Here's how they cast All In The Family
We all know that All In The Family took some fighting to make it onto the air, but without the actors, the show simply wouldn’t be what it is. But how did Norman Lear go about assembling this Avengers-style all-star cast?
Originally, Norman Lear tried to get Mickey Rooney to play Archie. However, when Lear explained the idea for the show, Rooney reportedly said, “Norm, they are going to kill you. They are going to shoot you in the streets.” With Rooney decidedly out, Lear then pursued Carroll O’Connor because of his role in the film What Did You Do In The War, Daddy? O’Connor played General Bolt, a surly character not dissimilar to Archie Bunker. In a retrospective of the series in Time Magazine, Lear said of O’Connor, “That face. Blustery. I knew it would light up the world in a television close-up.”
For Edith, Lear recalled seeing dozens of women for the role, to no avail. However, he had seen Jean Stapleton perform on Broadway in Damn Yankees and asked to meet with her regarding the role. Stapleton, unlike Rooney, saw potential in the script, and more importantly, in the character of Edith. She said, “She just had a zinger, about one line a page, that just broke his [Archie's] hot air.”
Lear also had someone in mind for Mike before the show even came to be. In Norman Lear’s autobiography, Even This I Get To Experience, Lear recalled that when his daughter Ellen was nine years old, he rented a cottage on Fire Island one summer, where he spent a month with his daughter. The cottage was neighboring another two doors down, which belonged to Carl and Estelle Reiner.
That summer, Lear got to know all nine of the Reiner children, though he took a special interest in Rob, who was only a few months apart from Ellen. Lear recalled, “He was playing with Ellen one day, showing her how to play jacks, when I first thought, ‘That kid is funny.’” It was something that Lear recognized despite Reiner’s young age. Rob's comedic talent was obvious, no doubt partially thanks to his early childhood spent with comedy professionals. Lear also recalled, “Sixteen years later, watching him rehearse with Carroll O’Connor, I would be reminded daily of Rob on the floor with Ellen, teaching her jacks that summer on Fire Island.”
Sally Struthers originally believed that Penny Marshall, who was also up for the role of Gloria, would be given the part because of her physical resemblance to Jean Stapleton. However, Lear liked Struthers so much that he told her, “We decided to make Gloria Daddy’s little girl, and you have the round face and eyes like Archie.”
So, the cast of All In The Family set out to make waves and found themselves making history along the way.
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