying around and being in one airport and then in another, I was so lonely. I couldn't believe how lonely I was," she said. Struthers would appear as Gloria in 182 episodes of All in the Family, two episodes of Archie Bunker's Place, and 21 episodes of her own spin-off, Gloria.
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