New Haven's Norman Lear Still Raising Hell at 94
Try to get Norman Lear to sum up his long list of accomplishments with some winter-of-my-years pronouncement. Just try. He’ll joke, he’ll sidestep, he’ll tell you about projects he has coming up. He loves talking about what’s next.
It’s not that he isn’t proud of his 65-year-plus career as a creator, developer, writer and producer of some of television’s most successful and influential programs, including All in the Family, Maude, Sanford and Son, Good Times, The Jeffersons, One Day at a Time and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. (In 1973 he had seven shows on television — when there were only three major networks.)
He also understands full well the impact of his work as a liberal advocate and philanthropist. The World War II veteran (he was a crew member in a B-17 bomber, flying 52 missions over Europe) co-founded the advocacy group People for an American Way, led major voter-registration initiatives and bought a copy of the Declaration of Independence for more than $8 million in order to share it with the American public.It’s just that the New Haven native prefers looking forward rather than back. And even at age 94 — fit, trim and frisky — he has a new television series set to launch in January and a second in the wings.
“I don’t look back at anything at all,” he says during a phone interview from his home in Los Angeles. “I am happy at this very moment. I am sitting here at a breakfast table with my wife where I have been reading three newspapers, visiting with two glorious daughters who are here and then suddenly you’re on the phone. This is the moment that I’m alive. Everything else preceded it.”
But Lear can’t help the backward glances lately with the paperback release of his memoir Even This I Get to Experience, and in late October he will be profiled on PBS’s American Masters, a 90-minute show that chronicles his life, which spans his “front-row seat” to the history of television, starting with his first job in 1950 with The Colgate Comedy Hour writing for Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.
Talking to Lear, you quickly get the sense he is a spiritual man, one who can veer into Yoda territory, complete with cosmic adages.
Writing the book, he says, “taught me that every moment that I have lived brought me to the moment I am at now: here and alive. I had to live every split second of my life to get to talk to you this morning. We are both alive and living in this moment.”
But what about his early life? How much did his early days in Connecticut influence the man he would become?