Carroll O’Connor Thought ‘All in the Family’ Critics Were ‘Hacks and Semi-Literates’

‘I do think the managing editors of newspapers hire inferior people to write television’
Carroll O’Connor Thought ‘All in the Family’ Critics Were ‘Hacks and Semi-Literates’

Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach, according to the the old aphorism. Woody Allen’s jokey addendum goes, Those who can’t teach, teach gym. And those who can’t teach gym, one imagines Carroll O’Connor saying, write reviews of TV shows.

O’Connor had little use for people who criticized shows like All in the Family for a living. MeTV reports on the time that O’Connor confronted one critic in a restaurant — ironically, at a dinner for TV journalists that CBS had invited the star to attend. In front of a room full of industry professionals, O’Connor loudly proclaimed that critics were “jerks,” adding that, “I think too many of you don't know what you are doing.”

This wasn’t a one-time diatribe. On that same evening, he was asked about an earlier talk show appearance in which he called TV critics “hacks and semi-literates.” O’Connor didn’t take the opportunity to walk back his earlier insults.

“I think you all have been in a position where you all have said something out of pure emotion that is not all true. There are semi-literates. A lot of them copy what other people write and add a little twist of their own so that it appears the local boy has the inside track,” groused TV’s Archie Bunker. "I do think the managing editors of newspapers hire inferior people to write television." 

Inferior people? I think I’d rather be called Meathead. But while O’Connor could dish it out, he couldn’t take it. “The criticism bothers me. I care about it and most of the actors I know care. You people reach a pretty large audience and there is no way to get back at you. The critic always has the last word.”

Imagine if O’Connor had a Twitter account back in the day. Sounds like we missed out on some explosive return fire at his detractors. But lowly TV critics shouldn’t have taken any of his diatribes too personally. O’Connor famously didn’t get along with many people, including his All in the Family boss, Norman Lear

There was trouble from the moment O’Connor received the show’s first script. “I thought it was terrible,” he said in a 1999 interview for the Archive of American Television. “So I said I'm going to rewrite the script and if he doesn't like it then he can just get somebody else.” O’Connor barked all of his revisions into a tape recorder and according to the actor, Lear listened and agreed with all of his rewrites. Maybe that was the last time they agreed.

“Norman and I, we soon perceived we didn't like each other much and I was nasty to him on occasions,” O’Connor admits. “I should have kept my cool but you make these mistakes. I say outrageous things. He got pretty sore.” 

What kinds of outrageous things? Did O’Connor call Lear an inferior person? A hack? A semi-literate? He didn’t confirm but decades later, things weren’t much better. “Even to this day,” O’Connor confessed, “we don't like each other.”


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