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Remembering Carroll O'Connor

Aired June 22, 2001 - 21:00   ET



CARROLL O'CONNOR, ACTOR: Hold it, hold it! I'm going to give you just 30 seconds!



LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, he changed the face of television forever. But there was much more to Carroll O'Connor than his groundbreaking portrayal of Archie Bunker. We will hear from actress Jean Stapleton who played Archie's wife Edith, and joining us from Los Angeles to pay tribute to this caring, complicated man, actor/director Rob Reiner, known to millions of viewers as Archie's son-in-law Mike "The Meathead" Stivic. With him, the creator of "All in the Family," the true television trailblazer Norman Lear.

Also in Los Angeles, actor Larry Hagman, one of Carroll O'Connor's very closest friends. Plus, actress Denise Nicholas who played O'Connor's love it on the hit series "In the Heat of the Night," and in Chicago, the director and co-star of Carroll O'Connor's last film, Bonnie Hunt. Those guests and others checking in next on LARRY KING LIVE.

I guess it would be appropriate to begin this tribute with Norman Lear, who after all created "All in the Family" and hired Carroll O'Connor. How did you pick him?

NORMAN LEAR, CREATOR, "ALL IN THE FAMILY": Carroll -- oh, I will never forget Carroll walking into a small office on Sunset Boulevard. His agent had sent him the script, a number of actors received the script. He walked in, didn't want to spend any time, you know, he wanted to read it, so we sat down at a table, he turned the page and started to read as Archie. And as he was later wont to say, and I think it was his expression, "case closed." It was -- that was it.

KING: But he had bought, truly bought a round-trip ticket from Italy to say I'm not sure this is going to work, and I want to go back?

LEAR: So I understand, yeah.

KING: It worked, though? LEAR: It worked.

KING: Rob, how did hear about his death?

ROB REINER, ACTOR/DIRECTOR: I was just coming back from San Francisco, I landed at the airport, and I got into my car to meet my wife and children last night at Dodger Stadium, somebody called me in the car and told me that he had died two hours earlier

KING: Now, you knew he had been -- I mean, he had heart problems, diabetic problems, but it was still a shock?

REINER: It was a shock, because I don't think anybody thought this was going to happen. I know I talked to his wife last night, Nancy, and she was stunned by it too. So.

KING: She was with him, right?

REINER: Yes, she was with him.

KING: How did you hear, Norm?

LEAR: I had come back from lunch, I guess, and my office just told me this has happened.

KING: And you remained friends?

LEAR: We remained friends. We hadn't seen each other that much. As I understand it, it wasn't the habit of the cast to socialize a great deal.

KING: You were not friends?

REINER: Well, we were. I mean, I didn't see him a lot, but we did see each other once in a while, and we ran into each other -- and it's so funny, because the last time I saw him I was out in Malibu, and was -- he and Nancy were at this news stand there, and they had just bought -- he was holding a copy of "The Nation," and I just thought that was interesting. Here is Archie Bunker, the most, you know, right-wing conservative, holding a copy of "The Nation."

KING: Archie would never have purchased "The Nation?"

REINER: No, he wouldn't have bought "The Nation." He didn't know what it was.

KING: Before we ask Larry Hagman -- of course, we don't associate Larry Hagman with Carroll. Denise, how did you hear about it? You were the last one to really work with him, right? Well, Bonnie worked with him as well.

DENISE NICHOLAS, CO-STARRED WITH O'CONNOR: That's right. I was sitting at home, and the call came I guess between 4:00 and 4:30 yesterday, and I knew that he was not doing great. I had spoken to Nancy many times over the last three months, but no indication that this was like this. KING: Did he cast you in "The Heat of the Night?" It was his baby, right?

NICHOLAS: Yes, he did. Actually, they put out a casting call for Denise Nicholas look-alike or type. so I...

KING: Really? And you look exactly like her.

NICHOLAS: Yeah. I told him, I said: "Carroll, guess what? I look like her."

KING: And Bonnie Hunt, how did you come to direct him in his last movie?

BONNIE HUNT, ACTRESS/DIRECTOR: Well, you know, I was so fortunate, and just couldn't believe that Carroll would do something like this, that he would actually be in my movie. When we were writing it, we wrote it for Carroll, just because, you know, he is the kind of actor that gives any writer's words instant credibility. And -- but we never in a million years imagined that we would be fortunate enough to have him work with us.

And I wrote him a letter, begging him to at least read the script, and he read the script and called me and told me I didn't have enough money to hire Carroll O'Connor, "but listen, sweetheart, I'll have dinner with you just because your letter was so nice." And I said OK.

So, my husband and I went out to Malibu and had dinner with Carroll, and we spoke very little of the script. We spoke mostly about his son Hugh and my family, and you know, at the end of the meal, he said: "I'm doing your picture, kid." And I cried all the way home in the car, because I couldn't believe it.

KING: And he was brilliant.

HUNT: Wasn't he great? He was so great.

KING: Larry, you and Carroll O'Connor -- I know of no move you did with Carroll O'Connor.

LARRY HAGMAN, ACTOR, CLOSE FRIEND OF O'CONNOR: Oh, I've done a bunch of them.

KING: Yeah?


KING: We didn't associate Larry...

HAGMAN: Well, Carroll and I met when he was assistant stage manager in a play I was doing on Broadway, called "God and Kate Murphy, or a Priest in the House," and I had one of the starring roles with a whole bunch of wonderful actors.

But we became friends in the Terrain Hotel in Boston. We were on the road forever, and my daughter was about almost a year old, she used to wander up and down the halls naked, and he would grab her in and keep her there until -- and she was just...

KING: Were you friends then, since?

HAGMAN: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, we had an apartment in New York -- I had a 10-room apartment with three bathrooms, paid $129 a month for it, and we had hot water. But he lived two blocks away, he had a cold-water flat, what you would call in those days, and he used to come over on Saturdays to take a bath and have diner.

KING: Really?


KING: You were friends then all through the years?

HAGMAN: Oh, yeah, 42 years.

KING: Let's discuss his talent. What -- how would you assess him?

LEAR: Oh, my God, in the words of Archie Bunker, "he made me laugh in places I didn't know I had," and the two of them together in moments that live in my mind. I never put on shoes in the morning, I swear to God this to be the truth, without thinking of Carroll and Mike, Archie and Mike, sitting -- you describe this.

REINER: Well, I mean, he sees me -- and this is actually the way I do put my shoes and socks on. I put one sock on, and then one shoe, then I put the other sock on and the other shoe.

KING: You do that as Rob Reiner.

REINER: As a human being on the planet, this is what I do. Carroll -- we were doing a rehearsal, and he walks in and he looks at me, and he says: "What are you doing?" I said: "I'm putting my shoes and socks on."

He says: "No, you don't do it that way. You put a sock, and then a sock, and then a shoe and a shoe." I said: "But this is the way I do it." He says: "What if there is a fire in the house?" He says: "You don't -- you walk around" -- I say: "Look, I can -- I put the sock and shoe on, I can hop around. I can hop around if I get one on." And he says: "Well, don't do it like that." He says: "You are doing it wrong. Do it this way and do it this way for the rest of your life."

And people -- that's one of the scenes, the most quoted scenes. People come up to me all the time telling me how they put their socks and shoes on.

KING: We'll back with our group on this tribute to the late -- it's hard to say that -- the late Carroll O'Connor. This is LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.


O'CONNOR: Don't you know that the whole world puts on a sock and a sock and a shoe and a shoe?


REINER: I like to take care of one foot at a time!

O'CONNOR: That's the dumbest thing I ever heard, you know that?

REINER: It's just as quick my way.

O'CONNOR: Wait a minute, that ain't the -- see what I -- don't keep doing it, listen to me!


O'CONNOR: Suppose there is a fire in the house, and you got to run for your life? Your way, all you got on is one shoe and a sock. My way, you got on a sock and a sock. You see, you are even.




ROB REINER, ACTOR: What about you two? What happened on your first date?

O'CONNOR: Oh, make believe you don't hear that.

JEAN STAPLETON, ACTRESS: Oh, I will never forget it.


O'CONNOR: All right, don't make it a long story.

STAPLETON: Yeah. I was at the Puritan Maid ice cream -- me and my cousin Mort.

O'CONNOR: Mooort!

STAPLETON: We was having one of their specials. It was called a Steamboat -- oh, it was so delicious. Five different flavors, and Archie was sitting at another table, with that Jefferson Pratt, remember him?

Anyway, Archie was trying to get my attention. So first he put two straws in his nose like a Walrus. And then...


KING: Sixty million people watched that program. Earlier this afternoon, I had the occasion to speak on the phone with Jean Stapleton. Listen. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Jean, we know that Carroll had doubts about the success of "All in the Family," asked for a one way trip home. Did you did you have doubts about that show being a success?

STAPLETON: I didn't have any opinion. It was the first series I had ever done. And I was just green as they could come about it. And I just hoped for the best. And I didn't really predict anything. Norman Lear told us not to believe anything until we were in the studio, if picked up.

KING: The magic between you and Carroll, was that -- that kind of chemistry -- was that immediate?

STAPLETON: Oh, I think so. I mean, we were actors, you know, and I just admired his work. I think he is one of finest actors that our country ever had.

KING: Really?

STAPLETON: Oh, yes. Well look at the versatility that we can see even now on reruns in his other work, too. It is marvelous. The range he had. And in his movie, he played that Irish bar owner, in that movie "Return to Me."

KING: Great.

STAPLETON: And it didn't even hint of Irish Archie Bunker, you know. He was wonderful.

KING: I guess we could call him the classic character actor, right?

STAPLETON: Oh, I think so, yes. And brilliant, and one of our finest.

KING: I saw a "TV Guide" critic earlier today on CNN, said another thing to watch was his incredible body language. He made you, you may have hated what Archie stood for, but you liked him just on the way moved.

STAPLETON: Yes, he understood that man, and of course his nature was totally different and the opposite of what Archie Bunker expressed, but he understood him and you are right about the body language. Yes.

KING: Were you surprised at that show's success?

STAPLETON: I -- I don't -- I don't know if I was surprised. I was just so delighted. But it didn't take off until the summer reruns. And that was interesting. I just loved doing it from the very beginning. And of course we waited. We did three pilots, and with...

KING: That's right, it was originally a British show. STAPLETON: Yes, "Till Death Do Us Part" and the part I played was a very abrasive character in the English series.

KING: Really.

STAPLETON: Quite different, oh yes. And Dandy Nichols played it -- a great character actress, not with us any longer -- but we had those three and we had at least a period of two years waiting to see its future.

KING: Tell me about working with Carroll. What kind of person he was to work with. You already told us what kind of actor he was. What kind of person was he?

STAPLETON: Oh, warm. Delightful. Great sense of humor. Very, very gentle man. Really adorable. Hugable.

KING: Did you know he was ill?

STAPLETON: Well, he has had problems for the last few years. I knew that. And he had -- he had several visits to the hospital that Nancy knows more about it than I do. But I was aware of that, and I didn't see him a lot. We don't see each other a lot. But always loved him, and he was a very generous partner to act with, very generous.

KING: That is great to hear. Jean, I thank you so much for spending this moment with us. Good luck on the road with the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) play.


KING: I'm sorry, and good luck with it.

STAPLETON: Lovely speaking to you, thank you. All right, bye- bye.

KING: Jean Stapleton. We will always know her as "Edith."


KING: You were mentioning, Rob, about that movement aspect which we discussed, that you learned a lot from him.

REINER: Well, you know, he, aside from the fact he was an incredible actor and created probably the most indelible character ever in the history of American television, he was more than that. He was an intellect and he was a writer, and he understood theater and how a play is constructed.

And he brought all of those talents to bear as well. You know, I have often said that Norman Lear and Carroll O'Connor set a tone. And I think that tone is what made the show work, because we were allowed as actors, to contribute to the creation of each of the shows. It was not just actors showing up and saying lines, the scene like you with the sock in a sock and a shoe, that was improvised. We did that on, you know...

KING: Did the writers like that, Norm? Because some writers wouldn't.

LEAR: But you could trust writers to know funny. You know, when they walked in they fall down laughing. They know...

KING: "In The Heat Of The Night," was he that way to work with too?

NICHOLAS: Absolutely. It was same because I told him early on, that one of the things I always wanted to do, and hadn't been able to do until that point was to write. So he said well, bring me something. So I pitched an idea to him, he bought it on the spot and I said, so which of your staff writers are you going to assign my story to?

He said to you. I said, but Carroll, I have never done this before. And he tutored me through it, and I went on to write five or six other shows for him. But he was always a teacher. He was always teaching.

KING: What was he like to direct, Bonnie?

HUNT: Well, for me it was joy because I, you know, I'm the type of actor that comes to set with many things in my head about the story and the character. And Carroll was so intelligent on just so knowledgeable on so many levels that his characters, whatever he played, whomever he played, he had so many levels to them, so he was always worried about every aspect of every scene and every moment.

And I was so flattered that at this point in his career, you know, 25 years since made his last movie, that he was on the set of my film and he was caring so much to worry about every last detail and contribute and give me his ideas. I felt so fortunate and I, too, learned so much from him. It really wasn't about his ego. It was, he cared so much about the story, the character, the layers. I mean that is that is what it was. And I looked forward to him coming up to me and whispering in my ear every single day on that set.

KING: When we come back we will talk more about "All In The Family," Larry Hagman's reaction to his friend suddenly becoming this enormous star and the impact of that show. We'll also talk about "In The Heat Of The Night" as well. Others will calling in. Don't go away.


REINER: Let me tell you something, Mr. Bunker...

O'CONNOR: No, let me tell you something, Mr. Stivic. You are a meathead.

REINER: What did you call me?

O'CONNOR: A meathead. Dead from the neck up, meathead. REINER: Oh, now I see what your idea of a free country is. You are free to say anything you want, but if anyone disagrees with you, they are either thrown into jail or called a meathead, right?

O'CONNOR: That is right because this is America, the land that I love...

REINER: Well, I love it too, Mr. Bunker. And it's because I do that I protest when I think things are wrong.

O'CONNOR: ... and stand beside her, and guide her.

REINER: The right to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) is a principle upon which this country was based.

O'CONNOR: ... through the night with the light from above.

REINER: Listen to me, it is in the Bill of Rights.

O'CONNOR: ... from the mountains to the prairies, to the oceans wide with boats.

REINER: We demanded freedom!

O'CONNOR: God bless America, you dumb Polack!

REINER: That's it! You're prejudiced! You're prejudiced! Not anymore! I'm leaving! You're prejudiced!

O'CONNOR: Get away from me -- (singing): My home sweet home.




O'CONNOR: Who the hell are they? It is the Jeffersons, Archie. Who are the Jeffersons? Oh, wait a minute, holy -- oh, you don't mean them new people that moved in down the block?

STAPLETON: Yeah, Lionel's family. They are really very nice people, Archie.

O'CONNOR: Oh, yeah very nice, they are wonderful people. They are lovely people but they are also colored people.

SALLY STRUTHERS, ACTRESS: Better hold it there, Daddy.

O'CONNOR: Now listen little girl, I've been around a lot of places, I done a lot of things. But there's one thing Archie Bunker ain't never going to do and that is break bread with no jungle bunnies.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: With us on the phone is Sherman Hemsley, who played George Jefferson not only successfully on "All in the Family," but in the spin-off as well. Sherman, thanks very much for calling in. The whole crowd is here.

SHERMAN HEMSLEY, ACTOR: Hi, Larry. Hi, everybody.

KING: What did you think, yourself of hearing things like we just heard, of playing that role against Bunker?

HEMSLEY: It was hysterical, especially when I got to know Carroll as a person. But I haven't experienced people like that, you know, in my lifetime.

KING: How did you find him, Norman? How did you find Sherman?

LEAR: I remembered Sherman from "Pearly" when he was singing and dancing, and was one of the most unique actors on the stage.

KING: Sherman, what was it like to work with Carroll?

HEMSLEY: It was great because the first time I went to the reading he just handed me the script and I had no idea. I was new in town. I didn't know anybody. The only person that knew of me was Norman Lear, and he put me in a room and he opened the door and there was Carroll O'Connor standing there. I was scared to death, but something about when I looked in his eyes he put me at ease. I just sort of read the lines and said, he is the guy.

KING: Just like that, and then you did the how long, before there was a spin-off?

HEMSLEY: I think it was the third episode they started talking about it.

LEAR: We cast the character with another actor for some weeks because we didn't have the right man.

KING: Right.

LEAR: So he was an off stage voice. And then, when Sherman -- from "Pearly" came in mind, then we knew we had the right guy.

KING: Sherman, thank you very much for checking in with us, you are in incredible talent.

HEMSLEY: Thank you, Larry.

KING: Sherman Hemsley -- George Jefferson. By the way, Larry Hagman, you directed the last episode of "In The Heat Of The Night."

HAGMAN: Yes. Several before that too.

KING: And that was a two-hour show?

HAGMAN: Yes, I had done I think six or seven.

KING: How did you react to Archie's fame? I mean here's a guy you knew coming down to go to the bathroom in your bathroom and now he's suddenly...

HAGMAN: Well, yes, it was very exciting, and I had done "I Dream of Genie," then we did another show after show after that and they put us opposite Archie Bunker, and blew us out, I mean it was just 13 weeks. In those days they let you do 13 weeks. Now you get a half show and you are out of there.

KING: I want to talk about the impact of that show, and we will be right back, after this.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Davis this is an unexpected pleasure.

SAMMY DAVIS JUNIOR, ACTOR: My pleasure. Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Can I get a picture?

O'CONNOR: Come on Munson, no pictures!

DAVIS: No this one is for me. Mr. Munson would you stand over there. I want one picture taken with Archie Bunker, my friend, and me.

O'CONNOR: You and me?

DAVIS: Yes. Now, on 3 OK? 1 -- 2 -- 3.




KING: What was "All In The Family?" I know you were thinking about it. You said you were thinking about the impact of that show. Well you know, I have had this question asked of me for 30 years. And I thought of the other day. Television has changed so much in 30 years. We didn't have VCRs back in the '70s. There was no way to watch a show unless you actually sat down and looked at it.

That is the only way you could do it. So we were on Saturday nights. People would orchestrate their evenings around watching "All In The Family." So you had 50 to 60 million people, sharing a common experience at the same time, throughout the country. And they would come in on Monday mornings to talk about this. And we know because of the issues that we dealt with, the Vietnam war, and race relations and the women's movement, that this was the basis of a national dialogue.

And that national dialogue took place every weekend, and every Monday in this country. And I don't think there has been anything like that since. KING: Do you realize, Norm, it was historic when you were doing it?

LEAR: I don't know that we realized it when we were doing it. But when we talk about changed the face of television and all of that, I don't know how to relate that. But what I do know how to relate was what Rob was just saying.

What we were certain of was that we caused conversation. Because people would stop you in the street and talk about it, and all the mail reflected it. When over it was over we sat around for an hour. We didn't stop talking.

KING: Bonnie Hunt, I want to thank you for spending some time with us in Chicago. I know you will miss him dearly.

HUNT: Thank you. I'm honored to be here.

KING: Thank you. Bonnie Hunt in Chicago. She directed his last movie and costarred with him in "Return To Me." We'll come back with our panel. We'll be hearing from others and, by the way, TV Land is going to air a 48 hour tribute to "All In The Family," a marathon, Saturday and Sunday, just running every show ever made, as a tribute to Carroll O'Connor. We'll be right back with more. Don't go away. --


O'CONNOR: ... starts looking out for number one.

STRUTHERS: Where does that place Henry Jefferson?

O'CONNOR: He's number two.


REINER: Why is he number two?

O'CONNOR: Because, Meathead, there can only be one number and one number two. And life made Jefferson number two long before I come along. STRUTHERS: I suppose the Puerto Ricans are number three then?

O'CONNOR: Oh, well, no, not necessarily there. Little Girl. Your Puerto Ricans could be four. Your Japs and your Chinks could be three -- 3a, 3b.




O'CONNOR: You are one dumb Polack.

(LAUGHTER) REINER: That does it. That does it! I don't care what we talked about, Gloria. There's no way I can spend four years in this house with this man!

O'CONNOR: Hold it. What did I just hear there?


STRUTHERS: If you're going to continue school after we married, you're going to have to live here.

O'CONNOR: What did I just hear?

STAPLETON: You're going to get married and live with us?

REINER: Gloria, look, I know that's what we planned, but if I have to spend fours years with him. I'm going to go nuts!

O'CONNOR: Will you tell me what I just heard here?

STRUTHERS: Michael, I just don't see it any other way!

O'CONNOR: Edith, what the hell is going on, here?

STAPLETON: They're going to get married and live with us!

O'CONNOR: What am I supposed to do? Join the Navy?



KING: Our tribute to Carroll O'Connor, the late Carroll O'Connor. With us is Rob Reiner, actor, director, he played his son- in-law, Mike the Meathead. Norman Lear, the famed creator of "All in the Family," Larry Hagman, actor, one of Carroll O'Connor's very closest friends, appeared with him in films, directed many of the scripts of "In the Heat of the Night." Denise Nicholas, who played O'Connor's love interest, councilwoman Harriet DeLong, on "In the Heat of the Night" for over seven years. Finally wound up they got married, a great episode.

And joining us now on the phone, completing the group, Sally Struthers, the actress who played Gloria. She's working now in Pennsylvania, in "Love Letters," on the play.

Sally, how did you hear about Carroll's death?



STRUTHERS: I came offstage last night, and the two people that run this theater, Mike and Sharon Hilligus (ph), were looking at me strangely. But they have a real folksy kind of theater event here, in that after you're finished with your performance you do you a meet- and-greet with the audience. So they let that go on for about 15 minutes.

And when the last person had left, they called me into their office and sat me down and told me, and I -- I, of course, I went to pieces. It just took my breath away when I heard you say the late Carroll O'Connor. I didn't think I was going to be hearing that for a very long time.

KING: Norm, how did you hire Sally?

LEAR: Sally -- I remember, Sally, I had seen her open "The Smothers Brothers" show, singing and dancing at a cold open in "The Smothers Brothers" show, and I had to meet her.

KING: And you liked her for Gloria right away?

LEAR: I loved her.

KING: How did you get Rob?

LEAR: Rob -- I knew Rob -- I've known Rob since he's 8 years old. Carroll is my great friend. Rob is my...

KING: Sally, did you and Rob hit it off right away?

STRUTHERS: Right away, but I have to share something with you. When Norman Lear narrowed the field down to four actresses to play Gloria, one of the other four was Penny Marshall, who Rob was living with at the time and soon to marry. So I assumed that he would do the final audition much better with her than the rest of the three of us, because he wanted her to get the part and he was in love with her and blah, blah, blah.

KING: Oh, Rob.

REINER: Yes. Oh, Rob.

STRUTHERS: So I went into the audition completely defeated and therefore not nervous, and therefore probably did the best job I'd ever done in my whole life.


KING: How did it work? Did you instantly click with her?

REINER: Yes, we did. We worked well together, right off the bat.

KING: Did you know that show would be a hit, Rob?

REINER: I knew we had something special. I knew it was beyond anything that had ever been done in television, but I didn't think it would be a hit because, as they say, I thought it was too hip for the room. It was just too smart.

KING: Sally, did you know it would be a hit? STRUTHERS: I had just been fired off of "The Tim Conway Show." I was the "Tim Conway" dancer. Instead of the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) dancers, I was the one dancer. And they let me go because they said I made the show look cheap.


STRUTHERS: I just thought this was going to be another show that I would be fired off of, or wouldn't last very long. I had no idea what I had gotten into.

KING: What was it like working with Carroll?

STRUTHERS: He was the greatest acting school any actor could ever hope to spend eight years with. I learned everything I do today because of him. You can only learn so much at school, when you're acting with people the same age as you are. But once I got on that set with Carroll, and saw how he, and how Jean Stapleton -- how they finessed their roles, and the way they created. I quickly hopped on the train and decided it was going to be school for me.

KING: Because, Denise, he was great for you, too, right?

NICHOLAS: Absolutely.

KING: Seven and a half years, it was a learning process, right?

NICHOLAS: Absolutely, and, I mean, in all aspects. Writing and acting, directing, producing, because he -- he was sharing everything. I mean, he didn't hold back from sharing his knowledge and his experience with people. I mean, he didn't put it on you. but if you were open or if you had a question, he would tell you.

KING: Was it hard to direct a friend, Larry? Stay with us, Sally. Was it hard to direct a friend?

HAGMAN: No, it was the easiest thing in the world. We had any problems, he'd solve it, you know. And he just gave all the time. He was a great giver, and he was my mentor for 40 years.

KING: How, Sally, did you not crack up doing some of the hysterical scenes on that show?

STRUTHERS: Well, I wish the audiences around the world could have seen us during the rehearsal period, because all we did was laugh. But luckily, because we rehearsed it for five solid days before we performed it for an audience, we got used to the funniness of it and were able to keep a straight face. But if we'd gotten straight on the camera, it never would have worked.

REINER: I actually did go one time during a show, big time. It was a scene where the two of us were in bed together. I was getting in bed with him, and he was turned away, and I had knocked water that was by the bedside. And it leaked into him, and he did this look at me, like: "What have you done in this bed?" And I looked at his face, and I started to go. Now, the camera was over my shoulder onto him, and I looked at his face, and he kept it straight, and I just said, in my mind, "Carroll, I'm so sorry." I was laughing, I just couldn't hold it in.


KING: Did you go to every taping, Norm?

LEAR: Every taping.

KING: You did.

LEAR: Every taping.

KING: Stay with us for a couple segment -- one more segment, Sally. We'll come back.

Still to join us on the phone, Jerry Stiller, Anne Meara. We're going to also hear from Angie Dickinson, who worked with him in "Point Blank." This is our tribute to Carroll O'Connor. Don't go away.


STRUTHERS: You know that 65 percent of the people murdered in the last 10 years were killed by handguns?

O'CONNOR: Would it make you feel any better, little girl, if they was pushed out of windows?


STRUTHERS: Well, that's convoluted logic.

O'CONNOR: Yes! And that's the kind of straight thinking I'm trying to put across here!


O'CONNOR: I hate that jerk on TV!

REINER: Oh, I get it. I get it. When you thought he was talking about VD in a permissive society, he was smart. You find out he's talking about gun control, he's a jerk?

O'CONNOR: That's right! And I'm going to prove it to you. How many people in this US of A would like to have guns?

REINER: Too many. Thousands.

O'CONNOR: But, how many people would like to have VD?





O'CONNOR: Oh, no, he ain't Jewish.

REINER: How do you know?

O'CONNOR: Because his name's John. The Hebes don't name their kids John.


STAPLETON: Maybe he changed his name.

O'CONNOR: No. Edith, Edith, they never do that, they only change the last name. That way they know each other, you see what I mean? Two guys are going down the street, right? One says: "How are you, my name is Smith, Maurice Smith." See how it works? Like you got Saul Nelson, Isey Watson.

REINER: Abe Lincoln.



KING: Norm, did you ever...


KING: ... on gays?

LEAR: Oh, yes.

KING: Yeah, you did? You said there was no one you left out.

LEAR: Well, we were trying really to do everything, but Archie had a remarkable experience with a gay football player he admired, never knew he was gay.

KING: So, there was no group that was sacrosanct?

LEAR: Not at all.

KING: Did you ever have to change scripts? Did you ever say this is too much?

LEAR: Never.

REINER: They tried to make us. At one point, we did a show about my character being impotent, and they -- Norman fought them tooth and nail. They weren't going to air the show. And he basically went to the wall, he says if you don't air this show, I'm quitting, and I'm going to...

LEAR: There was one time... REINER: That was the seventh episode we did.

LEAR: There was one time, we had the contracts with the actors, and we simply threatened to send a telegram letting everybody go, which meant that the next day they could come in looking for some -- for a new deal, you know. So -- but I have to say there were times, too, when the other side had a point, and...

KING: And you let them make it.

LEAR: Yeah.

KING: Sally, did you have impact on script? Could you say "I want to change this line?"

STRUTHERS: We all did in the end, because Carroll was the first person to do it, and he did it so well and he did it so often, and he wanted to us join him, that we all became writers of a sort and contributors. And we did a lot of improvisation. When a scene maybe wasn't working quite well enough, we would be in character and we would talk around until we came up with dialogue that was even better, although that was not necessarily the norm, because our writers were always so great we didn't have to do that a lot.

KING: Did you do it on "In the Heat of the Night" too?

NICHOLAS: We did, but not as much. I mean, it's a different process.

KING: It wasn't a comedy.

NICHOLAS: A comedy, yeah. I mean, most comedies are group- written anyway.

KING: And that was an hour show that he produced?

NICHOLAS: Yeah, starred, and wrote many scripts, directed, was in charge of everything, right down to casting. I mean, he OK'ed everything.

KING: Was he a control freak?


KING: Yes?

NICHOLAS: Just wonderful that he was also very, very smart, so it worked.

LEAR: Let me just say in terms of dialogue, I think all the writers, the actors would agree, when he had slipped into the character thoroughly, he was the best writer of dialogue for the character. It spilled from him.

KING: Did you have that on "Dallas?" Could you change a line, Larry? HAGMAN: Sure. Yeah, if you got the clout, you can do anything you want.

KING: J.R. could do anything he wanted, right?

HAGMAN: But nobody knew what Dallas was about -- I mean, the city of Dallas. Nobody had ever been there. I was from there, so I knew the vernacular and all of that.

KING: So, you could change things and say, "this is wrong, let's change it?"

HAGMAN: A bit. You know, but I had discipline as an actor. I was brought up in the old business.

KING: Sally, Jean Stapleton said earlier that Carroll O'Connor was a very giving actor. Would you comment on that? For other actors.

STRUTHERS: He didn't have an upstaging bone in his body. He was giving it during rehearsals and the show time, and he was giving off camera. He and his wife Nancy introduced me to my husband, so I thank them all the time for the beautiful daughter that I have that I wouldn't have if they hadn't introduced me to Bill.

I -- they just were -- he was a father to me. My own father passed away two years before we started making "All in the Family," and Carroll became daddy off-screen as well as on, and Nancy became Mother Earth to me, and I hung with them all the time.


KING: You, too?

NICHOLAS: Did the same thing.

KING: Carroll O'Connor, did he not, Norm, use a lot of -- I mean, Ralph Kramden was an impact on him, wasn't he, to approaching that role or not? I know he talked to Gleason.

LEAR: Yes, of course. And there was similarities in the character.

KING: Well, that he was boisterous, that he was...

LEAR: Yeah.

KING: ... an overpowering presence.

LEAR: ... I think Carroll drew from himself and not -- we are all impacted by the culture we live in, by everything. But Carroll drew Archie out of his own deep...

REINER: And people he knew. He was -- he was, you know, raised in Queens, and these were people that he came in contact with, and he drew from the people he saw. KING: Yeah, so -- and that is what good actors do, right?

REINER: Yes, yes.

KING: Meathead, where did you get him from? You were Meathead.

REINER: I didn't have to look very far. I looked to myself, and I said: "Here I am! I'll play this part!"

KING: Gloria, thanks for being with us. Sally, continued good luck.

STRUTHERS: Thank you, Larry King.

REINER: Bye, Sally.

KING: We'll be back with more of Reiner, Lear, Hagman and Nicholas and some other will be checking in. Don't go away.


O'CONNOR: Edith, I'll tell you it's -- I ain't myself. You know, what I mean is, let's not start something that I can't finish.




KING: Joining is now on the phone, Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara. Hey, we love them. Stiller and Meara, close friends of the O'Connors. Anne spoke with Nancy today, I believe. She played Veronica Rooney on "Archie Bunker's Place," and Stiller guest-roled in two episodes. Each appeared in episode of "In the Heat of the Night" as well. This was a long-standing friendship, Anne?

ANNE MEARA, ACTRESS: Yes, Larry. A very shocking event for us. We -- I worked with Carroll and Nancy in 1958 in -- with Zero Mostel in an adaptation of James Joyce's "Ulysses," "Ulysses in Nighttown."

KING: Wow!

MEARA: Off-Broadway, and it was a very successful...

KING: How is Nancy handling it?

MEARA: Nancy is handling it. She is terrific. She is terrific. Because she was with Carroll when he went through, you know, heart surgery and everything else. She is a wonderful -- she was his pal as well as his lover, and wife, and friend.

KING: And Jerry, they would have been married 50 years in July?

MEARA: They would, that's right, 50 years in July for Nancy and Carroll. KING: Jerry, were you as close to Carroll, too?

JERRY STILLER, ACTOR: Well, I -- Carroll was an interesting guy for me too, because, you know, when he put Anne on the show, "Archie's Place," playing Veronica.

We had stopped doing our act for a while, and Jerry Stiller kind of like was out in limbo someplace, and then one day he called me up, and says: "We can't leave out there. Why don't you come on and play Carmine. You can be Veronica's ex-husband who tries to get her back on alcohol." And -- so I appeared twice on the show. And my...

MEARA: He loved me, his character loved me as the cook, because the smell of oregano got him hot, or something. And Carroll directed that. He was a wonderful director.

STILLER: Terrific.

MEARA: Wonderful. And I know I heard Jean use the word "generous," it's so totally right. He would -- there's so many people, nobody even knows about who he has helped financially and career-wise.

STILLER: Loyalty was part of Carroll's mantra. I mean, everyone of the actors on that show -- we never had to read for that show. They were guys -- Allan Melvin and Jason Wingreen, people like...

KING: Because he was a guy who took care of his friends.

STILLER: Exactly, that kind of a guy. And then, he cast me in a wonderful role, called the rabbi on "In the Heat of the Night," in which he played Gillespie, the guy -- the chief of police who during the burning down of a temple in Georgia did not do what his duty told him to do. He was involved in malfeasance of -- and he wrote the script, or cowrote the script, inspired the script so that the rabbi was somehow or other confronting this Gillespie guy, and what it was, in a way, was Carroll was dealing with an issue of his own life, in some way, where Archie Bunker, he played the role so well that some people actually thought...

MEARA: They totally mistook him for the character. And it couldn't have been further from the truth. In fact, Archie -- I mean, excuse me -- Carroll O'Connor...

STILLER: Start putting their names together.

MEARA: He put us in touch with the wonderful work of the Shabbat.

KING: The Shabbat Group, of course. I want to thank -- we're running -- we're limited on time.

Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara, thank you. Listen, I think your son Ben ought to try the business.

MEARA: Thank you, Larry. KING: Give him a shot.

MEARA: Give Denise our best.


MEARA: I love you, sweety pie.

STILLER: Hello, Denise.

KING: When we come back, our remaining moments. Another call-in as well. Don't go away.

Carroll O'Connor, as you know, his wife, Nancy, lost their only son, Hugh, to a drug-related suicide in '95. When I interviewed Carroll a little more than two years later, I asked about coping with that terrible loss.


O'CONNOR: I can't forget it. There isn't a day that I don't think of him, and want him back, and miss him. And I'll feel that way until I'm not here anymore. Some people -- other people say, well, we can put it away. Closure, whatever the hell that means...

KING: Yeah.

O'CONNOR: But that's OK, if they can, it's fine. I can't.



KING: One of the great film noirs ever made, a cult film, "Point Blank." Lee Marvin and Angie Dickinson, one of the great movies about -- dealing with violence. Carroll O'Connor was in that movie. Angie Dickinson is on the phone.

Angie, what was it like to work with him?



DICKINSON: And you have a wonderful panel. I send my love to all of them -- and a great way to remember Carroll. He was a very gentle bear. And to be so strong, but so gentle in his manner. I don't know what was brewing inside, but I have a feeling he was very gentle inside, also. And I think that's why the show worked so well. You knew this was not a bigot or a bad man. You knew that this was a show, entertainment, but depicting the people we don't like to see doing that.

KING: Did you realize the kind of talent he had?

DICKINSON: Well, you know, his first picture was -- "A Fever in the Blood," one of the classics. And even, and "Point Blank," yes, in "Point Blank," especially.

KING: What a movie that was.

REINER: Great film.

DICKINSON: But this was before "All in the Family," so he was, again, very new and very gentle. And squeezeable.


NICHOLAS: Those eyes -- those eyes are always sparkling and dancing, I mean, you look at him and you just want to go...

KING: You had to love him.

DICKINSON: That's right. She's right.

KING: Angie, thanks so much for participating.

DICKINSON: Oh, God bless you all. Thank you, Larry, and God bless Carroll O'Connor.

KING: You mentioned, Rob, that he wasn't the same since his boy died, right?

REINER: No. I don't think anybody gets over the loss of a child, and it definitely was with him, as he said, till he was no longer here.

KING: The funeral is Tuesday. Larry, you will be one of the speakers, will you not?

HAGMAN: I'm going to read from the Bible, yes.

KING: What's -- is it going to be a fun funeral? Well, it's a Catholic high mass, right?

HAGMAN: Yes. I really -- I talked to Nancy. I was with her today, and she's...

KING: How's she doing?

HAGMAN: She's very good. She's a very strong woman, and she's handling this very well.

KING: So she was with him when he had the attack, and with him all the way to the hospital, with him when he passed.


NICHOLAS: Well, he was in hospital over, I guess, last winter. She stayed in the hospital, too. She stayed right there with him.

KING: Norman, do you often think back to -- that's 30 years, now, "All in the Family."

LEAR: All the time. I believed to my toes that laughter adds time to you life. I feel 36 years old, thinking about him.

KING: And you still -- everybody here still laughs at clips you've seen a hundred times.

LEAR: I could see them 10,000 times. I'll never laugh less.

REINER: And it's great to watch them. I mean, they hold up, as they say.

NICHOLAS: They really do.

REINER: They do hold up.

KING: And the series, TV Land is doing this whole tribute to it this weekend. I mean, they still run forever, right?

LEAR: Run forever.

KING: You are not a poor man, Norm.

LEAR: I'm not.

KING: You're still getting...

REINER: Nobody's poor who laughs this much.

KING: Do you still get residuals?

LEAR: No, but I -- and I've been meaning to talk to you about that.


KING: Do you still get residuals?

HAGMAN: From "Dallas," yeah, but never "Jeannie."

KING: "Jeannie" you got none?

HAGMAN: No, never did.

KARL: What about "Heat of the Night" for you?

NICHOLAS: Thank God.

KING: "Heat of the Night" still plays, right?

NICHOLAS: Yes, all over the country. All over the world. Never -- has never been off the air, since the end of the show.

KING: How's he going to be remembered, Larry?

HAGMAN: Oh, as just one of the funniest and kindest actors, for us, the kindest. But the most amusing, and creative actors ever in America.

KING: And he proved that a character actor could star in television, right, Norm?

LEAR: Yes, I think television gave us some great actors who...

KING: Carroll O'Connor wouldn't have starred in movies then.

LEAR: Very unlikely. As Lucille Ball didn't star...

KING: That's right. How do you think, Denise, he'll be remembered?

NICHOLAS: I guess, you know, by the public it'll always be Archie Bunker. But I think for us, the people who knew him and really knew him well, it will be that he was one great human being -- compassionate and caring and loving.

KING: Leave the final word for you, Rob.

REINER: Well, he's going to be remembered as having contributed the most indelible character in the history of American television, in my opinion.

KING: Archie Bunker, the most indelible character.

REINER: In the history of television.

KING: Thank you all very much.

HAGMAN: Thank you.

NICHOLAS: Thank you.

KING: The funeral is Tuesday in Los Angeles. We thank all of our guests for being with us, and those who participated by phone.

Tomorrow night, Gary Sinise is one of our guests, a great actor. Mary Tyler Moore on Monday.

Stay tuned for "CNN TONIGHT," and good night.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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