Sunday, 20 September 2009

295: All in the Family 1971

Here we have what is possibly the first American sitcom to discuss homosexuality and also feature a homosexual character. (The English already got there with Steptoe and Son at least a year before America. Yay for us!) It’s worth noting that this groundbreaker was a Norman Lear sitcom. Norman Lear’s sitcoms were all about pressing social issues, and advancing an agenda of liberal acceptance and positive politics. In this case the sitcom team use the bigoted Archie Bunker (as first established in the sitcom “Till Death Us Do Part”. Yay for England again!) as a stalking horse to accentuate the stupidity of know-nothing, right-wing prejudice. Although making this the fifth epiode of only the first seies was a relatively bold move. Many of the sitcoms in America during the 1970s which happen to feature an episode with homosexual content are from the Norman Lear production factory.
You’ll notice that the word gay is never used at all in this episode. However when Archie employs his tirade of slang terms about homosexuals it’s then immediately followed by Archie’s ridiculous views on the race so as to make homophobia as ridiculous by association as racism.
For all Archie’s bluster, when we finally see Roger it’s faily obvious that Roger is not gay. Although he does use words like super, fabulous, etc, there is a not a hint of lisping, effeminacy, or swooping, soaring tremulous diction. He is a perfectly plain and normal person. The depiction and anxiety about Roger DOES tie into fear of a less-heterosexual generation. Being cultured aroused suspicions of being unmanly and therefore homosexual (See comments by President Richard Nixon below). “La-di-da! Is one way of putting it. “Goddam hippy faggot get your hair cut” might be another. So Archie’s homosexual obsession over Roger is expressive more of a particular generation and cultural gap, rather than of any consequence of Gay Lib. The unisex anxiety schtick is made explicit in the Jerry scene
Mike’s outrage seems based more on Archie is slurring his friend as gay, than actually defending gay rights.
Archie’s kicking up his heel gesture is the same one featured on the posters for the gay film “Staircase”,
Steve is the all American he-man. With a deep, rich, booming, slow performance. Indeed, Philip Carey had been a professional football player. In fact, quite a few homosexual sitcom episodes rely upon the idea that the one-off homosexual is some all-American he-man hero so as to upset effeminate stereotypes. Of course, this episode also establishes another fine homosexual episode tradition - we never see him ever again.
The arm wrestling adds a certain dramatic counterpoint and also confirmation S’s manly qualities.
And given, the final tag-scene, it could almost be argued that the larger import of the episode is that Archie is incapable of parsing the new sexual signifiers with his old-fashioned, uniformed standards, and therefore his excitation about homosexuals means that he is the one least capable of knowing when he sees one

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

And just to round off, here’s an unexpected piece of social and cultural criticism. It’s Richard Nixon the TV critic. Although since he seems to think at least two of the characters were gay, he wasn’t paying all the attention he might. Besides thinking Mike may be bisexual. And isn’t good that Nixon thinks: “I do not think that you glorify on public television homosexuality. The reason you don’t, anymore than you glorify whores. We all know we have weaknesses. But, goddamn it, what do you think that does to 11 and 12 year old boys? We constantly had to clean up the staffs to keep the Goddamned fags out of it. It outrages me because i don now want to see this county go that way. You know what happened to the Greeks! Homosexuality destroyed them. Sure, Aristotle was a homo. We all know that so was Socrates. You know what happened to the Romans? The last six Roman emperors were fags. Nero had a public wedding to a boy. You know what happened to the popes? They (had sex with) the nuns, that's been goin' on for years, centuries. But the Catholic Church went to hell, three or four centuries ago. It was homosexual, and it had to be cleaned out. Now that's what's happened to Britain, it happened earlier to France. Let's look at the strong societies. The Russians. Goddamn, they root 'em out. They don't let 'em around at all. I don't know what they do with them. Look at this country. You think the Russians allow dope? Homosexuality, dope, immorality are the enemies of strong societies. That's why the communists and left-wingers are pushing the stuff. They're trying to destroy us. I know Moynihan will disagree with this, (Atty. Gen. John) Mitchell will, and Garment will. But, goddamn, we have to stand up to this. When I think of television, makes this respectable. There’s a big programme of that, we should respect them and all that, they’re letting these people like the Gay liberation crowd and the Gay May Day and all the rest. You know what’;s happened to san Francisco? "But it's not just down in the ratty part of town. The upper class in San Francisco is that way. The Bohemian Grove which I attend from time to time. It is the most faggy goddamned thing you could ever imagine, with that San Francisco crowd.It’s just terrible, I mean, I don't even want to shake hands with anybody from San Francisco. Decorators. They got to do something. But we don't have to glorify it. You know one of the reasons fashions have made women look so terrible is because the goddamned designers hate women. Now that’s the truth. You watch. Some of those fellows they have the flat-chested thing with horrible looking styles they run. That was really the designers taking it out on the women. Now they're trying to get some more sexy things coming on again."
Why as monologues go, it’s even better than the stuff that Archie Bunker offers up.

“All in the Family”
“Judging Books by Covers” by Burt Styler and Norman Lear
9 February 1971

Archie: Carroll O’Connor
Edith: Jean Stapleton
Gloria: Sally Struthers
Mike: Rob Reiner

Roger: Tony Geary
Steve: Philip Carey
Kelcy: Bob Hastings
Jerry: Linn Patrick


Mike, Gloria and Edith are getting things ready for a party. Archie is outraged at the fanciness of the food, and wants to know what special person is coming when he never gets food like this)

A: But that don’t answer the question. Who’s the big cheese you’re having here for lunch.

G: (admits softly) Roger

A; Roger da fairy?!

M: (trying to steer Archie away) Alright…

A: Did you hear that, Edith? Do you know who they’re bringing around here for lunch? Roger! Sweee-tee-pie Roger!

M; Alright, Arch, will ya cut it out, huhn?

E: (placatory) It’s their friend, Archie.

A: Listen, Edith, we run a decent home HERE. And we don’t need any, any strange little birdies flying in an’ out of here

G: Dad, stop that! Roger is not a strange little birdy

A: His pal, Roger, is as queer as a four dollar bill, and he knows it

G: That’s not only cruel Daddy, that is an outright lie!

M: Do you know something, Archie – just because a guy is sensitive and, and he’s an intellectual and he wears glasses, you make him out a queer.

A: I never said a guy who wears glasses is a queer. . . A guy who wears glasses is a four-eyes, a guy who’s a fag is a queer!

(laughter and applause from audience)

G: (to E) Make him stop talking like that

(E hurries away from argument, tidying up room)

A: Go ahead Edith, now answer the girl. Now you’ve seen Roger sashaying around here with his la-de-da talk – he’s a pansy!

E: (flatly) I don’t know

A: Whaddayamean you don’t know

E: (bewildered) I’m not an expert on flowers

M: Look Arch, you might as well face it – you’re all alone in this. We all know Roger, and we all know he‘s straight. And even if he wasn’t. And I said “if”, what difference would that make? Do you know, that in many countries, England for instance, there is a law that says whatever two consenting adults do in private is their own business.

A: Listen! This aint England! We threw England outta here a long time ago! We don’t want no more part of England! And for your information, England is a FAG country!

(Loud laughter from audience. Mike is surprised by Archie’s comment)

M: What!

A: Certainly! (stands up) Aint they still picking handkerchiefs outta they sleeves, huhn? (mimes to audience laughter] Aint they still standing around leaning on them skinny umbrellas, like this here? (rests his hand on his hip in teapot handle style) I know. The whole society is based on a kind of a fagdom.

(loud laughter. Mike gets up almost outraged and spluttering)

M; You, you…. You know, you’re right Archie. You’re right. The British are a bunch of pansies. Pansies, fairies and sissies! And the Japanese are a race of midgets. The Irish are boozers, the Mexicans are bandits,

A: And you Polacks are meatheads.

(audience laughter again, since “Meatheads is A’s pet slur for M. A sits back down. Doorbell rings. Gloria gets up to answer door)

G: That’s Roger. Now Daddy, please be good.

A: If I can’t be good I’ll be careful

(G opens door, Roger comes in. Is dressed slightly loudly, but is enthusiastic and well-spoken in manner. G embraces him, and M warmly shakes his hand)

R: Gloria! Hey Mike!

M: How was the trip?

R: Fabulous! Mike, it was the most super trip. In fact, it was an absolutely stunning, exhausting, incredible experience!

A: (out of the side of his mouth)Oh when is he gonna land?

G: Pardon me, Roger. You know my mother –

R: Ah yes, Mrs Bunker, so nice to see you again. Really, a pleasure (when Edith shakes R’s hand, he covers her hand with his other hand. Rather puzzled, E then covers his other hand with her other hand)

G: And my father, Mr Bunker.

R: Mr Bunker (extends hand)

A: How are ya? And one hand is enough

[Family sits down to look at Roger’s snapshots]

A: Er, tell us about Europe, there, Roger. What kinda sports action they got over there this time of the year. I mean, they must have things like skiing there and bobsledding. Bobsledding! There’s a manly sport. (looks pointedly at Roger) You do any bobsledding over there?

R: Oh no, sir, there isn’t too much of that over there in London, I’m afraid. That’s where I spent most of my time.

A: London, huh? London, England?

R: Yes

A: (dismissively to Mike) Your witness

(family are looking at snapshots of flowers)

E: What beautiful flowers!

R: Aren’t the colours vibrant. And they smelt heavenly!

A: (to himself) He’s off the ground again

R: Oh this was a most enchanting young person

A: (pointedly) Boy or girl?

R: A Boy

A: (to himself, slightly despairing) Why did I ask?

[Archie gets up and snatches the picture]

A: I wanna take a look at this enchanting young person

[Mike gets up and comes after Archie, drawing him to the other side of the room away from Edith, Gloria and Roger]

M: Gee, Arch, aren’t you going to be late meeting Steve and the guys at the tavern

A: Oh, I thought I’d hang around and hear some more about the enchanting things he done over there. For instance, did he hunt?

M: You know Roger doesn’t hunt. I don’t’ believe in it either

A: Yeah, well sometimes I got my doubts about you too, Buster Brown. Alright Edith, I’m going over to Kelcy’s Bar to say hello to my friend Steve, and say hello to some of the boys. Nice seeing you too Rog.

R: My pleasure, Mr Bunker

A: (Kicks up his right heel slightly) Whoop-dee!


[At the bar. Kelsey behind the bar as bartender. Steve, Archie and several other patrons are at the bar discussing politics. Steve is a well-built bachelor, played professional football for two seasons, now owns a camera shop. Archie looks up to him as an embodiment of the ideal of old-fashioned masculinity, envious of his bachelordom, his rough tough sports career, and his fitness. Archie and Steve move across to a table in the corner of the bar. Mike and Roger come into get a pitcher of beer]

A: Get a load of this, my son-in-law and his pal, Tinkerbelle

[Roger approaches Steve to talk about camera technicalities, then returns to Mike at the bar)

K: Er Mike, can I speak to yer fer a … (to Roger) Would you excuse us please?

R: Oh sure

K: Thanks.( K and M move to far end of bar, K leans intoward M) Eh, this, er, kid you come in wid, is he straight?

M: Oh no, not you too. Of course he is, why?

K: Well, the way him and Steve there was so buddy-buddy. I though maybe he was a little . . (makes flowery gesture with hand and pulls fleeting prim face)

M; What?

K: Oh now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind Steve. His camera store is just down the street here and he only comes in for a drink every once in a while on his way home. Besides. He don’t… camp it up, yer know (again waves hand, but grimaces). Aaand, he don’t bring in none of his friends (flutters fingers of hand)

M: Kelsey? Are you trying to tell me that Steve is …

K: (Deliberatively) I just wouldn’t want MY place… to become no, er . . . (purses lips and slightly waggles head) hangout…knowwhatimean? Hunh!

[while Archie and Steve are in conversation at the table the camera zooms in on Mike staring slightly open-mouthed at the pair. End of part 1]


[Archie comes home to watch a fight on TV, as Roger is about to leave Mike is eager to get R to leave before Archie says anything]

A: (calls Mike over) Why don’t you just open up a window, we’ll all watch him just fly out

(Roger leaves)

A: What’s the matter you sore-head. Just because I called the turn on your friend Roger-belle?

M: Listen Archie, you make one more crack about my friend Roger…

A: Or what?

M: Nevermind. But I could tell you something that could shock you pretty good

[a party game, in which due to build only women are able to lift a chair. Archie becomes more frustrated.]

A: It’s a dumb gag. Where did ya get it?

M: Roger showed it to us.

A: Oh! Roger showed it to ya!

G: Yeah, he brought it back from England.

A: Oh I bet he can do it!

M: Let’s not start any of that again, huh.

A: You told me that a man can’t do it, so if a man can’t do it then I would imagine your friend Roger-belle can

M; Roger-belle, huh, Rogerbelle! You wanna know who could lift that chair, Archie? I mean not only could he that chair, but he could prance and flit all over this room with it? Your friend Steve!

G: Michael!

A: My friend Steve!

M: That’s right, that’s right Archie! And I wasn’t going to say it. But it’s true

E: (sitting in shock) .. a .flow-er?

A: You are sick! You know that! You need help! (long speech about the permissive society) But when they goes besmearin’, when they goes besmearin’ the name of a great linebacker, a second shirt All-American, a man, and I mean a Real MAN… then you might as well shut the doors of this country and hang out a sign, “Closed! Owner gone nuts!”!!


{cuts to Kelsey’s bar, where the patrons, including Steve, are all enthusiastically watching the fight on the Tv. Archie nervously comes in and hovers near Steve who is shouting at the fight. When the fight finishes most of the other patrons leave]

A; Where you goin guys?

Patrons: The old lady’s waiting for me.

A: (to Steve) Boy! That was some fight there, huhn?

S: Say, you know something, Arch? (fakes several punches at A) I love those competitions!

A: (dodges punches) Hey! Take it easy! Hey, the law says them mitts of yours are lethal weapons.

S: Are you nuts, Arch, I was ball player, not a fighter

(A and S sit down at table)

A: Aw, what’s the difference! I mean look at the size of you. Buy, the strength. Hey! Do me a favour – let me try you onec with the arms (Puts his arm on table ready for arm-wrestling)

S: (waves him way) Aw, have another beer.

A; Come on, come (arm still ready)

S: Forget it

A: One time

S: Are you serious

A: Certainly

(S grasps A’s hand)

A: Alright, go

(Struggle of barely a second, then S pulls A’s arm down with a cry of victory)

A: (pulled across table) Aw, geez! Oh, be-uwdiful! Aw, gee boy, what an arm! Aw, when I think of what that dopey son-in-law of mine said… (cups face in hand despairing at Mike)

S: Mike still bugging ya?

A; Aw, I tell ya, it aint only him, it’s his whole generation (suddenly turns to the bar) Hey Kelcy! Bring us a couple of beers over here, will ya. I mean they got no regard, they got no respect for the old institutions.

S: What institutions, Archie?

A; Well you know, like, spots, sportsmanship there, guts, guns, the things that separate the sexes, you know what I mean.

S: yeah, I think I know what you mean.

(beers brought across, and Archie cradles his beer, as he become a bit more anxious about broaching the matter)

A: Let me ask you something. How long you know this, er, this kid Roger there? That was in with Mike?

S: Ohh, a couple of years. Ever since he started coming in the shop.

A: A couple of years. Now, you’re a man of the world. And you must know that this kid is a kind of la-di-da (waggles hand back and forth). Right?

S: is that what mike thinks of Roger?

A: Aw, forget about what mike thinks, I can’t even tell you what he thinks. Hey put ehm glasses over her, I want to go at you once more.

S: You’re nuts.

A: Come, lemme get even. One more time. Come one, get it up there. Alright, go!

(S. clears beers from table. A and S now have hands clasped on table)

S: What does Mike think, Arch?

A: Aw, Mike, geez! Well, for one thing, he thinks that friend of his, Roger, is straight. And for another thing. Aw, Steve, you’re gonna want to bust him wide open when I tell you this, I don’t know eher he gets these brainstorms. But he thinks that you’re … I can’t even say it, this, Steve

S: (looking directly at A, slight smile on face) He’s right, Arch

A: (looking at S in bewilderment) Hunh?

(enormous laughter from audience filling the dramatic pause between the two characters)

S: He’s right (then pulls A’s hand to table, winning match again and as punctuation to the conversation)

A: Oh you mean he’s right about his friend, Roger there

S: (matter of fact) About everything

A: (pause) Aw, come on? I mean, if you wanna joke about it alright, but come on, get off it, huh, guy?

S: Arch… (puts beers back on table) How long you known me? Ten, twelve years? In all that time, did I ever mention a woman?

A: (pause) What difference does that make? You’re a bachelor.

S: So?

(nervous laughter from audience)

A; Yeah, but bachelors, they’re always acting kinda private.

S: (leans back) Exactly

(drawn out pause)

A: Aw, come on Steve, I mean I aint the brightest guy in the world. Well you wanna put me on, put me on, but don’t sit there and tell me you - I mean look at you. Come on will you, ya big clown, get outta here!

S: (getting up) Have it your own way, Arch. The truth’s in the eye of the beholder anyway. I’ll see you later, pal. (gives Archie a strong deliberate manly punch to the shoulder which rocks Archie almost off his feet)

(Steve leaves the bar, and long pause as Arch rights himself thinking things over, then -)

A: Well, if that’s the punch of a fruit…. (thinks over what he just said, as face slightly falls in way dismay, then - ) Naahh! (makes gesture to dismiss everything that’s just happened and leaves bar)


Back at the house, Gloria and Mike are showing the chair trick to a friend, Jerry. Jerry has back to the camera, is wearing a baseball jacket, and has non-descript hair. Jerry lifts the chair just as Archie comes in through the door.

A: (slightly outraged) I thought you said a guy couldn’t do that! Now I’m never gonna trust youse two again.

G; (giggling slightly) Daddy, I’d like you to meet my friend jerry Woodner

A: Yeah, how are ya?

(Jerry turns around to reveal that Jerry is a woman with a unisex haircut)

J: How do you do Mr Bunker

(lengthy pause, audience laughs as A looks on non-plussed)

A: (nonchalantly to cover his embarrassment) Pleased to meet ya. (walks to his seat, and says to himself) Nowadays you can’t bet on nuthin.


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