Norman Lear Biography

(Writer and Producer Known for His Popular Sitcoms: ‘All in the Family’, ‘Sanford and Son’ and ‘The Jeffersons’)

Birthday: July 27, 1922 (Leo)

Born In: New Haven, Connecticut, United States

Norman Milton Lear was an American television writer, producer, and political activist best known for developing groundbreaking television sitcom series like ‘All in the Family’, ‘Maude’ ‘One Day at a Time’, ‘Good Times’, ‘The Jeffersons,’ and ‘Sanford and Son’. Lear co-owned Tandem Productions, T.A.T. Communications, Avco Embassy Pictures, and Embassy Communications, Inc. at different points of time. He later founded and served as the chairman of ‘Act III Communications’ which produced notable films like ‘The Sure Thing’ and ‘The Princess Bride’. A self-described "liberal", Lear founded a progressive advocacy group called ‘People for the American Way’, supported First Amendment rights, remained a silent partner of ‘The Nation’ magazine, and was part of the “Malibu Mafia" group. Throughout his long career, he produced over seventy projects. He received several honors and recognitions including the National Medal of Arts and also became one of the first seven television pioneers who were inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame.

Quick Facts

Also Known As: Norman Milton Lear


Spouse/Ex-: Lyn Davis​ (m. 1987), Charlotte Rosen​ (m. 1943 - div. 1956)​, Frances Loeb​ (m. 1956 - div. 1986)​, Lyn Davis​ (m. 1987)

father: Herman Lear

mother: Jeanette Seicol

children: Benjamin Lear, Brianna Lear, Ellen Lear, Kate Lear, Madeline Lear, Maggie Lear

Born Country: United States

Screenwriters T V & Movie Producers

Height: 5'7" (170 cm), 5'7" Males

Died on: December 5, 2023

place of death: Los Angeles, California, U.S.

Grouping of People: Jewish Writer

Ancestry: Ukrainian American, Russian American

U.S. State: Connecticut

City: New Haven, Connecticut

More Facts

education: Emerson College

Childhood & Early Life

Norman Milton Lear was born on July 27, 1922, in New Haven, Connecticut, US, to Jeanette (née Seicol) and Hyman "Herman" Lear, a traveling salesman. He was raised in Connecticut in a Jewish household and had a Bar Mitzvah ceremony. His younger sister was Claire Lear Brown.

At age nine Lear saw his father being imprisoned for selling fake bonds. He thought his father was a “rascal” and later mentioned that the characters Archie Bunker and Edith Bunker from the sitcom ‘All in the Family’ were partly inspired by his parents. The nine-year-old Lear also came across antisemitic commentary of radio priest Father Charles Coughlin, which Lear later claimed to have inspired his lifetime of advocacy.

Lear completed his graduation from Weaver High School in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1940. He then started attending Emerson College in Boston, however dropped out in 1942, to attend the United States Army Air Forces. In September of that year, Lear enlisted in the United States Army.

Norman Lear became part of the 772nd Bombardment Squadron that was deployed to the Mediterranean Theater of Operations during the Second World War and served as a radio operator/gunner on Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bombers. He received the Air Medal with four Oak Leaf Clusters for flying 52 combat missions and was discharged from service in 1945.

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Showbiz Career

Inspired by his uncle Jack, Norman Lear began a career in public relations following the Second World War. He later shifted to California where, as destiny would have it, Lear teamed up with his brother-in-law and aspiring comedy writer Ed Simmons, husband of his first cousin Elaine, and started writing comedy sketches for small-screen features of Martin and Lewis, Rowan and Martin, and others, while doing odd jobs.

Lewis hired Lear and Simmons to improve his acts with Martin and by 1950, Lear and Simmons became their main writers. During the 1950s Lear and Simmons frequently wrote for the American comedy duo’s regular appearances on NBC's ‘Colgate Comedy Hour’.

Moving on, Lear produced the NBC sitcom ‘The Martha Raye Show’. He wrote opening monologues for the NBC variety program ‘The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show’ (1956-61). Lear joined hands with Roland Kibbee to create his first small-screen series, ‘The Deputy’ (1959-61) starring Henry Fonda.

Meanwhile, in 1958, Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin founded the film and television production company called Tandem Productions. Later in 1974, Lear founded T.A.T. Communications with talent agent Jerry Perenchio. TAT produced the 1981 made-for-TV movie ‘The Wave’ based on ‘The Third Wave’ experiment. It won Peabody Award (1981), Young Artist Award (1981), and Emmy (1982). Meanwhile, Lear and Yorkin split in 1975.

Lear produced and wrote the script of the American satirical-comedy film ‘Divorce American Style’ (1967) starring Dick Van Dyke. It fetched Lear an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay. Another Dick Van Dyke-starrer 1971 satirical-comedy film ‘Cold Turkey’ was directed, produced and co-written by Lear.

An article in Variety magazine on the successful British television sitcom ‘Till Death Us Do Part’ inspired Lear to develop a show where he could incorporate his own family experiences with his father. The first two pilots titled ‘Justice For All’ and ‘Those Were The Days’ were taped in 1968, and 1969, respectively following which ABC rejected the show. After the third pilot was taped, CBS bought the rights for the show from ABC and re-titled it ‘All in the Family’. The series, developed by Lear and Yorkin, premiered on January 12, 1971, and following a lackluster first season, it gradually gained attention and ran for nine seasons till April 8, 1979, emerging as the most-watched show in the US. It topped Nielsen ratings for five consecutive years and fetched Lear two Primetime Emmy award nominations. The spin-off continuation of the series titled ‘Archie Bunker's Place’ ran on CBS for four seasons from September 23, 1979, to April 4, 1983.

Lear’s career reached new heights with other hit television sitcom series like ‘Sanford and Son’ (1972-77), ‘Maude’ (1972-78), ‘Good Times’ (1974-79), ‘The Jeffersons’ (1975-85), and ‘One Day at a Time’ (1975-84) and its spin-off that went off-air in 2020 after airing 4 seasons. His sitcoms mostly featured families constantly dealing with significant political and social issues of the day and most of these were shot on videotape instead of film. In 1977, the American Humanist Association bestowed Lear with the Humanist Arts Award.

Norman Lear and Perenchio bought out Avco Embassy Pictures in January 1982 and merged it with T.A.T. Communications Company to form Embassy Communications, Inc. The two later sold Embassy Communications to Columbia Pictures on June 18, 1985. Meanwhile, in 1984, Lear became one of the first seven television pioneers who were inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame.

Tandem Productions became defunct on May 4, 1986. That year Lear founded Act III Communications with Tom McGrath as president. The multimedia holding company produced notable films like ‘The Sure Thing’, ‘Stand By Me’, ‘Fried Green Tomatoes’ and ‘The Princess Bride’.

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Later productions of Lear included shows like ‘Sunday Dinner’ (1991), ‘The Powers That Be’ (1992-93), ‘704 Hauser’ (1994), and ‘Channel Umptee-3’ (1997-98). On May 1, 2017, Lear started a podcast titled ‘All of the Above with Norman Lear.’

Norman Lear received the National Medal of Arts from President Bill Clinton in 1999. Same year Lear and Yorkin received the Women in Film Lucy Award. Lear’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is located at 6615 Hollywood Boulevard. He also received the fourth annual Woody Guthrie Prize (2017), the Kennedy Center Honors (2017), and the Britannia Award for Excellence in Television (2019).

Other Endeavours

Lear founded the progressive advocacy group ‘People for the American Way’ in 1980, in the US to challenge the Christian rights agenda of the 1979, founded Moral Majority. He openly advocated for the advancement of secularism and criticized ideas held by the Conservatives and Christians.

Lear produced the two-hour television special ‘I Love Liberty’ in March 1982 that promoted liberal politics. He mentioned in his memoir ‘Even This I Get To Experience’ that he produced the four-day special, ‘Liberty Weekend’ (1986). He candidly supported the First Amendment and liberal causes. He was a silent partner of ‘The Nation’ magazine and was part of the “Malibu Mafia" group that donated money to liberal and progressive causes and politicians.

He founded ‘Business Enterprise Trust’ in 1989, which ran till 1998. BET celebrated exemplary social innovations, acts of courage, and integrity in American business. The multidisciplinary research and public policy center called ‘Norman Lear Center’ based at the USC Annenberg School for Communication, where Lear provided an endowment in 2000, was named after him.

He was on the National Advisory Board of the Young Storytellers Foundation and wrote articles for ‘The Huffington Post’. He was a trustee emeritus at the American cultural institution called ‘The Paley Center for Media’.

He and his wife, Lyn, shelled out $8.1 million in 2001, to purchase one of the first published copies of the Declaration of Independence. Lear organized the Declaration of Independence Road Trip during the decade when the document was shared with the American people by touring it to all 50 states. It was displayed in several places including at the Live 8 concert in Philadelphia, the 2002 Olympics, the Super Bowl XXXVI, in different museums and presidential libraries.

Lear launched the national nonpartisan, non-profit campaign ‘Declare Yourself’ in 2004, which registered more than four million new young voters in the 2004, 2006, and 2008 elections. ‘Declare Yourself’ premiered at the Presidential Inauguration in 2009.

Selected writings of Lear included ‘Liberty and Its Responsibilities’, ‘Our Political Leaders Mustn't Be Evangelists’, ‘Our Fragile Tower of Greed and Debt’, ‘A Debate on Religious Freedom’ with Ronald Reagan, and ‘Even This I Get to Experience’.

Family & Personal Life

Lear was married to Charlotte Rosen from 1943 to 1956. Their daughter Ellen Lear, a sex therapist, was born in 1947.

His second marriage with Frances Loeb lasted from 1956 to 1986. Frances reportedly received $112 million in a divorce settlement which was one of the largest on record. Their daughters Kate Breckir LaPook and Maggie Beth Lear were born in 1958, and 1959 respectively. Kate is an executive and her husband Jonathan LaPook is a CBS News medical correspondent. Lear and Frances have two grandchildren named Zoe and Griffin Katz.

Lear married Lyn Davis in 1987. Their son Benjamin Davis Lear, according to his memoir ‘Even This I Get to Experience’, was born on July 10, 1988. Their twin daughters Madeline Rose Lear and Brianna Elizabeth Lear were born in 1994.

Lear was the godfather of American actress and singer-songwriter Katey Sagal.

He passed away on December 5, 2023, in his Los Angeles home due to natural causes. He was 101 years old.


Primetime Emmy Awards
2020 Outstanding Variety Special (Live) Live in Front of a Studio Audience: 'All in the Family' and 'Good Times' (2019)
2019 Outstanding Variety Special (Live) Live in Front of a Studio Audience: Norman Lear's 'All in the Family' and 'The Jeffersons' (2019)
1973 Outstanding Comedy Series All in the Family (1971)
1972 Outstanding Series - Comedy All in the Family (1971)
1971 Outstanding Series - Comedy All in the Family (1971)
1971 Outstanding New Series All in the Family (1971)

See the events in life of Norman Lear in Chronological Order

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