Archie Bunker's Last Stand

Carroll O’Connor’s Archie Bunker Role
Challenged TV Viewers to Confront Bigotry

By Buck Wolf

June 26, 2001 — Carroll O'Connor is gone, but The Bigot of Hauser Street lives on — and he still has some choice words for you pinko liberal fruitcakes out there.

If you've forgotten just how important O'Connor's Archie Bunker was to America, settle into your favorite armchair, pop open a "beah" and "stifle yah self" for a minute.

From Gomer to Bunker

When All in the Family premiered on CBS in 1971, Archie Bunker — a loudmouthed working-class Joe from Queens, N.Y. — lambasted every minority and every white person who didn't share his reactionary ways.

There was nothing subtle about Bunker. He called African-Americans "black beauties," Puerto Ricans "Spics," and Jews "members of the tribe." (Unless, of course, they were religious. Then they were "off-the-docks Jews.")

Yet somehow All in the Family was simultaneously the most popular and controversial TV show of the early 1970s — with 50 million people tuning in each week in the second season to hear Archie pontificate.

O'Connor, 76, who collapsed in his Culver City, Calif., home and died of a heart attack Thursday, somehow managed to satirize racism, yet still give his character some redeeming qualities.

At a time when TV viewers were accustomed to such pap as Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., Archie Bunker was squaring off with his unemployed liberal son-in-law Mike Stivic, as played by Rob Reiner, on premarital sex, the Vietnam War and abortion.

While the subject matter might have been highbrow, the fighting often degenerated to the sort of name-calling that you'd expect at a playground. Bunker, for instance, always addresses his son-in-law as "Meathead."

"Sticks and stones may break my bones," Bunker tells Stivic. "But you are one dumb Polack."

What’s to Like?

Perhaps the key to O'Connor's Bunker is that he always seems to get things just a little bit wrong. In an Italian restaurant, he'll order the "veal scalapeepee." His wife Edith will have to see the "groinocologist" about her "mental pause." And his oversexed son-in-law and daughter will engage in "floorplay."