Sunday, February 28, 2010

Carroll O'Connor - remembering you

John Carroll O'Connor was born to a school teacher Mother and lawyer Father in an affluent family in Forest Hills , Queens NY. He grew up with his 2 brothers (one became a lawyer and one a psychiatrist) and played a lot of baseball with the neighborhood kids. He was often called "Fat" or "Chub". O'Connor adored going to movies and idolized the film stars of the 1930s and 40s. He said he never imagined being a part of their world - he just wanted to continue admiring them. His well-to-do educated background led him to college in Ireland where he planned to be a writer, historian and teacher. After acting in a few college plays for fun - he was so embraced and mentored by the seasoned English and Irish actors - he decided to stay in the profession "out of sheer flattery". He said "I wanted to stay with these people who had been so generous and welcoming to me."

Carroll ( as he was always called by his Mother) worked in a few studio films and live TV and in 1970 was given the role of his career: a Queens blue-collar bigot named Archie Bunker. (you can hear all about the genesis of the character, 3 pilots and his dislike for Norman Lear who hardly ever gave him writer credit for his weekly re-writes and improv and certainly never gave him a piece of the spin-off shows - at this link)

The complete 8 part interview is here

Carroll O'Connor had a brilliant mind and acting craft, and his character Archie Bunker became beloved by audiences all over the world. Liberals and bigots alike could appreciate the struggles and buffoonery of the character.

“That was Archie. All his preconceptions keeping him from enjoying life. That was my message. Because Archie never enjoyed anything. Something was poisoning life for him. He didn’t realize that [it] was from inside of himself. His (abusive, bigoted) father had passed on the poison.” - Carroll O'Connor

For 8 seasons on All in the Family and 5 more on Archie Bunker's Place - the character grew and changed and showed his pain and heart. When Jean Stapleton left the role - her character was written off by death. Archie helped America grieve. Jean Stapleton was on the road doing a play when it aired - and said she watched and admired his performance. The next day, the hotel maid came in and saw Jean and almost fainted ( "I thought you were DEAD!")

It was hard for fans to see Carroll O'Connor- the public figure devastated by the drug overdose death of his adult son, Hugh. Carroll followed him in death not long after.

In 1977, Carroll O'Connor played a big city mayor in a TV film (that he also wrote) and came by The Tonight Show to discuss the project with guest-host Frank Sinatra. The intelligent and urbane conversation displayed on the Tonight Show sofa is something this is long gone today.

Carroll O'Connor became friends with many of his childhood film idols like James Cagney.
O'Connor wrote, produced and starred in another successful series In The Heat of The Night (1988-1995)

In 1998, he wrote his autobiography titled "I Think I'm Outta Here" - hundreds of fans lined up at his book signings to meet the man they had been entertained by for decades. The O'Connors spent lots of time with their grandson, Sean.

I leave you with Carroll O'Connor singing the closing theme song - with lyrics that he wrote.

Rest in Peace, Carroll O'Connor. Your talent and charm and wisdom and heart made this world a better place.
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