Norman Lear turns 100 and shares the meaning of life

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correction

An earlier version of this article contained an incorrect date of an ABC special that will greet Norman Lear’s 100th birthday. The special will be broadcast on Thursday, September 22. This article has been corrected.

What’s left to ask Norman Lear?

The living legend of television has been teaching lessons throughout his life, so when he got the chance to talk to him via email for his 100th birthday, what was he supposed to ask?

Does he know the meaning of life? “Yes, the meaning of life can be expressed in one word: tomorrow.” What advice does he have that stand out above the rest? “There are two little words that we don’t pay enough attention to: over and next. When one is over, it’s over and we move on to the next one. Between those words we live in the moment, make the most of it.” Does he consider a hot dog to be a sandwich? “I consider a hot dog a personal delight.”

His birthday is Wednesday. He planned to spend it in Vermont “in what I call our Yiddish port of Hyannis, with all my children and grandchildren. Right now I feel like I can do a second 100.” ABC will honor Lear on September 22, with what it promises to be a “star-studded” special titled “Norman Lear: 100 Years of Music and Laughter “.

A second 100 would certainly be welcome. At the very least, as actress Rita Moreno suggests, when asked this week to talk about Lear’s milestone birthday, “I wish there was some way they could make copies of him.” Wouldn’t that be wonderful? … What a super, super addition to the human race he is.”

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Or, as his old friend Mel Brooks put it, via email, “Norman has so much to give us, I don’t think 100 is nearly enough.”

In every way he is one of the most important figures in modern pop culture – so much so that you probably already know everything you need to know about Norman Lear.

You probably know his hugely prolific spell in creating and producing some of the most vital TV sitcoms of the 1970s, such as “All in the Family,” “Maude,” “Good Times,” “The Jeffersons,” “One Day at a Time’. and “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.” And you’re probably familiar with the fact that he and his colleagues received accolades for tackling hot-button issues in those shows, including racism and abortion, his characters’ use of humor and the humanity to expose and explore. what he considered the “foolishness”. of the human condition.” Not to mention, as Moreno points out, he often “laughs at” the target of his criticism.

“I have no idea how he did it,” she adds.

You’ve no doubt heard of his political activism, which went far beyond the humanist messages ingrained into his shows. In 1981, he founded People for the American Way, a non-profit organization whose purpose was to challenge the moral majority agenda and eventually became a political action committee. In 2004 he founded Declare Yourself, a campaign to encourage young people to vote. He remains a true believer that the best citizens of the land will survive, should it need to be saved.

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“America has never needed its solid, caring citizens so much,” Lear says. “At 100, we are a long way from the America I believe I was born in. I don’t want to wake up in the morning hopeless, so I’m confident enough caring, sensible Americans are fully committed to the rights enshrined in the Constitution.” guarantees us all and will find their way.”

Summarizing Lear’s 100 years is an almost impossible task, but Rich West, a professor of family communication at Emerson College who taught a course on Lear’s career, provides a thoughtful framework, calling Lear “an electronic therapist.”

His shows ‘forced people to face their own values, their own prejudices, their own beliefs. And really, therapists are the ones who facilitate that.”

“He was determined to bring these provocative topics to television,” West says, referring to “Maude’s Dilemma,” a two-part episode of “Maude,” in which Bea Arthur’s Maude Findlay contemplates — and eventually becomes — an abortion. The highly controversial episode aired two months before 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. And that’s just one of the many, many times Lear’s sitcoms have struggled with tough topics.

“You think of rape and you think of mental health and you think of inflation, you think of alcoholism, you think of domestic violence and poverty. Guess what? They all resonate today in 2022,” says West. “That’s why I believe he’s an icon. It’s not because of what he wrote, but because his themes are supported today. And we’re having conversations today about the same things he wrote about in the 1970s.”

His shows’ made you feel uncomfortable. They made you feel confused. They made you happy and sad. But they always provided some reflection long after the show’s credits, if you were willing to go there,” West adds. “And I think that’s where the critical part of his influence is.”

Justina Machado, who starred as Penelope Alvarez in the Netflix reboot of “One Day at a Time,” which was produced by Lear in 2017, calls him “an American hero,” “a true friend,” and a “genius.” “Getting to know Norman and working with him has been a highlight of my life and career,” Machado says via email. Brent Miller, the president of production for Lear’s Act III Productions, calls him a “life and career mentor,” “a friend,” “a partner,” and a “daily inspiration.”

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Moreno, who turned 90 last year, starred in the updated “One Day at a Time.” She and Lear have become good friends; they love to cut into public appearances and pretend to be lovers who have a spit. It makes her laugh.

“It’s unbelievable because to some extent, he’s never changed in the major ways,” she says. “You know, his politics hasn’t changed. If anything, they might have just gotten a little more radical. But you know, they were radical in the first place.”

Is he a genius? “The only reason I haven’t used the word is that I’m sure everyone uses it. It would be nice to be a little original,” says Moreno. “His sense of humor is divine.”

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