Goodbye Archie

from: Ed_Zeppelin
8:31:09 AM

Here are some bits of a nice eulogy for Carroll O'Connor in Time. I'm editing out some of the writer's journalism-school bullshit, but overall it's a good read;

A fine actor in his defining role: O'Connor as Archie Bunker

CNN: Actor Carroll O'Connor Dead at 76 Friday, Jun. 22, 2001 The curse of the greatest TV actors is that no one believes they're acting. As Archie Bunker, the beseiged blue-collar bigot and patriarch of "All in the Family," Carroll O'Connor became his character so completely and physically that it was impossible to imagine him as a separate person. It wasn't just his New York-y delivery those "youses" and "terlets" but the way he carried himself: the tousled hair, the bone-weary shamble, the plaintive Irish eyes rolling heavenward at the dingbats and pinkos who surrounded him in his own house.

As O'Connor played him, Archie Bunker was perpetually tired: tired from his job working the loading docks, tired from dealing with the new world of strangers (blacks, Jews, Catholics) who moved into his Queens neighborhood in a period of urban flux, tired of the shocks to his system as a lifetime of immutable values changed around him minute by minute. "All in the Family," the boundary-shattering comedy about what folks used to call "the generation gap," would have been a classic regardless, because of the passion of producer Norman Lear's ideas and the strength of his writing. But the show would not have had the resonance it did, and Archie Bunker would not be one of the three or four most important characters in TV history, without Carroll O'Connor.

Because, make no mistake, the man was acting. Unlike his braying, spluttering character, O'Connor was born in the Bronx but his real voice was no Bronx cheer; he was soft-spoken and thoughtful and said that he never heard Archie Bunkerisms growing up in his well-off childhood home. An accomplished journeyman stage and film actor, O'Connor made Archie into a character dry and operatic, hateful and touching where a cartoon would have sufficed. It would have been easy to make Archie a caricature (and he was one) or a straw man (he was that too). It would have been easy to make audiences laugh at him or dislike him. Dozens of actors could have made Archie Bunker a punch line. Carroll O'Connor made him a part of American history.

...Social justice to Archie was a pot roast on their table and an evening sit-down in his favorite chair. He was Nixon's "silent majority" personified...

Now a younger generation of liberals (like his son-in-law Michael "Meathead" Stivic) was upsetting all that. Their antiwar stance was, in his eyes, an insult to his Greatest Generation experience; their sexual openness shocked his values; and most shocking to him and to viewers their emphasis on civil rights opened the floodgates to minorities and rival ethnic groups, whom he called "spades" and "wops" and "Hebes" and so on without flinching. The flinching, O'Connor left up to us; he never acted to make us love or hate Archie, he said, but just to convey the truth of him as best he could.

"All in the Family" was really a years-long territorial war fought in the home (it's no accident the character's name was "Bunker"). O'Connor played Archie like a shambling, endangered silverback gorilla prowling and growling futilely around the carpeted perimeter of his living room. The values he developed through the depression and a war were fraying and decaying like his upholstered TV-watching throne...

Archie fought the sexual revolution by bemoaning the lusty couplings of Meathead and his "little goil" Gloria. He fought feminism in the person of cousin Maude (and, more subtly, his traditional but steel-spined wife Edith) and integration in the person of his neighbors the Jeffersons. And when the show sometimes veered into preachiness and staged editorials, he kept it grounded with his casual, rumpled humor.

O'Connor's performance remade that most stable of archetypes, the TV Dad. He prefigured Homer Simpson and Al Bundy; he took Ralph Kramden out of the realm of buffoonery and carried him to his logical extreme; he took the benevolent TV dad of the '50s and exploded that figure as irrevocably as a gunpowder-stuffed tobacco pipe. Sure, this was a slap in the face of conservatives, who chafed at the show's Norman Lear liberalism. But the O'Connor's genius was that he played the part well enough to discomfit ideologues on the left too. Archie Bunker proved that satire is TV's most dangerous genre, because it cannot be controlled it requires interpretation, which is anathema to true believers.

...Archie Bunker spoke to a whole country engaged in a second American civil war, fighting bitterly in their own living rooms with people they loved nonetheless. If he was too unreconstructed to admire, he was too real to dismiss: if you could not see yourself, or at least someone you loved, in Archie Bunker, his performance would have been meaningless, a feel-good tonic for a few progressive troops.

By making us feel for Archie Bunker, Carroll O'Connor made us think about Archie Bunker. It was a job he did so well it dogged the rest of his career (even though he went on to win another Emmy as a southern police chief in "In the Heat of the Night"), so well that it seemed easy, obvious and to some, dangerous.

And that, my friends, is what you call ACTING.



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