Norman Lear’s writing career began in 1949 doing routines for local Los Angeles comedians with his partner, Ed Simmons. In 1950, they persuaded Danny Thomas to use a routine they wrote for a performance at Ciro’s night club. It was seen by David Susskind, the well-known agent, and on the basis of that sketch, the partners were hired to write for the Ford Star Revue with Jack Haley in New York.
Almost immediately, Jerry Lewis hired them away to write for The Colgate Comedy Hour with Martin and Lewis. Simmons and Lear continued writing for Martin and Lewis until 1953, moving on to do The Martha Raye Show from 1954-1956.
Mr. Lear began writing on his own in 1957 for The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show and The George Gobel Show, and in 1958 teamed up with Bud Yorkin to form Tandem Productions. They produced and packaged television specials showcasing such stars as Fred Astaire, Jack Benny, Danny Kaye, Carol Channing, Andy Williams and Henry Fonda. The young company’s first film, Come Blow Your Horn (1963) starring Frank Sinatra, was adapted and produced by Mr. Lear from a Neil Simon play and directed by Mr. Yorkin. Never Too Late, with Maureen O’Sullivan and Paul Ford, followed two years later, and in 1967, Divorce American Style with Debbie Reynolds and Dick Van Dyke, for which Mr. Lear was nominated for an Academy Award for Outstanding Writing.
Mr. Lear then wrote and produced The Night They Raided Minsky’s, and in 1970, was the executive producer of Start the Revolution Without Me, written from an idea by Mr. Lear and produced and directed by Mr. Yorkin. Mr. Lear made his debut as a theatrical film director in 1971 with Cold Turkey, a film he also scripted and produced.
In 1968, Tandem made a pilot for ABC of a television sitcom with Carroll O’Connor and Jean Stapleton, and a second pilot in 1969. The show, Those Were the Days, was turned down by the ABC network. Then in 1970, CBS’s Robert Wood offered to put the show, now renamed All in the Family, on for thirteen weeks. Rob Reiner was cast as Archie Bunker’s son-in-law, Mike, and Sally Struthers as Archie’s and Edith’s daughter, Gloria. The program ran for nine seasons and won five Emmys, as well as numerous other honors and awards.
Following the success of All in the Family, Tandem produced a series of TV sitcoms that included Maude, Sanford and Son, and Good Times. In 1974, Mr. Lear partnered with agent-business executive Jerry Perenchio to form an entertainment consortium they called T.A.T. The first project under the T.A.T. banner was The Jeffersons, which was soon followed by such other successes as One Day at a Time;Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman;Fernwood 2 Night, and America 2-Night.
In 1978, Mr. Lear took a leave from the day-to-day operation of his primetime comedy series to work on other projects. He was replaced at T.A.T. by Alan Horn (currently the chairman of Walt Disney Studios). During this period Mr. Lear produced the award-winning syndicated series The Baxters, a combination of entertainment and audience response. In 1980 came Palmerstown, a unique collaboration with Alex Haley.
Mr. Lear founded the liberal advocacy group People For the American Way in 1981. The next year, on its behalf, he created, developed, wrote and produced I Love Liberty, a two-hour, star-studded musical and dramatic television extravaganza, taped before an audience of 10,000 people at the Los Angeles Sports Arena and aired on the ABC network.
With the acquisition of Avco/Embassy in 1982, Embassy Communications – the successor to T.A.T. Communications – was founded by Mr. Lear and Mr. Perenchio. Embassy successfully developed, produced and distributed television projects and theatrical motion pictures (among them Rob Reiner’s first film as a director, This Is Spinal Tap) until 1985, when it was sold to Coca-Cola. Mr. Lear, with his business partner, Hal Gaba, then formed Act III Communications, a multimedia holding with interests in the recording, motion picture, and licensing industries, of which he is Chairman.