This reverential retrospective shows us the career of Norman Lear, the groundbreaking TV producer.
Norman Lear, television writer and producer is the epitome of a true trailblazer. Born on July 27, 1922 in New Haven, Connecticut, to parents of Eastern European origin, he was raised Jewish. After school, he went to Boston’s Emerson College, but dropped out so he could enlist in the Air Force following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In the Air Force, he was a gunner and radio operator, flying 52 combat missions over Germany in World War II. In 1945 he was honorably discharged.
His next adventure was to move to Hollywood, where he embarked on a career in comedy.
He wrote the original screenplay for Divorce American Style and in 1968 was nominated for an Oscar. A few years later, he created the hit All in the Family and that skyrocketed his fame.
The All in the Family TV series was groundbreaking. It centered around Archie Bunker, the small-minded, blue-collar character from Queens. Americans saw Archie Bunker as a bigoted buffoon, and he was so appealing to them that the show quickly hit #1 in the ratings. It retained that top spot for five years in a row.
Lear had his finger firmly on the American pulse, and that led him to quickly crank out a string of similarly-realistic sitcoms, including Sanford & Son, Maude, Good Times, The Jeffersons and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. He was so tuned in to the American psyche that in the Seventies, he was the producer of a half-dozen of the Top Ten TV shows across the country.
These major successes did not shield him from discontent within. There was a rebellion on the set of Good Times. Some of its cast members were upset about the poor portrayal of African-Americans.
Esther Rolle, who played Florida in Good Times, complained about the buffoonery in the show. Her husband, James, played by John Amos, became so disillusioned that he left after three seasons. That was the peak of the show’s popularity.
Then things got really bad and the Black Panthers stormed Lear’s office. They demanded that he present some positive African-American characters. After that push, Lear decided to create a spinoff show for Archie Bunker’s black neighbor, George Jefferson. He played a wealthy businessman “Movin’ on up!” on Manhattan’s exclusive Upper East Side.
Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You is an intriguing retrospective co-directed by Oscar-nominees Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady. They present a revealing view inside the mind of Norman Lear, a pivotal figure in the evolution of American culture.
Lear, who is now 93, appears prominently in this documentary, as do George Clooney, Jay Leno, Russell Simmons, and many other luminaries.
Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You is alternately penetrating and poignant, as it paints a portrait of a man who shaped American culture.
Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 91 minutes
Studio: Loki Films
Distributor: Music Box Films
Watch the trailer for Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You