by Patricia L. Dickson 10/5/14
In a stunning confession, Norman Lear, a liberal sitcom writer during the 1970s, outright admits to the unfavorable attitude he held toward black Americans in the television shows that he created and wrote for. Lear made those comments in an article he wrote in The Hollywood Reporter.
Lear is responsible for the popular sitcoms All in The Family, Good Times, Sanford and Son, Maude and The Jeffersons. I have fond memories of watching all of these shows as a child growing up in the seventies. In the article, Mr. Lear, now 92 years old, talks about the conflicts he encountered with some of his cast members about the scripts (storylines) that he wrote. He had a conflicted relationship with Carroll O’Connor, the star of All in The Family, and John Amos and Esther Rolle, the stars of Good Times. One statement in the article leaped off the page at me. It involved the standard he used in creating the show Good Times that featured a black family with a father in the home:
The Evans family still lived, as marginally as possible, where Mike and Eric placed them, in the Cabrini-Green project. James held down three jobs if he had to. Still, we were determined that: (A) the family would never go on welfare; (B) they would deal with the reality of their world — gangs, drugs, crime, poverty, etc.
The idea that the Evans family would live in the Cabrini-Green project came from one of the black writers for the show (more on him later) that used to live there. However, Allan Manings, a white comedy writer and producer, wrote the storyline for the show and decided that the black family “would live as marginally as possible” and “live with the reality of their world” and Norman Lear agreed with it. How did the white writers know what the reality of their world was? The insistence that he (Norman Lear) knew better than the black actors, John Amos and Esther Rolle, of what black Americans felt and how they talked became the center of disagreement between Lear and the two black actors.
He wrote that after the show began, Esther and John began to feel a personal responsibility for every aspect of TV’s first black family’s behavior. After hearing from friends, family and even their pastor, John and Esther felt the weight of believing themselves to be the public image of their race. It eventually became to be a bit too much for them, especially when they themselves held different views. Lear writes:
The Evans family they thought they should be presenting to the world was becoming too good to be true. Allan and I, their white producers and writers, would often hear from Esther or John, “No, we wouldn’t do that.” Or, “Uh-uh, I wouldn’t say that,” or “She would never feel that way.”
I must admit that Norman Lear was very candid about how he felt as a white writer; however, he clearly reveals how white liberals view black Americans. They have their own interpretation of how blacks are supposed to act and think. I have personally encountered whites who have told me that I am not acting black as though they know how blacks are supposed to act.
Lear also admitted in the article to what he calls inverse racism also known as the soft bigotry of low expectation, when he credited and paid two black writers, Mike Evans and Eric Monte, for work that they did not actually do:
They blew it creatively with a poor copycat of a script. But even though what they wrote was a far cry from what we shot, we did not seek to change their credit as the sole co-creators. I could be confessing to a bit of inverse racism here when I admit that it even pleased me to see them credited and paid. That would not have happened, at least not gratuitously, if they were white.
In addition, Lear attributed all of his scripts that he wrote for Carroll O’Conner, of All in The Family, which included bigotry, to conservatism. Many of the scripts put Carroll O’Conner in conflict with Norman Lear. I read an article a few years ago that after the Show Good Times ended, the black actors left with a sense of shame. I now know why.
Patricia Dickson blogs at Patricia’s Corner.
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