Jackie Gleason and Carroll O'Connor wrote to each other about the similarities between Ralph Kramden and Archie Bunker
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 25 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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