Norman Lear: 'Just Another Version Of You' | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

Norman Lear: 'Just Another Version Of You'

Play associated audio

When legendary TV producer Norman Lear was young, his father gave him a do-it-yourself radio kit. Lear built it, turned it on and remembers one day hearing a fiery broadcast that spoke kindly of the Nazi movement and ranted against Jews.

"It scared the hell out of me," Lear, who is Jewish, tells weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz. "It was the first time that I learned that I was, quote, 'different.' I started to pay a lot more attention to people who were even more different."

Lear says his political interest and sensitivities started there. He grew up and produced some of the 1970s' most iconic TV sitcoms, including All in the Family, The Jeffersons and Good Times. In those shows, he helped Americans laugh and see the similarities they all share — regardless of race or religion.

Lear also founded a civil liberties advocacy group, People for the American Way. He turns 90 next month.


Interview Highlights

On his relationship with his father

"I was a kid of the Depression. I saw my father's brothers go belly up. My father was always belly up. It's very difficult for me to call my father what he was, so I use 'rascal.' He served time. He was in trouble a lot with the law. He sold some bonds that were fake bonds and went to prison for three years when I was 9 years old. But I can't overstate how much I loved him. You hear me talk about him lightly because I cannot make him a villain. I loved him."

On how his iconic sitcoms represented African-Americans

"As a kid, when I learned I was different, I was also learning other people were considered far more different, like black people in America. When Esther [Rolle] and John [Amos] became very well known as their characters in Good Times, they felt they were representing black people to America, as indeed they were. But they became extremely sensitive to that. So when I wanted to do an episode about Thelma who was 16 and very beautiful, the daughter, having to think about boys that wanted to go to bed with her — just to talk about the subject, we had terrible fights. At one point, I found myself saying around the table, 'Look, we can't argue about these things anymore. The patina of black life I'll never know like you people. But I'm a father, I'm an uncle, I'm a brother, I'm a cousin, I'm all the things you are as a human being.' And what we got out of that was some better understanding that we're really all the same people."

On being a lightning rod because of his political activism

"I've received a lot of death threats. I never intended to be a lightning rod. Somebody asked me in an interview, if I had a bumper sticker, what would my bumper sticker be? And I said, 'Just another version of you.' And that's what I think we all are — versions of each other because we have to come to the understanding that we are one."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Diversity Sells — But Hollywood Remains Overwhelmingly White, Male

Women and minorities continue to be under-represented on TV and in film, both behind and in front of the camera, according to a new study — even though diverse films and shows make more money.
NPR

Italian Cheese Lovers Find Their Bovine Match Through Adopt A Cow

The cheeses of the Italian Alps are prized for their flavor. But the tradition of cheese-making here is dying off. Now remaining farmers are banding together around an unusual adoption program.
NPR

Is The Battle Won And Done For Those Who Fought For Net Neutrality?

In a 3-2 vote on Feb. 26, the FCC approved new rules, regulating broadband internet as a public utility. NPR's Arun Rath speaks with Mat Honan, San Francisco bureau chief for BuzzFeed News, about the political implications of the vote.
NPR

A Neuroscientist Weighs In: Why Do We Disagree On The Color Of The Dress?

Robert Siegel speaks with Dr. Bevil Conway, a neuroscientist at Wellesley College, about the dress that has the whole Internet asking: What color is it?

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.