Steven Appreciates... All in the Family! (or "Dingbat Knows Best")

Steven Appreciates... All in the Family! (or "Dingbat Knows Best")
Rob Reiner, Jean Stapleton, Carroll O'Connor and Sally Struthers (from left) (baby is unidentified; possibly Jason or Justin Draeger)

After a devastating election cycle and months of anxiety, I have decided to steer this blog back to what it was created for - a celebration of things I adore and want to analyze with my own brand of caustic wit. I always abide by that old adage attributed to writer Dorothy Parker: "The first thing I do in the morning is brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue." 

So, in no particular order, I am going to showcase the remnants of my childhood nostalgia and current obsessions, not limited to genre, popularity, or even common sense.

Today's edition of my appreciation series is that show that redefined sitcoms as we know it and shocked the world with its raw, yet hilarious, characters: All in the Family!

The show shares the exploits of the world's most lovable racist Archie Bunker, his "dingbat" and doting wife Edith, their innocent and spunky daughter Gloria, and her communist, "meathead" fiancee Mike. Archie and Mike clash over every ideological, political, and philosophical subject imaginable, yet make peace at the end of the day because they both love Gloria to death.

The show touched on many taboo subjects including racism, rape, and homophobia. Spanning nine seasons and 210 episodes, it is widely considered one of the most successful television shows of all times. It is the first show where all four lead actors won Emmy Awards for their work, as well as racking up 22 total wins. The most culturally iconic moment of the show is undoubtedly when racist and bigoted Archie gets kissed by Sammy Davis Jr., which resulted in tumultuous applause (most of which had to be cut) and is often voted one of the most shocking moments in all of television:

The show is also a legend in volume of spin-offs the show generated. Instead of trying to catalog them all myself, I was graciously provided this chart by Fathom.info:

allinthefamilytree

I remember the first time I watched All in the Family, I was hooked. As a child, I was obsessed with The Golden Girls (chronicled here) and viciously devoured other projects the four lead actresses were in. As I was parsing through Bea Arthur's catalog of works, I came upon an episode of All in the Family entitled "Cousin Maude's Visit" from 1971. In it, Bea Arthur (The Golden Girls' Dorothy) arrives as Edith's cousin Maude to help run the household when all four of the family members come down with the flu. Archie and Maude clash, as Maude is as liberal as Walmart's returns policy and Archie is as conservative as a polo shirt. Their fight comes to an explosive climax in this hilarious exchange:

And now, it's time for everybody's favorite segment of Steven Appreciates: "Steven's Fanatical Five Female Facts!™" of All in the Family:

1. Jean Stapleton (Edith) appeared in the original Broadway cast of Funny Girl with Barbra Streisand as Fanny Brice's mother's friend Mrs. Strakosh, who sets the plot in motion by telling Fanny that "if a girl isn't pretty / like a Miss Atlantic City / all she gets from life is pity / and a pat!"

...Stapleton was also the first choice to play Jessica Fletcher in the now mega-hit Murder, She Wrote, but turned it down. The role eventually went to Angela Lansbury, a role that catapulted her into television fame. Stapleton would become known by all generations for her role in You've Got Mail with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. She died in 2013 at the age of 90.

2. Bea Arthur (Cousin Maude) got her start in the theater, appearing in a heralded revival of Kurt Weill's The Threepenny Opera with Weill's wife Lotte Lenya and The Facts of Life's Charlotte Rae:

...Arthur's first hit on Broadway was as the acidic Vera Charles in Jerry Herman's Mame with Angela Lansbury, for which she was awarded a Tony. Maude, of course, would be given her own successful series, where the tradition of toppling taboo barriers would continue with the first major television episode centered on Abortion. She died in 2009 at the age of 86.

3. Sally Struthers (Gloria) went on to become a great philanthropist and humanitarian with the charity ChildFund, which supports impoverished children in undeveloped nations. Since appearing on AitF, Struthers gained weight and was lampooned mercilessly on South Park. She is currently touring the United States as Dolly Levi in Jerry Herman's Hello Dolly:

4. The Bunkers had some very famous female neighbors played by celebrated character actresses in their nine years on the air. Among them were Isabel Sanford (The Jeffersons) as "Wheezy" Jefferson, Estelle Parsons (Roseanne) as Blanche Hefner, and Betty Garrett (Happy Days/Laverne and Shirley) as Irene Lorenzo.

5. The most iconic, and lampooned, moment in All in the Family's spin-off history is the moment in Good Times when Florida (Esther Rolle) breaks down after her husband James is killed:

... The most famous parody of this moment belongs, undoubtedly, to Family Guy:


I hope you've enjoyed the first installment of my little tour and please comment on this blog with suggestions for future appreciations!

If you like what I do and wish to support my endeavors, I implore you to spend a few dollars each month to support me on Patreon.com! Follow this link to view my page and thank you for your generosity!

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And  the newest episode of my podcast, The Objectivist and The Vegan, has been uploaded to SoundCloud

In this episode, Steven and Jack discuss the results of the election!

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