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Even This I Get to Experience


Edited by Ann Godoff

The dynamic and always controversial television producer shares fifty years of show business and politics, with all the candor and wisdom expected from the creator of All in the Family

The legendary creator of iconic television programs All in the Family, Sanford and Son, Maude, Good Times, The Jeffersons, and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, Norman Lear remade our television culture—while leading a life of unparalleled political, civic, and social involvement. Sharing the wealth of Lear’s ninety years, Even This I Get to Experience is a memoir as touching and remarkable as the life he has led.

In the nineteen seventies, Lear’s comedies were viewed by one hundred and twenty million people per week—yes, one hundred and twenty million—with stories that reflected the most serious issues of their lives and still left them howling. But before this, Lear led a charmed life throughout postwar Hollywood’s golden years, befriending the likes of Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks; writing and directing Frank Sinatra, Robert Redford, Dick Van Dyke, and Martha Raye; becoming the highest paid comic writer in the country while working for Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin. Not to mention, Lear flew some fifty bombing missions over Germany with the Fifteenth Air Force.

Shamelessly in love with the country the Founding Fathers laid out for him while his own father was serving time, Lear won the first American Legion Oratorical Contest speaking about the Constitution. He later founded People For the American Way, a national organization to protect the civil rights and liberties of us all, and bought an original copy of the Declaration of Independence, printed the night of July 4, 1776, not to hang on a wall in his home, but to travel across the country to schools, and libraries, and public institutions to be shared with citizens everywhere.

Married three times and the father of six children ranging from nineteen to sixty-eight, Lear’s penetrating look at family life, parenthood, and marriage is a volume in itself. Told with the charm and candor of one of the century’s greatest storytellers, Even This I Get To Experience is nothing less than a profound gift, endlessly readable and characteristically unforgettable.

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Praise

“The Norman Lear who emerges from “Even This I Get to Experience” is engaging and unpompous, an amusing storyteller who pokes fun at himself and writes with brutal honesty about his life, especially his childhood. And what a story! “The Wall Street Journal

“An entertaining, penetrating celebration of a richly lived life.”Associated Press

“Immensely likeable…[Lear] isn’t always a mensch in “Even This I Get to Experience” (italics, characteristically, his), but at least he can write like one…. In this city, Norman Lear and his post-coaxial contemporaries built a mass medium with their bare hands. On good days — as Lear well recalls, and recalls well — they made it sing. If only more with their talent had lived so long; if only more who live so long had his talent.”Los Angeles Times

“This is, flat out, one of the best Hollywood memoirs ever written… An absolute treasure.” Booklist (starred)

“A TV titan on his memorable life and storied career. Lear, best known as the creative mind behind such classic comedies as All in the Family, Maude, The Jeffersons and Good Times, recounts his extraordinarily eventful life with his signature wit and irreverence. The result is not just a vividly observed and evocative portrait of a long life, but also a fascinating backstage look at the evolution of the American entertainment industry…. Lear writes movingly of his service in World War II, his difficult upbringing and subsequent troubled marriages, and his commitment to liberal causes, evidenced by his founding of the advocacy organization People for the American Way and his purchase of an original copy of the Declaration of Independence. That he makes these subjects as engrossing and entertaining as his Hollywood reminiscences speaks to Lear’s mastery of storytelling and humor. A big-hearted, richly detailed chronicle of comedy, commitment and a long life lived fully.” Kirkus Reviews (starred)

“[A] feisty, thoughtful autobiography… Lear pens sharply observed studies of the creative process on his many iconic productions and bares plenty of raucous, sometimes bawdy anecdotes—readers get to experience a nude and lewd Jerry Lewis…  [I]n keeping with the bigoted, mouthy, complex and loveable characters he created, Lear’s knack for sizing up a flawed humanity makes for an absorbing read.” —Publishers Weekly

“That Norman Lear can find humor in life’s darkest moments is no surprise—it’s the reason he’s been so successful throughout his more than nine decades on earth, and why Americans have relied on his wit and wisdom for more than six. It’s also why Even This I Get to Experience is such a great read.” President William J. Clinton

“Norman Lear could never write a more dramatic, touching, or funnier tale of his life than he’s done here in Even This I Get to Experience.” Carl Reiner

“Many have known the Man behind the stories. Now all of us can know the stories behind the Man. Archie, Edith, Gloria, and Meathead couldn’t have told them better!” —Bill Moyers

Even This I Get to Experience is not just the brilliant, moving story of a man who has lived an amazing number of lives—from making it onto Richard Nixon’s ‘Enemies List’ to changing the face of television—but also a life manual on how to live a life of depth, purpose, and meaning.” Arianna Huffington

“Norman Lear is a hero and a friend . . . he experienced so much in his life . . . sometimes I just want to sit down and ask him questions about life and his perspective . . . to do it right it would take years of interviews . . . but now that he wrote this book I can experience his journey and wisdom over and over again.” —will.i.am

“Fantastic stories from one of the wisest, most subversive, and most beautiful human beings the comedy world has ever known. Like the man himself, this book is charming, awe-inspiring, and hilarious.” Trey Parker

Author Q&A

Excerpt

Carroll O’Connor sat down to every reading of a script worried and unhappy. He was, after all, at the beginning of a process where he was to shed the gentle Irish intellectual Carroll O’Connor to become the poorly educated, full-of-himself blowhard Archie Bunker, spewing a kind of rancid, lights-out conservatism for a television audience that grew quickly to more than fifty million people.

Today’s script was called “The Elevator Story.” Circumstances find Archie on the seventy-eighth floor of an office building. He gets in the elevator reading the hysterical front page of a tabloid. In the car, too, reading his New York Times, is a tall, very elegant black man and a white woman prone to hysteria. Some floors below, the elevator stops and a working-class couple, clearly Latin, gets on. They speak both Spanish and English. She is extremely pregnant and nervous. Archie is annoyed with everyone. And suddenly the elevator jerks to a stop between floors. The emergency causes the pregnant woman to go into labor.

Immediately after the first table reading, which seemed an agony for Carroll, he announced there was no way in the world he would do this show. “But that’s a joke! You know you can’t do that! A baby born on the floor of a goddamn elevator! What’s that all about? I don’t want to talk about this anymore!” I said we were keeping to our schedule with the current script and would gather again to rehearse in the morning. And Carroll left saying it was “Good-bye.”

The next day, Tuesday, the cast collected on time, but for Mr. O’Connor. CBS had formally advised us that All in the Family would be canceled and appropriate legal action taken if they did not have a new episode to air on the expected date. Some time that evening I got word that Mr. O’Connor would be at rehearsal on Thursday.

We worked on Saturday, and when the episode was taped the following Tuesday we got a phenomenal reaction. The audience cheered. Some cried. Everyone agreed it was our best work to date and simply had to win an Emmy. It did. Carroll O’Connor’s Archie was stunning, the scene even better than I imagined. The camera in tight, we see that face reacting to the sounds of the birth taking place below, Archie’s expressions mirroring everything going on—and then, cutting through the commotion, from the center of all life, comes that first cry and Archie melts, simply melts, at the wonder, the mystery and beauty of it all. It was a watershed performance.

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