Norman Lear, Whose Comedies Changed the Face of TV, Is Dead at 101


Other Lear shows had longer lives. “Sanford and Son,” starring the longtime Black comedian Redd Foxx as an irascible junk dealer — and, like “All in the Family,” based on a successful British sitcom — ran on NBC from 1972 to 1977. “One Day at a Time” (CBS, 1975-84) concerned a divorced woman (Bonnie Franklin) living on her own with two teenage daughters. “Good Times” (CBS, 1974-79), a spinoff of “Maude,” was the story of a hard-working Black woman (Esther Rolle) struggling to raise a family in a Chicago housing project — at first with her husband (John Amos) and then, when Mr. Amos was let go, as a widow. (Ms. Rolle herself left the show after the fourth season, unhappy with the direction it had taken, but returned a year later.)

Norman Milton Lear was born on July 27, 1922, in New Haven, Conn., to Herman and Jeanette (Seicol) Lear. His father was a salesman of various things who was not very good at selling much of anything, who sometimes ran afoul of the law, and who had, his son later recalled, more than a hint of Archie in him. He would tell his wife to “stifle” herself just as Archie did, and on more than one occasion he told Norman, “You are the laziest white kid I ever saw.”

Raised mostly in Hartford, Norman graduated from Weaver High School there in 1940 and attended Emerson College in Boston, but left shortly after the United States entered World War II to enlist in the Army Air Forces. He rose to technical sergeant and flew 57 missions as a radioman, most from a base near Foggia, Italy. He received the Air Medal with four oak-leaf clusters.

After the war, millions of servicemen and women took advantage of the G.I. Bill of Rights to attend college, but Mr. Lear decided he would not return to Emerson. With the help of an uncle who was a press agent, he got a job with the publicity firm of George and Dorothy Ross, who had many clients in the theater. He lasted a year before being fired for planting one too many items that were demonstrably false.

He found a way to put his imagination to better use after he and his first wife, Charlotte, moved to Los Angeles in 1949. For a while he and a friend, Ed Simmons, worked as door-to-door salesmen. Eventually they started to write comedy routines together.

Their break came when Mr. Lear called the agent for the popular nightclub entertainer Danny Thomas, who would later become a TV star, and got his home phone number by pretending to be a New York Times reporter. Mr. Thomas appreciated the boldness of the ploy. He also liked the routine the two men wrote for him, and purchased it.



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