One of the most-watched shows from the 1970s, All in the Family was no ordinary sitcom. Indeed, Norman Lear’s creation broke new ground by tackling themes previously seen as taboo for U.S. prime-time comedy. And it was just as interesting behind the scenes, too. So, here are 20 things you may not know about this all-time classic TV series.
20. Carroll O’Connor wasn’t the first choice to play Archie
Carroll O’Connor undoubtedly made the Archie role his own, but he wasn’t producers’ first choice. In fact, Mickey Rooney was originally offered the part but turned it down over fears about its chances of success and its controversial nature. Scott Brady also said no, but later played Joe Foley for four episodes, instead.
19. O’Connor wanted flight money before accepting the role
Based in Italy at the time, O’Connor also took some persuading to accept the role. The actor wanted reassurance his flight home would be paid for if All in the Family stalled at the pilot stage. But as we all now know, producers never needed to take out their wallets.
18. Sally Struthers sued the show’s producers
Frustrated with her character’s lack of development, Sally Struthers took drastic measures. The actress, who played Gloria Bunker, sued producers in 1974 to break free from her contract. The tactic worked and Struthers was given more to do, keeping her on the show for a total of 157 episodes.
17. Lear once threatened to kill Archie off
Struthers wasn’t the only major cast member to threaten producers with a lawsuit. Carroll O’Connor himself missed five episodes in 1974 following a contract dispute with Norman Lear. The pair eventually managed to settle their differences, but not before Lear claimed he was ready to kill off O’Connor’s lead character.
16. O’Connor also sued Lear over a spin-off
And the lawsuits don’t end there. All in the Family produced a staggering seven spin-off series including Maude, Good Times, 704 Hauser and The Jeffersons. Despite not actually appearing on the latter, O’Connor unsuccessfully tried to sue Lear for some of its profits.
15. Isabel Sanford was coerced into doing The Jeffersons
The Jeffersons also caused behind-the-scenes tensions elsewhere. Isabel Sanford, a.k.a Louise Hemsley, initially didn’t want to make the leap to the spin-off. But after producers told her they would write her character out of All in the Family and recast her in The Jeffersons, she soon changed her mind.
14. Two “Archieisms” were derived from Lear’s real family
Creator Lear used his own family experiences as the basis for much of the show. Indeed, two of Archie’s most famous quips were first uttered by Lear’s parents. His father would often tell his mother to “stifle herself.” She would then retaliate with, “you are the laziest white man I ever saw.”
13. The show underwent several name changes
The pilot’s original cast wasn’t the only thing that changed from the finished product. All in the Family was initially known as Justice for All when it was first picked up by ABC. The network then shot a second pilot entitled Those Were the Days.
12. A flop comedy caused ABC to pass on the show
Back in 1969, Turn-On became one of those notorious shows to be withdrawn from schedules after just one episode due to numerous viewer complaints. The negative publicity caused ABC to think twice about screening All in the Family, another potentially controversial show. Instead, the chauvinistic and foul-mouthed lead character known as Archie Bunker eventually found a home on CBS.
11. The show’s piano song intro was a money-saving measure
One of the most memorable things about All in the Family was its musical intro. Here, O’Carroll and Jean Stapleton sat around a piano singing “Those Were the Days” in front of camera. But Lear admits the show only started that way because the budget couldn’t stretch to something more elaborate.
10. O’Connor received royalties for the closing theme
O’Connor also played a part in All in the Family’s closing theme tune, and one which proved to be surprisingly lucrative. The actor received royalties and a co-writer credit for the song “Remembering You.” This was despite the fact the lyrics he penned never ended up being used on the show!
9. Nixon mentioned the show in the Watergate tapes
All in the Family inadvertently became part of U.S. political history when it was referenced in a major scandal. Then-POTUS Richard Nixon was heard discussing the comedy in one of the Watergate tapes that sparked his downfall. He specifically mentioned the 1971 episodes “Judging Books by Covers” and “Writing the President.”
8. It aired because of the Rural Purge
Archie Bunker only made it to air when the new CBS President decided he wanted more socially-relevant programming. Attempting to attract younger viewers, Robert Wood axed several comedies including Petticoat Junction and Green Acres to make way for shows like All in the Family. This became known as the Rural Purge.
7. The famous attempted rape scene was intended for another show
One of the show’s biggest controversies occurred when Edith was forced to fight off a potential rapist just before her 50th birthday party. But, in fact, the scene was originally written for One Day at a Time‘s Ann Romano (played by Bonnie Franklin). It was later used by the New York City Police Department to show rape from the perspective of the victim.
6. Rob Reiner wore a hairpiece
Although he was only in his 20s at the time, Rob Reiner wore a hairpiece from his first season on the show. In fact, the actor/director, who played Michael Stivic, had started balding from a young age. He was also asked by producers to grow a mustache to make his character look older.
5. CBS expected a huge viewer backlash that never came
CBS initially expected that All in the Family’s provocative subject matter and politically-incorrect lead character would spark a huge viewer backlash. It even recruited dozens more phone operators to deal with the anticipated complaints. However, instead of getting offended, the majority of the audience instantly took the show to their hearts.
4. But it did receive complaints about the theme tune
In fact, the only thing that viewers did appear to get riled about was the show’s theme. CBS received numerous calls asking what the unintelligible penultimate line of the song was. The network subsequently re-recorded the tune in which the offending line, “Gee, our old LaSalle ran great,” was enunciated clearer.
3. It was hated by two comedy icons
Of course, not everyone was so enamored with All in the Family. Lucille Ball reportedly hated the fact she was forced to share a network with such an “un-American show.” Another celebrity detractor came in the shape of Bill Cosby, who believed it trivialized racism and promoted bigotry.
2. O’Connor wanted a ’90s revival
O’Connor wanted to extend All in the Family’s legacy in the early ’90s with a brand new series. The show would focus on Archie’s full-time cab driver job and his topical conversations with passengers. However, Lear was left unconvinced and instead decided to focus on developing 1994’s 704 Hauser.
1. One of its actors quit the show due to boredom
The Bunkers’ far more liberal next-door neighbors Frank and Irene Lorenzo were intended to be long-running characters. But while Betty Garrett played the latter until 1975, Vincent Gardenia only appeared as the former for one season. The actor quit the show in its infancy due to finding his character boring.
If you were around a decade earlier, however, you may well remember one of the most popular TV shows to come before All in the Family. Indeed, in the ’60s, it was The Beverly Hillbillies that dominated the ratings. And people seemed to love the rags to riches tale of a ramshackle family who became multi-millionaires after striking oil on their land. Despite its recognition, though, there’s a lot you may not know about this classic sitcom.
20. Buddy and Nancy didn’t hit it off in real life
It’s fair to say that Buddy Ebsen (Jed Clampett) and Nancy Kulp (Miss Jane Hathaway) didn’t exactly hit it off. In fact, the two stars continually fought over politics during the show’s filming. And Ebsen even actively campaigned against Democrat Kulp when she unsuccessfully ran for Congress in the state of Pennsylvania.
19. CBS forgot to renew the copyrights of the first two seasons
Ever wondered why the show’s first couple of seasons are regularly run on various low-budget TV channels? Well, that’s because although network CBS bought the series’ rights following its cancelation in 1971, it failed to renew the copyrights for its first 55 episodes. And this then allowed them to enter the public domain.
18. The show’s creator found the 1981 TV movie cringeworthy
Ten years after its cancelation, the surviving members of the Clampett family reunited for a 1981 TV movie. But it lacked several key actors and had a different setting, and ultimately the unfamiliar set-up failed to connect with viewers. In fact, even the show’s creator later admitted that he was embarrassed by the whole affair.
17. Ebsen demanded his part be redrafted
Buddy Ebsen may have been happy enough to portray Jed Clampett as unschooled and largely illiterate, but he drew the line at the character being portrayed as a complete moron. In fact, the actor initially refused to take the part unless the writers gave Jed a little respect.
16. Max Baer Jr. played his twin sister
The half-witted Jethro Bodine wasn’t the only character that Max Baer Jr. played on the show. The last living star of the original cast also went full drag to portray Jethro’s twin sister Jethrine for 11 episodes of the first season.
15. But Henning’s daughter provided the voice
However, the voice of Jethrine Bodine belonged to someone else entirely: that of Linda Kaye Henning. She was the daughter of the show’s creator, Paul Henning, and she also appeared in nearly every single episode of her father’s second hit sitcom, Petticoat Junction.
14. The show was originally set in New York
As the name implies, the characters in The Beverly Hillbillies up sticks to a swanky mansion in the state of California after coming into money. However, producers initially intended for the family to move to New York, before financial constraints forced them to look elsewhere.
13. Louis Nye was only eight years younger than his on-screen mother
As is often the case in Hollywood when it comes to casting parents and children, the actress who played Mrs. Drysdale wouldn’t have been old enough to be Sonny’s mother in real life. In fact, Harriet E. MacGibbon was just eight years older than her on-screen son, played by Louis Nye.
12. Bea Benaderet was the first choice to play Granny
Bea Benaderet appeared throughout the first season as Jethro’s middle-aged mother Pearl Bodine. But she was, in fact, first lined up to play the character of Granny. After realizing that her look wasn’t appropriate for the character, however, she recommended Irene Ryan for the part instead.
11. CBS axed the show even though it was still popular
Although ratings had fallen from its early ’60s heyday, The Beverly Hillbillies was still pulling in respectable numbers when it was abruptly canceled in 1971. The show was given the axe alongside Henning’s other hit, Petticoat Junction, and several other rural-themed comedies. And the reason? The advertisers wanted to target a more cultured, metropolitan kind of viewer.
10. The owner of the show’s villa died before the first episode aired
Producers arranged to pay Arnold Kirkeby $500 a day to shoot the show at his Bel Air villa for the first season. Unfortunately, though, Kirkeby never got to see his impressive home on screen – he perished in a plane crash less than a year before the show premiered.
9. Kirkeby’s widow broke contract with the studio
Widow Mrs. Kirkeby later made things difficult when she reportedly broke the contract her husband had made with the show’s production company by revealing the mansion’s address. Fans subsequently began to swarm the residence in the hope of seeing their favorite character, and Filmways Productions actually had to stop filming outside scenes at the home.
8. Elly May was robbed of a wedding
The advance publicity for The Beverly Hillbillies’ final season suggested that Elly May would end up hitched to the man that Granny believed was part-frog, Mark Templeton. However, their romance was suddenly axed after just nine episodes and, with the show canceled shortly after, the character missed out on a fairytale ending.
7. John Wayne received bourbon, not money, for his appearance
It seems as though John Wayne made his guest appearance on the fifth season of The Beverly Hillbillies for love, not money. The Western movie legend reportedly only asked for a fifth of bourbon as payment for his brief cameo in the now politically incorrect episode, “The Indians Are Coming.”
6. Max Baer Jr. sued CBS
CBS was sued by one of its former stars when Max Baer Jr. accused them of using his Hillbilly character’s name without his knowledge and for financial gain. The star alleged that the network failed to tell him about their affiliation with the Jethro’s restaurant chain, and that the two parties worked out a clandestine compromise instead.
5. Donna Douglas sued Mattel
And Baer Jr. wasn’t the only cast member to file a lawsuit against a company in relation to their Beverly Hillbillies character. Donna Douglas sued Mattel after they produced an Elly May Clampett Barbie doll and used one of the actress’ photographs on the box without her consent.
4. Critics weren’t fans
“Strained and unfunny,” published The New York Times. “Painful to sit through,” wrote Variety. “The lowest form of humor,” declared Time. And so although The Beverly Hillbillies may have been a runaway ratings hit, critics hated it. These were just some of the scathing criticisms the show regularly faced from the national press during its nine-season run.
3. It originally had a completely different title
Viewers of the pilot, “The Clampetts Strike Oil,” would have sat down to watch a show called The Hillbillies of Beverly Hills. Thankfully, however, producers soon decided on something a little less tongue-twisty, and by the second episode it had been revised to the now familiar The Beverly Hillbillies.
2. It also had a different theme song
“The Ballad of Jed Clampett” was so popular that when it was released as a single it spent three weeks at the top of the Billboard country chart, as well as reaching No.44 on the Hot 100. However, a song named “Banjo Signal” was used as the theme tune for the pilot episode.
1. The show was inspired by the Civil War
The Beverly Hillbillies had an unlikely source of inspiration: various Civil War locations. Yes, Henning had a brainwave on a trip through the rural South in the late ’50s. It was then that he began to wonder how someone from the area in the Civil War era would cope with life in a more modern, urban setting. And so The Beverley Hillbillies was born.