Transcript:

Speaker I watched talking horses and genies, calling their men masters, and I watched Gomer Pyle pretending to be a Marine at the time that Marines were really dying in Vietnam. I watched I watched rigged game shows, all of the. Monopoly of monotony that was passing for primetime television when I was a young man in the 50s, monopoly on Monopoly was all much the same. It was no reality in it. What I. Everything that was on the evening news in the 50s and early 60s was never in primetime television. Vietnam. Homosexuality, abuse, the abuse of Vietnam, homophobia, people getting sick, worrying over wages being lost. The reality on the prime time was not the reality on the evening news, not until Norman came along that you really see what was on the evening news in primetime, because Norman, with 30 years, lives in the real world and sees things that others don't see. So that television of the 50s was a television of real distraction, not of information in primetime. And it was when you began to watch what Norman and others were creating, that you begin to get a sense that the reality should it be in primetime and you are working with the Kennedy and Johnson administrations in the 60s.

Speaker Did you? That must have really been driven home, even extra strong for you, the dichotomy between what the public was was being exposed to and what you knew to be going on, or was it?

Speaker We saw the demonstrations outside the White House. We saw the demonstrations on college campuses. That was a movement, but we didn't hear it in primetime, not until Edith and Archie and Meathead and Gloria began talking about the war. Did you hear people speaking like real people in prime time about the war and a lot of other subjects, homophobia. I mean, the racism, the treatment of women like like Edith.

Speaker You just didn't see that in the television of destruction that passed as as primetime television in the early 60s. But, yes, it was when I was got Norman show came along. Norma's series began in the early 70s, and that was where Nixon was escalating the war, seeking peace by more bombing.

Speaker And it wasn't until Norman's characters reflected the conversation that was going on. For example, in the press room of the newspaper I was publishing, those ordinary guys, they were normal people were talking like ordinary guys in the in the press room and they were discussing it.

Speaker The war and these other pressing social issues and the great changes taking place in America, the way everyday people were discussing it, not the way the elites or the pundits or the experts, the think tanks, the editorial pages were discussing it. Normans were brought to the living room of America or had been exclusively on the evening news.

Speaker And did you watch did you have time? Did you watch these shows while they were on?

Speaker I rarely missed all in the family, really missed it. And we couldn't even tape. So I had a race from the train to the house in order to have dinner to watch the show or had to find it on somewhere else.

Speaker But oh yes, I watched all of them. Still do. I still watch All in the Family. You can get it continuously here in New York. Yes, I did watch it.

Speaker Did you? So you knew something very radical and special was going on on that screen?

Speaker You there was about the second season that I realized there was a revolution going on in television, that we were moving beyond the make believe into the reality as seen by Norman Lear, who has an invisible right here.

Speaker You can't see it no matter how closely you look. There's the invisible eye right here so that he sees what the rest of us don't see.

Speaker Norman turned.

Speaker Prophecy into comedy by telling us what was happening and what was likely to happen in a way that became the truth, so I realize a revolution was going on.

Speaker What we had been seeing in prime time was fast disappearing. In place of the reality is experienced by everyday people in plain speak so that millions and not just the elite could get it.

Speaker I saw a revolution coming where there specific moments or episodes or exchanges that you remember that stuck with you as an especially powerful at the time?

Speaker Oh, so many. I can't really remember them. But there was a marvelous moment when when a gay man, a transgender man, I think comes to see, uh.

Speaker Archie and Edith, and when he leaves, he's he's mugged and beaten. And they look. On Archie's face. In. Archie's eyes. Ah, a moment of illumination.

Speaker That one could know if a tough S.O.P like Archie Bunker could feel a moment of sympathy and empathy.

Speaker With the man so human being so foreign to his own experience and so loathed in his imagination, you knew that there was something very powerful happening. There was a moment when.

Speaker When Archie. Baptizes. His grandson, the most tender, the most compassionate, the most touching revelation of this blustery bigot who religion is dogmatic, suddenly opening to to the tenderness of compassion.

Speaker And that was another one of those moves. I see it even today on reruns in New York. And it's still as moving as it was then.

Speaker It still feels fresh. It feels it does not feel dated. When I when I watch it back.

Speaker No, only the techniques of taping seem a little dated. But the the the speech, the insights, the emotions, the relationships between people are so real. I mean, they're honest to God where we deal with each other. But that was all denied for so long in primetime television.

Speaker People turned out they were actually very hungry for it when they finally had it in front of them.

Speaker Yes. And there was a universality about its appeal. Liberals and conservatives would respond to to Archie's emotions in that in that baptismal scene and the reality of his conversation with Meathead when they were locked in the basement and couldn't get out. I mean, I think all of us long for that kind of honesty with our children, our wives, our spouses, our husbands.

Speaker There's something that he captured and revealed that it is that he captured it. Norman revealing it was there, he didn't put it in to Archie, he called it out of Archie. And when it came from Archie, this deep humanity, the sense of feeling, this is tenderness toward others. It's what we all felt had been locked away in us, at least many of us did.

Speaker And it was so tricky what Norman pulled off here because Archie was a racist and Archie was a bigot and Archie was rude and not eliminated as a person in so many ways. And so was there a danger?

Speaker To putting a bigot and making him a hero on television, let's talk about that a little bit.

Speaker There was you could either confirm others bigotry, you could anger them. If they saw themselves portrayed like like Archie Bunker, you could frighten them off. You could ratify everything we thought about working class people like that, or you could make people identify that's normal.

Speaker Great. Talent is to let us see ourselves and others who are not like us. It it it's a genuine gift, it's a genuine gift to be able. To speak the reality.

Speaker It's it's a great gift. To give someone it's a great gift to give us a cold bath of truth.

Speaker And make us laugh at the same time. Because the laughter is the key that unlocks your own feelings, enormous, great genius like Charlie Chaplin, like Jon Stewart today, was to give us a cold bath of truth and make us laugh revealingly. Accept it, see it to see us in Archi, all of us is a little bit of racism in us. A little bit of biggity, some of us more than others, but but to see ourselves in a working class man at Bettmann was like many I knew in a small town growing up in his Archi was like a lot of people I knew in the small town of Marshall, Texas, growing up. And very often I would watch all in the family and remember people I knew back home. And yet I didn't laugh at them.

Speaker I was laughing at the truth, it was revealed about all of us, and that's the moment no woman has, the woman has this ability with this invisible eye to see something marvelous in the mundane, actually, to to you.

Speaker George Orwell said the most important thing is to is to see what's obvious and tell us about it. And that's what Norman did. Norman saw what was obvious, which everybody else denied or looked away from or didn't see or wouldn't acknowledge.

Speaker And because of the humour and because of the of the humanity of these people, but especially because he helped us to feel to to laugh at it.

Speaker The way, you know, determines the way you don't do politicians speeches, you just you laughter what you suddenly realized was true about yourself and for him to not just stop with all in the family.

Speaker And I mean, he had such a big audience, you know, millions of milliwatt, 62 million viewers watching that time to see these shows or more times and. You know, we interviewed Russell Simmons and he said that he learned how to walk. By watching George Jefferson, is it really? Yeah, he's like my dad was George Jefferson and that there is I'm really learning now and making this film how important some of these other spinoffs were, like The Jeffersons, like good Times to underrepresented communities. And I'm not sure if you followed if you followed that. But in terms of seeing black people represented in this new way was also very, very groundbreaking. And I'm not. Did you did you follow those shows?

Speaker And did you like so much of my life to watching All in the family that I had to return to other pursuits for the rest of the week? That one time, as you know, he had five hours of primetime, five shows, and he had five shows in primetime television who could watch all of that and get anything else done? But I knew about it like dropped in when I could and I kept up with it. I loved the pioneer work he did on the late night talk shows where I forget the name of that. That's not Mary Hartman. Fernwood tonight, Fernwood tonight, Fernwood tonight with so many of his other work, just as I said, turn. Prophecy in the comedy Fernwood Tonight was prophetic in what was going to happen later on in late night television. How so? Well, these people are talking about everyday things. They were talking about what seemed to be the inconsequential news, cracking jokes about it. He also, you know, he used satire in juxtaposition the way that Jon Stewart does so effectively. Jon Stewart never preaches to you, never preach to you. He just put the different realities up against each other and let you draw the lesson. And Fernwood tonight did that with with what is unique to normal, which is dialogue, conversation between people like you and me. Jon Stewart does it brilliantly with film, with film of 20 years. He never has to call a politician a hypocrite because all he has to do is show you what the politician said then and what he's saying or she's saying now. And Fernwood tonight had some of that in it.

Speaker Well, you know, we filmed and, you know, at the Jon Stewart show, and he was in the green room and Jon Stewart came in to visit and say hi.

Speaker And he said he walks in singing on the family theme song, you know, and he said, Norman, thank you for raising me. Yeah.

Speaker He said that something like that to be one of my interviews with Jon on my show.

Speaker And we got to talking in the green room about Norman Lear. And I could tell that that that there was a deep green in Jon Stewart's DNA of Norman Lear's influence.

Speaker Very much so. And you can see it today. It's funny you mention Fernwood tonight.

Speaker There's a hilarious episode called Meet a Jew where there's a Jewish person been spotted in town. And so they had people call in and there if they've brought this guy on stage and to ask him questions and the questions are ridiculous and ignorant and insulting.

Speaker But it's such a funny way to, you know, open a conversation about how little many people knew or know about you, that you have to have lived as wide and varied a life as Norman has lived to be able to bring out of so many disparate characters in so many different scenarios, but great truths that he reveals to us about about human beings. He's a combination socialist. I mean, he's a combination sociologist, philosopher, journalist, wit, writer, observer, that he actually is this singular observer of human life.

Speaker That's right, Suzanne. You make sure we have the Rob Reiner clips available that will play. I'm sorry. It's now. Oh, yeah. Just make sure that I can play them like I don't know if I have Internet access in the basement. One, just make sure that they're I'll put them in here, OK?

Speaker Yeah, he's there.

Speaker This is extremely unique, and so you you must have been curious about this man, but I don't believe you actually met in person till 1980.

Speaker Is that somewhere around 1980? I was producing a series for PBS on creativity, trying to. Answer questions about what is it, where does it come from? Was it to watch somebody creative or somebody else isn't?

Speaker And so we talked about who best could reveal the breaking all the TV at all last night turn off. You know, I think your message is probably on. Yeah, right now. There it is. I know if you're wringers off your message. So ask me that question again.

Speaker 1980, when you finally met Norman.

Speaker What how we were I was producing a series for PBS on creativity and curious about where it comes from. What is it? What if somebody have if somebody else doesn't have it, what is it?

Speaker So obviously, Norman was the most creative person I knew about in primetime television at that time. And so I sought him out and said, I'd like to come and do one episode with you. He said, absolutely, come on. We went out for a week or so that talked to Carroll O'Connor and and others and along interviews with with Norman. And and that began our friendship. We discovered in our. Back and forth like this, that we have a lot in common and that there was some and mainly a lot of income politically and philosophically, so that began what has become a very intense friendship over the last 30 plus years.

Speaker And what did you find? You meet many people and he met many people in life.

Speaker And one one would like to think that there's a spark created, a friendship ignites, but that doesn't always happen. So. But this really did happen between the two of you. What was it that you recognize in each other that that that led to this very intense friendship?

Speaker I didn't know at the moment, but there was there was just a bonding. There was just the revelation of something in him that I longed to be and something in me that he saw that made him appreciate the time we spent together. I don't really know what it is, but it's strong, powerful growth all the time. And the woman has an enormous capacity for friendship. He never forgets you. He has weird little ways of reminding you of your friendship and email here and there. And they call this just a quick repost and he's gone. But when you spend time with him, you discover what a how many. Human beings occupy that one persona. You know, we can talk about anything, but he also. He has a capacity for bringing you out, and that's where I think he learned so much.

Speaker Well, he makes you feel like you're the most important person in the room.

Speaker When he talks to you, he makes you think everybody is important.

Speaker They are to him is his life's experiences. She will give him his bombing runs over Germany during World War Two, to his relationships in Hollywood, to his contacts in politics and his his exposure to religious influences. He just has this thirst. Norman has this thirst to know and to meet your.

Speaker And during that interview, you asked him a little bit about his childhood, what did he and what did he not tell you that during that interview about his father?

Speaker I don't remember what he didn't tell us.

Speaker I remember what he told us and how much of it is reflected in his book and a lot more, I think the book is his first true revelation in public that his father was who his father was, a real rogue, a real scoundrel. It's very hard for a son or daughter to realize that.

Speaker And so I think Norman reveals himself in pieces over time. If you've known him 30 years, you see the holistic life that he's lived and how he thinks about a lot of things, which were only shards of conversation at the moment, because he what I read was that he told you his father was, you know, kind of a criminal.

Speaker But he didn't tell you during the interview on camera that he his father had gone to jail or something that happened during the break. I mean, this is a long time ago.

Speaker I don't think we knew for years that he's probably going to jail. I mean, the more Norman knows and trusts you, the whole truth begins to emerge like a seed of corn in the sunlight. And so knowing him over a long period of time is one of the great gifts that I've received in my lifetime.

Speaker He's one of those people that's continue continues on a journey. He's 92 and he's still learning things about himself, which I find very inspirational. He has been telling the story. He told it to you. He told it to many that his grandfather used to write letters to the president to do remember this?

Speaker Oh, absolutely. He tells that often we we often spend the Fourth of July together. Norman is is a patriot to the core. And every time we're together on the Fourth of July or Memorial Day or something like that, he loves to tell that story imprinted deeply on him. And it is it's his response to the charges from the right wing that this man is is a secular humanist, atheist, agnostic, un-American, embodiment of the worst feature of of Hollywood. And of course, they know that's not true and it's not true. Anoma tells that story because it's implanted in his genes that that you you respect the president and you love the country.

Speaker His grandfather did not write those letters. He writes and they talk, he talks about it in the book that it was a friend of his grandfather, that he wanted it so much to be his grandfather, that he was able to tell these stories because he didn't have that kind of family.

Speaker I think all of us have a little Brian Williams is we we we wrote our stories to register. We want you to remember them. So we had to them to make sure that they have the salt that stands. And so once you do that, once you embellish your story in order to accomplish some reason to go for that, you have to keep telling it and you have to keep added to it for it to carry the weight of truth.

Speaker It's true. And I think it was very, very brave of him to come out.

Speaker And when he was writing the book and realize that some of these stories were just things he'd hoped for because he didn't have to. I mean, I thought it was extremely I was very involved for someone.

Speaker This is one of the amazing things about Norman. He told me in writing the book he learned more about who he was and who he was, not that any other than during any other experiences in his life.

Speaker He said I had to go back and discover the Norman Lear, who had been concealed in the humor, in the writing, in the production, in the creation of real and fictional characters in the same persona. And he said, I had to revisit the fact that I had five families in primetime on television.

Speaker And one family out here in Hollywood and I was more attached and more concerned with and more committed to the families in primetime, the the unreal families that I watched the real take something to admit that that's in the book. And so I think he wrote this book. He was fortunate to live long enough to write this book, to discover truths about himself that he had long ago submerged.

Speaker It's incredible. And I hope the book is is very, very revealing. Did you were you friendly with Frances? And can you tell me about her?

Speaker We we saw Norman and Frances several times before they divorced. We spent weekends with them. And in Vermont, where we've been every Columbus Day for 30, 30 some odd years now. Yes. I didn't know her well. She was even when you were with her, somewhat reclusive. She was at that time struggling with being Norman Lear's wife and trying to find her own identity and reveal to herself her own needs and persona.

Speaker And so she was not very revealing to other other people that she was not very revealing, that I don't know how she was with people whom she knew. I didn't know.

Speaker Yeah, it sounds that she was very hard to get to know from not from the accounts that I that I think she had you know, she had a hard time being the you read the book, you know how Norman made it in Hollywood and he had to pour himself into every possible opportunity and constantly worked long hours and be away and to be absorbed in the world. He was creating the world. He was creating not not his own world. He very honest about that. And so she had to have a somewhat lonely life as so many spouses of very successful and prominent people do.

Speaker Absolutely. You can't you can't have it all at the same time, so.

Speaker Tell me about this weekend. What is the what what is the leaves weekend and what happens there normally?

Speaker But a group of people, always the same people with a little spice from others and be those are meets in the course of the year. We get together at the at the Robert Frost home that he bought many years ago. And it's just a weekend of conversation and camaraderie, communion, reflection, stories and ideas and opinions just shared among friends that don't feel threatened because you disagree with me. And that normally is a perfect host, you know, winter when to be at the top of the table and he knows when to recede and let others do it. He's made a terrific talk show host. I think that's where I think Fernwood tonight is was his aspiration to possibly be, you know, Johnny Carson or somebody like that.

Speaker Oh, gosh, that's an interesting idea for him to become a talk show host. If you are very good at it. How am I OK? Are you so on these weekends, is it always the same group? I know this is are you going to continue to do it? Is it something it's sort of near its end or what is the. There's the same group come every year. Have you lost some members?

Speaker We've lost some members to divorce, but not to death so far. But at this stage, we know that's inevitable and that the circle will be broken at some point. So the question of whether it continues or not is really in Norman's hands and life.

Speaker Yeah, it's.

Speaker Yeah, he's 90, too, so it's he's. I mean, he has a lot to say, I think about it, about how he spends his time and it seems like he wants we can barely keep up with them. He is someone who is like, we'll take a catnap for five minutes in the car. I just this was a source of energy. Where does that come from? It's it's.

Speaker If I knew where it came from, I would bottle it and put it on the market.

Speaker I don't know where water comes from, that energy, that constant fascination with the world that doesn't allow him to sleep more than five minutes every day because there's always something more interesting to sleep to to do. I have no idea where that comes from, but it's obviously from reading the book and from knowing it for 30 plus years it's been there. It's still there at ninety two, just as it was at 62, which is remarkable. That's that comes with your with your genes.

Speaker I think so too. You told Norman that you think he has an air of melancholy in his face. And is that what is that and is that a source of his strength and how did you observe that?

Speaker I think all the great comedians have a sense of melancholy. They see because of this third eye or this invisible laser, they see what the rest of us don't see, they're able to laugh at it, but they are laughing about it. They are managing to absorb it without becoming permanently crippled by it. I mean, Charlie Chaplin saw the rise of the totalitarian mentality in the world, and it was both an object of humor and a source of his melancholy.

Speaker He saw the greed, the avarice that were taking over American culture. And he both enabled us to laugh at it with his slapstick comedy and enable himself to survive it. Norman saw that this bigotry, this enmity, this racism is homophobia could be translated into a political move, but it had been subverted for all these years. And then the Republican Party comes along and begins to figure out how to massage our fears and our and our loathing and to turn it into a movement. And so I think the comedian and seeing the humor in a situation also sees as prophets do the consequence of it. If it's not staid, if it's not required, if it's not met. So I think all of this is not original with me, but the great.

Speaker Comedies of Shakespeare have a sense of irony in them and the potential for human events turning suddenly the other way, and so they see the world in a way the rest of us don't. They never see it with a singular vision. I mean, some people know I think he has a sense that that that democracy can go badly at any moment.

Speaker Life can go badly at any moment, and that the humor is his way of negotiating with the tragedy, but never denying the tragedy.

Speaker It's a really good way to put it talking and speaking of the political the political views of Norman and what he's done with those views. You've called Norman the Thomas Paine of our time.

Speaker Could you elaborate on that and tell me where Thomas Paine was, the journalist of the American Revolution, calling a flagging army of flagging citizenry, a flagging population to arms to rally, to remember the high purposes for which that war was being fought?

Speaker He appealed to the best of us. The reason, the patriotism to commitment and solidarity.

Speaker And that's what Norman has done politically with Norman, as you know, and obviously deal with Norman founded people for the American way because as a boy. He listened to Father Coughlin spew forth.

Speaker As a boy, he listened to Father Coffin, the bigoted right wing Catholic priest who was a great hit on radio of the time. He heard Father Coughlin spew forth his anti-Semitic vitriol, this hatred, this loathing of other people, of people, of Jews like Norman. And he vowed as a boy, to the extent that you can actually this as a boy, he decided he had to fight that.

Speaker And that explains a great deal about both his success in television and his political success, because people for the American Way became the first. Organize response to the growth of the right wing religious movement, the religious right, in the 1970s.

Speaker Why was it important at that time? Why was it especially salient to start people for the American way then? What was that? They didn't give us any historical context for that moment.

Speaker Ronald Reagan had been elected president. The Grand Old Party, the Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower was becoming the party of God, and the Republicans knew that there was this fierce and. And a large Army Onward Christian Soldiers was not just a song that was sung bad for entertainment purposes. They saw that the that the the religious right represented a wholly new recruitment for them.

Speaker And combined with racist who had been Democrats who moved over to the Republican Party after the civil rights movement began. They saw that this was their future. And to do that, they had to embrace some of the most virulently bigoted people in the country. Norman will talk to this day about a documentary that I did in 1980 on The Moral Majority, the first documentary to go on television about the Moral Majority. And we filmed the first meeting of the first convention of the Moral Majority in Dallas in 1980. And there is Ronald Reagan sitting on the dais as a fundamentalist right wing Baptist preacher proclaims. God does not hear the prayers of a Jew, and I pause there so you can cut that little clip in if you go this route, because there's Bailey Smith, Baptist preacher from Oklahoma, saying with that prospect putative president United States on the stage, God does not hear the prayer. But you and I know, although he's never told me. I know that in Norman's mind, he could hear the voice of of of the conflict on radio. I mean, there's a cemetery there, Falcoff, the radio, the 1930s, Bailey Smith, the Moral Majority, the 19, late 70s and early 80s, and had to register it had to ring the alarm in in Norman Lear's. Memory that Tom Paine's words did not weary about the reason we go to war to establish our independence from the king at just the moment that the troops were flagging and the third of the country was giving us loyalty back to the crown. So something happened in Norman when he heard that language and he began to go on C-SPAN and watch the sermons and the speeches of homophobic right wing religious zealots like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. And he saw the danger.

Speaker I mean, Norman is deeply committed to the to freedom of religion, but he's also equally committed to freedom from religion and any any. Any Jew with a history of memory recognizes in the majority in the Moral Majority rhetoric, in their sermons, in their politics, recognize the rise of theocracy in which the dogmatic belief in God becomes the substitute for the Constitution. And so this this alarmed it.

Speaker But it's also the fact that he doesn't fight fire with fire. He he fights fire with wit and humor and wisdom and real character. So when he put on that that baseball cap and became. That character in that 30 second spot.

Speaker He was speaking for every American and not just an elite, our besieged jury. So the people for the American way. Much sooner than the Democratic Party or the ACLU or anything else, People for the American Way became the first purely American response to an un-American strain that was being fueled, fired by prejudice, intolerance, bigotry, anti-Semitism, any race, any block, all of that. And it became the most effective organizing, the only effective organization for years in Washington to tell us the truth, often with wit and humor, but also with organization about the war.

Speaker Tell us the truth about the religious right. I mean.

Speaker It was the they were the first ones to call it out, to publicly call it out, you know what we sort of all knew or felt uncomfortable with, but that was very bold for him to call that out and then actually do something about it with the organization.

Speaker My co-director, I made a phone call, Jesus camp, so that you know that you know those people.

Speaker Yes, we know them. And that's how we first got Norman Lear. People for the American contacted us, really want to give us an award and help us get the film seen.

Speaker And that is how I really I started, you know, remembering and becoming familiar with Norman Lear and people for the American way. I hate to say I knew about it, but I hadn't. But at that time, they really think they see something. They reached out as, how do we help? How do we use this as a tool? And I think, you know, it is a very, very media savvy. What sort of achievements what do you think some of the excellent achievements have been of people for the American way? Have they been effective and in what way?

Speaker I think they have. They've been in the forefront of helping us recognize that homophobia is wrong and that gay Americans have every right that everybody else for. I mean, it's Norma's genius to believe that in a democracy, the rights I claim is important to me or the rights other people claim it's important to them. So if it first of all, it sounded the alarm like Thomas Paine and common sense sounded the alarm sounded the call to arms for the war, for independence. Norman people for the American way sounded the alarm. This is an invasion of hostile forces into the mentality of America. And we should pay attention, try to engage in dialogue. But they would have no dialogue with people for the American way. It it it took on an organized effort for gay people. It it was a home for political opponents of the religious right who needed the research and needed the the solidarity of a lot of others. And in fighting this this effort on the part of the religious right to turn American policy into an instrument of religion.

Speaker Starting that organization and talking to Norman, getting to know him now, as I do, he seems optimistic that these efforts can make change, that you can somehow reason with people that I find completely unreasonable. And he makes me feel like I don't have enough faith in him human beings, because I feel like these people are tone deaf and they they don't they don't want to reason.

Speaker So I feel like there is this quality to Norman that is the forever optimist, almost Pollyanna ish. But that's too negative of a term. Something that I envy, though, that he believes that people can change. Have you encountered that that that characteristic of him? And could you comment on it?

Speaker You can't be a Pollyanna ish. You can't be Pollyannish if you or a Jew who has lived through the 20th century, as Norman has. From the Holocaust. To the World War to. To be anti-Semitism in this country, to the religious right, you can't be Pollyannish. This goes back to what we were discussing earlier about what is it that enables a comedic temperament to survive, even in the face of the hostility of the very people about whom the humor is being made, the jokes are being made. You can't be Pollyannish and be a Jew in the 20th century. And he lived through the 20th century. But he refuses for reasons I cannot explain to you to surrender.

Speaker To.

Speaker To to pessimism, and that was true of Thomas Paine as well, Thomas Paine wound up rejected by the very people. For whom he spoke. And and yet he did not die an impoverished man, although he was impoverished, not impoverished. Norman, I think, comes as close as anybody I've ever met to the philosophy of the of the Italian political scientist, Grabowsky, who said the only way to survive in the world is to practice the optimism of the intellect. And the Grabowsky said the only way to survive in this world is to practice the pessimism of the will. Damski Grabowsky said the only way to survive in the real world is to practice the pessimism of the intellect and the optimism of the will. That is, you see the world as it is. No rose colored glasses? No.

Speaker Lt. Revery, you see it for what it is. You see the camps, you see gerbils, you see leafy Riefenstahl, you you see all that was violent and mean and cruel about the times in which you live. That's the pessimism of the will, the reality you can't avoid.

Speaker But you practice the optimism of the will. You say, I can do what I can and I will do what I can. Some people have large means of doing what they can. Other people have small means. But Norman says use what you have to remain committed. To the ideals. That will save us. That's in every aspect of his life, even his failures on television, even his pilots that didn't fly. He learned something from it and turned it into his next endeavor and the secret of his longevity. I'm convinced he's never without a project. He's never without the seductive temptress of an idea that may yet be one. And that's what keeps him going to be. The last time he was in town and we had dinner, he told me, I can't believe I've got three UN solicited proposals from cable channels to do a new series, 92 years old, 21st century Norman Lear is being asked to do television on cable.

Speaker Are two of them were for, you know, for streaming networks. I mean, so Netflix. Yes. So here he is. And I need to think about what's my next big hit.

Speaker I mean, he doesn't think death is the last act.

Speaker It's incredible. It is truly could wow, well put, you know what, Fillmore's I think you should have a TV show. I mean, it's just a journalist.

Speaker I mean, I've been biased. I'm jealous of Norman because he is the greatest. He has the greatest of all talents, which is to make us laugh and learn, we journalists can make you sad and pessimistic by reporting the truth. You know, this is I grew up in a Christian culture where the New Testament maturation of the truth and the truth shall make you free was embedded is I went to University of Texas, a secular institution, where those words in a secular sense are emblazoned, engraved across the Tower of the universe. You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free. But you know what is not true? Just knowing the truth won't make you free.

Speaker Knowing the truth through the. The wit in it. Being able to laugh. And with that cold bath of true. We'll save us, we'll make us free.

Speaker He brings to it what journalism, Kamper, he would have been a great journalist. His descriptions of the bombing runs and over Germany, his description of the men and the look on their face as they took off and the look on their faces. Some didn't come back his ability to see what many people didn't see. And in the televangelists of the 1970s and 80s, his ability to see the pain, as well as the joy in an Archie Bunker and to see the wisdom of an Edith, that's something that that you can't do with just.

Speaker Just the real truth, no.

Speaker No, you can't, it's what you do with that truth, it's such a good point. It's funny because there's certain you know, I was listening to this New York Times editor recently and he said we're talking to documentary filmmakers like myself. And he said, I suggest more light, less tunnel, more light, less tunnel.

Speaker I love that.

Speaker And that's been in my head because we make films and they often skew to the dark. We always try to bring it back to the funny character repartee between. But it's true. More light, less time, and you can get to the people with that truth.

Speaker Norma did that. Yeah. Norman helped people to get to the truth that they were denied, except when they got there, they realized it was their truth to now.

Speaker Who did? What did you say? When did Norma call you up one day and say, hey, Sotheby's is selling the Declaration of Independence. What do you think, pal?

Speaker Or were you involved in that decision or what did you think about that?

Speaker He didn't call me and asked me, what do you think, pal? He called me and said, guess what? I own the Declaration of Independence. And I said, no, but I thought we all do. He said, I'm going to make sure you do that. So that's when he took on the tour.

Speaker No, no, no, no, no, Norman, I cannot you know, I cannot overemphasize what a patriot this man is. And how he is patriotic, without humbug, without without exaggeration, he just loves the promise in that declaration that all of us have individual rights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That, by the way, is the great promise of the American experience. Lincoln saw it. Roosevelts, both Roosevelt saw it and woman, he wanted to own it, not to keep it.

Speaker He wanted to own it, to share it. And that explains the nationwide tour, the revery that he experienced and in letting it out of the cage and taking it everywhere he you know. If he had lived in.

Speaker Renaissance friend, if Norman Norman had lived in Renaissance Florence. He would have been the kind of mariachi who took the great statues of Michelangelo to the works of the other great artists out of the private homes, out of the exclusive privilege of the elite and put them in the public square, which was the great city that made art public. That's what Norman would have done had he lived in Florence. But when he lived, it wasn't Michelangelo that excited him. It was his Declaration of Independence. And he bought the damn thing and then said, here it's yours to the public will deliver.

Speaker Yes.

Speaker What a great way to put it. Norman said that people laugh hardest at what they care most about. I think that's sort of another way to sort of put what you're saying as well. Like he said it, I believe it.

Speaker If you could add some people to the Mt. Rushmore, who would it be?

Speaker I would add full sentence of.

Speaker I've been circulating a petition metaphorically to put Charlie Chaplin and Norman Lear on Mount Rushmore before the right puts, before the right puts Ronald Reagan up there, because both of those men, as I said, are both Charlie Chaplin and Norman Lear turned comedy into prophecy. We laughed at what was. We laughed at what is it, what is was what was becoming Charlie Chaplin. Made us made his audiences laugh at the totalitarian mentality that was then spreading across all of Europe.

Speaker No one with his plane speak, folks, folks, my mother and father would identify with that in conservative east Texas. He made us see the human foibles. Irony's bigotries that always have handcuffed the American promise and by seeing those and laughing at them, he helped over the next 30 years to remove those handcuffs and to let the promise of this country flower. I mean, I would put Charlie Chaplin and Norman Lear on Mount Rushmore because in their wit, they made us see the truths of the American experience in ways that those great politicians did through their works of public policy and speeches. They told us the truth about ourselves and made us really realize we could both achieve the good truth and overcome the bad.

Speaker I think that the hard to top what you just said, I think maybe, maybe we should leave it there. Whatever in terms of how much material you have and how, let me just make sure there's a few other.

Speaker I would like to know, actually, how you would compare television today. Do we see lawman's influence on today's people? Keep calling it the golden the new golden age of television, that it's very smart and clever now, House of Cards, etc..

Speaker What is your opinion of television today versus the one evening about 10 years ago? We were all at the gully having one of these long nights.

Speaker Seminars and people were castigating television, the television of the day, most of the people doing the castigating were over 60.

Speaker And no, no, no, no, no, we're living in the golden age of television, and this was before Netflix, this was before House of Cards were living in the golden age of television, because first there's more of it and there's so much. Better writing and so much greater diversity, there are great stories being told today on television, it's just that with more than three networks, you don't see as much as you used to, but you can't pick and you have to pick and choose.

Speaker You're going to miss a lot. I miss 95 percent of all the good stuff on television now. But Norman was the one. And this is the most generous spirit I've ever met. Seriously, Coleman is the most generous spirit toward the religious right. He holds no meanness or malice and toward people more successful, perhaps in modern terms than he was in television. He has no envy. So he he watches everything he can and he has pronounced it good. And when Norman Lear says this is the golden age of television, I'm here in King Midas, talk about a goal greater than he created. And that's the generous temperament that guides this man that can bring him back from World War two or not hate the Germans, that could put him in opposition to the religious right and not hate the believers who can think Republicans are destroying our democracy by their blind adherence to money and capital and not hate them for it. I mean, for some reason, Norman has been spared. For some reason, Norman Lear has been spared. The malice and envy and meanness.

Speaker He spoofs this television show. Yeah.

Speaker I mean, that's a that's a work of God, right? A work of creation, Norman. Is his own definition of creativity.

Speaker Yeah.

Speaker Yeah, that's such a good point. I don't know how he's not gripped by the fact that he spoofs. I think that's a very a really, really good point. How does Norman cut an apple and why does why are you so taken by that?

Speaker But Joseph Campbell said to me, if you want to change the world, change the metaphor and Norman change for me the metaphor of creativity when I was doing the series on creativity.

Speaker Because I suddenly I was trying to find what is creativity and and I and I realized I realized when I was interviewing him, or maybe it was after the interview and I was looking at the footage and thinking about what is it he had done. That was so creative and therefore so successful in a different way from anything else that had been done on television, and I thought of the apple, you and I cut an apple with our knife from the steamtown around under it back to the Stemmons. And we opened it like that. The woman cuts an apple. With the knife going around the circumference, the way satellite circles the earth. And when you parted, then right in the center of the Apple Nature's artwork.

Speaker Is a star.

Speaker I had never seen a star in an apple until that image came to me in my conversation with Norman, and I suddenly realized he cuts the apple differently and he sees in the mundane tissue a star and that inspires. And I've never been able to cut an apple any other way since then. And that's.

Speaker Did you discover were you satisfied with your series and with your conversation with Norman in terms of did you think that you've zeroed in on what that creativity is? Can it be described?

Speaker Creativity is the. Yes, I mean, not the final answer, but so much work done on creativity by social scientists like behavioral psychologists and others in the 30 years since then that mine was my series was just it was just a a bus stop on a long trip to discover what it is. But but creativity is the capacity to look at the obvious and see what no one else sees, to look at the apple and see a star inside it, to look at the the mundane and see something marvelous in it, to look at an ordinary, nondescript life of a.

Speaker Working class American living on the street in Queens and see there a certain nobility, a certain wisdom and wit, a certain revelation of one's own self. That's creativity.

Speaker Yeah. What have you learned about growing old phone, Norman?

Speaker You're much younger than him not to talk about it. Not to dwell on it. You do doing a complete then? Oh, yeah, well, I'm never around.

Speaker I know Norman is 92 years old, and he himself will say that with the gift of he himself will acknowledge that he's 92 years old with a gift of wonder about it.

Speaker Me, I've lived this long life and all this I get to experience. You can't be around Norman without realizing that life is at this moment and it's what you're doing with it. And it's how you think they're going to be other moments and you're going to you're always aware that the road narrows suddenly and it could drop over the precipice. But you never live with that constant if you're aware. But you're not captive to the notion that there is an end.

Speaker And until there isn't and by golly, you know, I'm going to keep writing and working and producing and enjoying the moment I'm a keep drinking from this cup until the last drop.

Speaker Suzanne, is there anything that I that I missed that we really wanted to cover? I feel like that is a story about you getting lost in the woods. Is that a good story?

Speaker It's just a personal story. I mean, we we walk a lot on the weekends.

Speaker Norman bought a Robert Frost farm, and one can imagine that that's where Robert Frost wrote to words. And one can imagine that's where no one can imagine. That's where Robert Frost wrote to. Roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I chose the one less traveled. Well, we were kidding about that as we disappeared into one of the woods. There are many words on the property that fall. And lo and behold, the two of us were talking so intently and and sharing so much. We got lost in the woods that we took the road less traveled and we joke about that. But we were lost for two or three hours on Nora's own property and finally came to a fence that we recognized was a way out of the story, kept our personal experience.

Speaker I mean, we've had so many anyone, any friend that this is this is the wonder of the man to me, each one of us who is his friend. And there are countless friends. There are innumerable friends. Each of us has so many personal stories. There is real and powerful for each of us as they offer the other, that you would never cover them, you couldn't have them so personal. They make no sense to the outsider of that relationship. When you are with Norman alone or with others, you know, there is no. Relationship more important to him than the one at that moment, so the experience of being lost in the woods is just I guess it's just a metaphor for saying that there's no one in the woods I'd rather be lost with.

Bill Moyers
Interview Date:
2015-03-11
Runtime:
1:01:15
Keywords:
None
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
N/A
MLA CITATIONS:
"Bill Moyers, Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 11 Mar. 2015, https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/1051
APA CITATIONS:
(2015, March 11). Bill Moyers, Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/1051
CHICAGO CITATIONS:
"Bill Moyers, Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). March 11, 2015. Accessed January 27, 2022 https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/1051

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