Even at 94, Nor­man Lear is still look­ing out for what’s next

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FIFTY PLUS - By Rob Low­man South­ern Cal­i­for­nia News Group

Nor­man Lear bright side.

“I don’t want to get up any morn­ing that I’m not op­ti­mistic about ev­ery­thing,” Lear says.

At 94, the leg­endary tele­vi­sion pro­ducer and writer jokes that these days he gets ap­plause for just walk­ing across stage, but he is con­tin­u­ing to move for­ward. He re­cently pro­duced a doc­u­men­tary se­ries for EPIX and is re­boot­ing his ‘70s sit­com “One Day At A Time,” which will stream on Net­flix still sees the next year and re­volve around a Cuban-Amer­i­can fam­ily.

On Tues­day, PBS’s “Amer­i­can Masters” airs the doc­u­men­tary “Nor­man Lear: Just An­other Ver­sion of You,” which ex­am­ines the life and legacy of the cre­ator of some rev­o­lu­tion­ary 1970s TV se­ries, in­clud­ing “All in the Fam­ily,” “The Jef­fer­sons,” “Maude,” “San­ford and Son,” “Mary Hart­man, Mary Hart­man” and “Good Times.”

What is amaz­ing about all those shows is how tren­chant they re­main on top­ics such as racism,

abor­tion, pol­i­tics, pa­tri­o­tism and protest.

Lear, how­ever, isn’t sur­prised we are still grap­pling with many of the same is­sues he ad­dressed in his shows four decades ago.

“Hu­man na­ture doesn’t change,” shrugs Lear, whose mem­oir “Even This I Get to Ex­pe­ri­ence” was pub­lished in 2014. “We’ve only re­cently be­gun to fo­cus on top­ics like ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity and gay and les­bian is­sues. We are get­ting there po­lit­i­cally, but I’m not sure as far ad­vanced men­tally and emo­tion­ally. It takes a

lot of time for us to grow.”

Ear­lier this year, Lear helped pro­duce “Amer­ica Di­vided,” a do­cuseries for EPIX, and even went un­der­cover for it. In an episode that looks at gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, dis­place­ment and racial dis­crim­i­na­tion in New York City’s hous­ing sys­tem, he posed as an el­derly man look­ing for an apart­ment

in a se­nior com­plex. He was of­fered two. The day be­fore a black man with the same cre­den­tials tried to do the same thing and was told there was noth­ing avail­able.

“There are so many things that you hear about but that you never wit­ness. So this was stun­ning,” says Lear about the ex­pe­ri­ence.

Lear grew up in Con­necti­cut, and when he was 9, his fa­ther, a trav­el­ing sales­man, went to prison for bond fraud. His strained re­la­tion­ship with his dad would play out in episodes he wrote for his shows.

“I have never been in a sit­u­a­tion in my life, how­ever tragic, where I didn’t see some com­edy,” he says in the doc­u­men­tary by Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing, but you see him tear­ing up as he watches a scene from “All in the Fam­ily” where Archie and Mike talk about their less-thanper­fect fa­thers.

Af­ter serv­ing in the Mediter­ranean in World War II and work­ing in pub­lic re­la­tions, Lear be­gan his tele­vi­sion ca­reer writ­ing for live shows like “Martin and Lewis.” He didn’t try to cre­ate a sit­com un­til he got a tip about a Bri­tish show called “Un­til Death Us Do Part,” which cen­tered on a work­ing-class man and his so­cial­ist son-in-law.

Lear says he won­dered why he never thought of it him­self, but it took him three years to get “All in the Fam­ily” on the air, re­jected twice at ABC be­fore land­ing at CBS. Af­ter that he had hit af­ter hit, at one point hav­ing six of the top 10 shows.

As for his am­bi­tion to re­boot “One Day at a Time,” which cen­ters on a di­vorced mother and her teen daugh­ters, Lear says, “We will be deal­ing with cur­rent prob­lems which these women are fac­ing to­day and which really haven’t changed much in the last 30 some years.”

Through­out his life, Lear has re­mained po­lit­i­cally ac­tive, jok­ingly re­fer­ring to him­self as “a bleed­ing­heart con­ser­va­tive.”

“You will not (mess) with my Bill of Rights, my Con­sti­tu­tion, my guar­an­tees of po­lit­i­cal jus­tice for all,” he says. “But does my heart bleed for those who need help and aren’t get­ting the jus­tice that the coun­try prom­ises them and the equal op­por­tu­nity the coun­try prom­ises?”

So much does he re­vere these doc­u­ments that Lear bought a rare, orig­i­nal copy of the Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence and ar­ranged for it to go on tour around the coun­try for all to see.

He founded the lib­eral ad­vo­cacy group Peo­ple for the Amer­i­can Way. As well, Lear was on Richard Nixon’s “En­e­mies List” and the po­lit­i­cally con­ser­va­tive Rev. Jerry Fal­well once called him the “No. 1 en­emy of the Amer­i­can fam­ily” be­cause of his shows.

Lear has also been awarded the Na­tional Medal of the Arts by Pres­i­dent Clin­ton, won a Pe­abody awards and has three Em­mys. His in­flu­ence on tele­vi­sion is im­mea­sur­able.

Of course, when you make it into your 90s and are still ac­tive, peo­ple want to know your se­cret.

“The crazy thing is that there is no se­cret,” says Lear, wear­ing his sig­na­ture fe­dora. “You wake up in the morn­ing en­joy­ing life. You find some­thing to like about a meal while at the same time you’re wait­ing for the next one.

“I think what I’m say­ing – and it’s some­thing I’ve come to over a num­ber of years – is I do en­joy the mo­ment,” he con­tin­ues. “There are two lit­tle words that couldn’t be more true – ‘over’ and ‘next.’

“When some­thing is over, you gotta get used to know­ing that it is over. Noth­ing is go­ing to bring it back. It is just a mem­ory. What about ‘next’? If there’s a ham­mock in the mid­dle, then that’s what they mean about liv­ing in the mo­ment.

“So this in­ter­view is over, and I’m on to the ‘next’ and so are you. And it took us ev­ery (ex­ple­tive) sec­ond of our lives to get to meet.”

COUR­TESY OF NOR­MAN LEAR

Nor­man Lear

COUR­TESY PHOTO

Nor­man Lear

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