O'CONNOR, CARROLL

U.S. Actor

Best known for his portrayal of cantankerous Archie Bunker on the long-running CBS series All in the Family, Carroll O'Connor has been one of television's most recognized actors for over twenty years. For his work on All in the Family and In the Heat of the Night the actor has received five Emmy Awards, eight Emmy nominations, a Golden Globe Award and a Peabody Award.

O'Connor's acting career began while he was a student in Ireland in the 1950s. Following on experiences in American and European theatre, he established himself as a versatile character actor in Hollywood during the 1960s. Between films he made guest appearances on television programs such as the U.S. Steel Hour, Kraft Television Theatre, the Armstrong Circle Theatre and many of the filmed series hits of the 1960s. But O'Connor became a television star with his portrayal of outspoken bigot Archie Bunker, the American archetype whose chair now sits in the Smithsonian Institution.

In 1968, ABC Television, which had the first rights to the series, financed production of two pilot episodes of All in The Family (then under the title Those Were the Days). But the network's trepidation about the program's socially controversial content led ABC to reject the show. Producer Norman Lear sold the series to CBS, where All in The Family was broadcast for the first time on 12 January 1971 with O'Connor as Archie Bunker. By using humor to tackle racism and other sensitive subjects, All in The Family changed the style and tone of prime time programming on television. It may also have opened the door for political and social satires such as Saturday Night Live and other controversial programs.

Throughout its thirteen seasons the show gained immense popularity (in its heyday, it was said to have reached an average of fifty million viewers weekly), and maintained a groundbreaking sense of social criticism. Archie Bunker's regular stream of racial epithets and malapropisms catalyzed strong reaction from critics. All in the Family was attacked by conservatives who thought that the show made fun of their views, and by liberals who charged that the show was too matter-of-fact about bigotry. The show's successor Archie Bunker's Place, was broadcast on CBS from 1979 TO 1983, and the earlier show also begat two successful spinoffs, Maude and The Jeffersons, one of television's longest-running series about African Americans.

From 1988 to 1994 O'Connor starred in and served as executive producer and head writer for the hit prime time drama In the Heat of the Night. Set in fictional Sparta, Mississippi, but shot on location in Covington, Georgia, In the Heat of the Night may be seen as a continuation of O'Connor's association with television programs designed to function as social commentary by addressing issues of racism and bigotry. O'Connor plays Bill Gillespie, a Southern police chief whose top detective (played by Howard Rollins) is African American. In its 1993 season, the show also featured the marriage of Chief Gillespie to an African American city administrator. The series has received two NAACP Image Awards for contributing positive portrayals of African Americans on television. When the series version of In the Heat of the Night ended, O'Connor produced several made-for-television-movies using the same locations and characters. In 1995, O'Connor's son and co-star on In the Heat of the Night, Hugh O'Connor died of a drug overdose. O'Connor chose to speak out publicly about his grief and his views on the legalization of drugs, and gave a number of well-publicized interviews on these topics on television. He continues to devote much of his time to the social problems surrounding drug addiction.

-Diane Negra

 


Caroll O'Connor
Photo courtesy of Caroll O'Connor

CARROL O'CONNOR. Born in New York City, U.S.A., 2 August 1924. Educated at the University of Montana; National University of Ireland, B.A., 1952; University of Montana, M.A., 1956. Married: Nancy Fields, 1951, child: Hugh (deceased). Stage actor in Ireland, 1950-54; substitute teacher in New York, 1954-56; appeared in plays Ulysses in Nightown, 1958, and The Big Knife, 1959; appeared as a character actor in numerous motion pictures, 1961-71, including Fever in the Blood, 1961, Cleopatra, 1963, and Kelley's Heroes, 1970; star of television series All in the Family, 1971-79; star of Archie Bunker's Place, 1979-83; co-executive producer and star of In the Heat of the Night, 1987-94. Recipient: Golden Globe Award; Emmy Awards for best actor, 1973, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1989; George Foster Peabody Award, 1980; named to Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame, 1990. Address: Lionel Larner Ltd., 130 West 57th St., Suite 10A, Culver City, California 10019.

TELEVISION SERIES

1971-79 All In the Family
1979-83 Archie Bunker's House
1987-94 In the Heat of the Night
1994 Party of Five

MADE-FOR-TELEVISION MOVIES

1969 Fear No Evil
1985 Brass
1986 Convicted
1987 The Father Clements Story
1994 In the Heat of the Night: A Matter of Justice
1995 In the Heat of the Night: Grow Old with Me
1995 In the Heat of the Night: By Duty Bound

TELEVISION SPECIALS

1972 Of Thee I Sing
1973 Three for the Girls
1977 The Last Hurrah
1981 Man, Myths and Titans (writer)
1991 All in the Family 20th Anniversary Special

FILMS

Fever In the Blood, 1961; By Love Possessed, 1961; Lad a Dog, 1961; Lonely are the Brave, 1962; Cleopatra, 1963; Not With My Wife, You Don't, 1966; Warning Shot, 1967; What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?, 1968; Marlowe, 1969; Death of a Gunfighter, 1969; Kelly's Heroes, 1970; Doctors' Wives, 1971; Law and Disorder, 1985

STAGE

Ulysses in Nightown, 1958; The Big Knife, 1959; Brothers, 1983; Home Front, 1984

FURTHER READING

Bennetts, Leslie. "Carroll O'Connor as Detective Chief." The New York Times, 20 March 1985.

Du Brow, Rick. "Thriving in the Heat of Adversity Despite Heart Bypass Surgery and the Personal Problems of his Co-Star Howard Rollins, Carroll O'Connor is Happy in his Work." Los Angeles Times, 17 March 1990.

Farber, Stephen. "An Actor Stands In As Writer." The New York Times, 9 January 1989.

Lamanna, Dean. "Carroll O'Connor: These Are the Days." Ladies' Home Journal (New York), October 1991.

 

See also All in the Family; Comedy, Domestic Settings; Lear, Norman