Carroll O’Connor played Archie Bunker’s flagship role on CBS’s innovative show All in the Family for nine seasons (and for another four seasons on the spinoff, Archie Bunker’s Place).
Archie was a working-class father living in Queens, with his cheerful wife, Edith Bunker (Jean Stapleton), his beautiful daughter, Gloria Stivic (Sally Struthers), and his strong political son-in-law, Michael Stivic (Rob Reiner).
He was also, in fact, a bigot (and an ignorant man at that). The character’s predictive perceptions of women, people of color, and sexuality – as well as his son Mike’s vocal challenges to those perceptions – were the backbone of much of the show.
Norman Lear, creator and developer All in the Family along with Bud Yorkin, he drew most of his inspiration for the main character from two origins: a father and a similar character from a successful British partner. Till Death Do Us Part.
Archie Bunker’s character was partly inspired by Lear’s father
In creating a character Archie for All in the Family, Lear was encouraged by a troubled childhood by his own father, gruff salesman Herman Lear, who was charged with fraud when Lear was just nine years old. Lear’s father was often in legal trouble, and he had many of the same faults and prejudices as Archie.
In fact, some of Archie’s most common phrases came – such as calling his daughter Gloria’s husband “the laziest white man he had ever met” and calling his wife , Edith, “blocking herself” – coming straight from her father’s mouth.
according to NPR, Lear’s father would often refer to his son as the “weakest white child he has ever met.”
“He also asked my mother to stop him,” Lear said.
Despite Archie’s flaws, his character was complex and contradictory – like Lear’s own father. In part, the All in the Family explained the creator, it made Archie end up (if he was sad too) because his own father loved him too.
“I can’t say what I really loved,” Lear said of his father. “You hear me talk about him lightly because I can’t make him a villain, you know? ”
Lear also drew inspiration from a British sitcom
While Lear brought in many of his own family experiences All in the Family, he also drew heavily from the BBC1 sitcom Till Death Do Us Part.
In fact, Lear bought the American rights to the exhibition, which contained many notable parallels to the new feather, but which were not exactly identical (similar to the The Office in the UK and USA).
according to Esquire, Archie was based on the memorable character Alf Garnett (played by Warren Mitchell and created by Johnny Speight). Like Archie, Alf had a meaningful wife, Else, as well as a daughter, Rita, who married a politically active socialist named Mike.
Else may have been “old silly moo” rather than Edith’s “dingbat” (Floss mind), but the temples of the characters, deep prejudice, and attitudes toward their husbands were similar. But, Archie – very similar to Steve Carell ‘s Michael Scott compared to Ricky Gervais’ s David Brent The Office – softer around the edges, slightly more open to change, and tastier for an American audience.