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16 Cutting-Edge Facts About All in the Family

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‘‘The program you are about to see is All in the Family. It seeks to throw a humorous spotlight on our frailties, prejudices, and concerns. By making them a source of laughter, we hope to show—in a mature fashion—just how absurd they are.’’

That was the disclaimer that CBS ran prior to the very first episode of All in the Family. The Norman Lear creation didn’t just push the envelope, it sealed and stamped it as well. But viewers kept tuning in week after week to see stories about previously taboo topics, such as menopause, rape, homosexuality, and race relations. Crack open a can of cling peaches (in heavy syrup) and enjoy this smelting pot of behind-the-scenes tidbits.

1. THE SHOW WAS BASED ON A BRITISH SITCOM.

Norman Lear bought the rights to Till Death Do Us Part in the late 1960s after reading about the BBC series, which ran for 10 years beginning in 1965, in Variety. Alf Garnett (Warren Mitchell) was a working-class conservative who lived in London’s East End with his wife, daughter, and liberal layabout Liverpudlian son-in-law. Alf had opinions on just about everything, and was quite vocal in his dislike of Americans, Catholics, homosexuals, and anyone else who was “different” than him.

2. ARCHIE BUNKER WAS ORIGINALLY ARCHIE JUSTICE.

Lear thought that the BBC show’s set-up—a middle-aged, blue collar conservative man who never hesitated to express his racist viewpoints, his doting wife, and his liberal daughter and son-in-law—could be mined for humor for American audiences. Justice for All, as the show was called in his original pilot script, starred Carroll O’Connor as Archie Justice and Jean Stapleton as his wife, Edith. Kelly Jean Peters and Tim McIntire rounded out the cast as Gloria and Richard (Meathead’s original name). ABC passed on the show, however; their main complaint being Archie and Edith’s lack of chemistry with the younger actors. Lear recast the roles with Candy Azzara and Chip Oliver, changed the name of the show to Those Were the Days and shot a new pilot, but ABC was still uninterested.

3. CBS’S “RURAL PURGE” HELPED ALL IN THE FAMILY TO FINALLY GET ON THE AIR.

When Robert Wood became president of CBS in 1969 he made a bold move and cancelled several of the network’s long-running (and still-successful) “rural” shows, including Green Acres, Petticoat Junction, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Mayberry R.F.D. The latest market research showed that advertisers were attracted to a younger demographic, which to Wood meant less corn pone and more cutting-edge and socially relevant shows. Norman Lear’s revamped pilot—now called All in the Family and co-starring Sally Struthers and Rob Reiner as Gloria and Michael Stivic—was deemed relevant enough and premiered on the network in 1971 as a summer replacement series.

4. MUCH OF ARCHIE BUNKER WAS BASED ON NORMAN LEAR’S FATHER.

Herman Lear frequently told his son that he was the “laziest white kid I’ve ever seen” and called him “Meathead.” He also referred to his wife as a “Dingbat” and told her to “stifle.” (In an affectionate way, of course.) “King” Lear, as he was known to his family, also had a living room chair reserved for his use only. And the reason that the characters on not only All in the Family, but all other Norman Lear productions, seemed to be constantly shouting is because the entire Lear family always seemed to speak at top volume.

5. MICKEY ROONEY TURNED DOWN THE ROLE OF ARCHIE.

When Norman Lear pitched the series to Rooney, he only got as far as describing Archie as “a bigot who uses words like ‘spade’” before Mickey interrupted him. “Norm,” said the actor with a penchant for shortening names, “they’re going to kill you, shoot you dead in the streets.” Carroll O’Connor read for the role after Rooney’s refusal and had landed the part by the time he got to page three of the pilot script. But even he was dubious about the show and told Lear that CBS would cancel it after six weeks tops.

6. THE FUTURE MRS. REINER ALMOST PLAYED MRS. STIVIC.

Rob Reiner’s girlfriend (and eventual wife) Penny Marshall was a finalist for the role of Gloria. She and Sally Struthers were each summoned before the “suits” to read lines and do improv with Reiner (who had already been cast as Michael Stivic). Since Reiner and Marshall were living together at the time, Struthers had a feeling that Reiner would intentionally work better with Penny, so she went into the final audition without nerves and just gave it her all. Years later she asked Lear why she’d been chosen, and the producer told her that Penny Marshall had given a better reading, but that she resembled Jean Stapleton too much. He explained that it had been decided that Gloria would be Daddy’s Little Girl, so (with brutal honesty) she’d gotten the part because she had “a fat face and blue eyes like Carroll O’Connor.”

7. CBS WANTED “EDGY,” BUT WITHIN REASON.

While the scripts for the 13 contracted episodes were being written, Lear received a memo from the CBS Program Practices department detailing the words and phrases that should be avoided at all costs (based on their focus group research). For example, the network requested that homosexual terminology should be kept to a minimum—that “queer” and “fairy” should be used sparingly, and “regular fella” was preferable to “straight.” Lear’s response to these admonishments was to ignore them, as can be witnessed in the fifth episode of the first season, “Judging Books by Covers”:

Of course, the payoff came in the twist ending to this episode, when it was revealed that not only was Roger a “regular fella,” but that Archie’s burly former professional football player friend Steve was not.

8. THE EXPECTED VIEWER BACKLASH NEVER MATERIALIZED.

Despite the disclaimer posted prior to the first episode, CBS still braced for the worst the night All in the Family premiered. They hired dozens of extra operators at the network’s switchboard to handle the barrage of outraged telephone calls they were sure would follow. Much to their surprise, only a handful of viewers were offended enough to call. Indeed, as the series continued, network executives (and the show’s creative team) were shocked to find that contrary to their original intent, Americans seemed to embrace Archie Bunker rather than be repulsed by him. “Archie Bunker for President” bumper stickers and campaign buttons were all the rage, and a paperback called The Wit and Wisdom of Archie Bunker became a bestseller.

9. THEY DID RECEIVE A LOT OF CALLS AND MAIL ABOUT THE THEME SONG, THOUGH.

Viewers asked the same question over and over during the show’s first two seasons: What is the second to last line of the opening theme song? Folks had so much trouble understanding “Gee, our old LaSalle ran great” that O’Connor and Stapleton re-recorded it prior to season three and carefully enunciated the mystery lyric. (The LaSalle was a high-end General Motors model that was manufactured from 1927 until 1940.)

10. CARROLL O’CONNOR WROTE THE LYRICS FOR THE CLOSING THEME SONG.

Roger Kellaway wrote the instrumental “Remembering You,” which played over the closing credits of All in the Family. After the first season ended, O’Connor approached Kellaway and asked if he’d mind if he (O’Connor) wrote some lyrics to go with his music. Kellaway agreed, and even though the lyrics are never heard, O’Connor received a co-writing credit—and royalties—for the tune. In case you’re curious about the lyrics, here’s O’Connor performing the song on The Flip Wilson Show:

11. FOUR ARCHIE-LESS EPISODES WERE TAPED DURING A SALARY DISPUTE.

O’Connor went missing in action for three weeks in July of 1974 in a protest over his wages and working conditions. He claimed that Tandem Productions owed him $64,000 in back pay and he also wanted 12 weeks of vacation during his 24-week work schedule. Norman Lear countered by filming three Archie-less episodes (beginning with “Where’s Archie?” in season five) and made it known on the set that if O’Connor continued to hold out, the Archie character would be killed in some sort of accident, and that Stretch Cunningham (James Cromwell) would eventually move in with the Bunkers to provide a male foil for the family. Stretch “died” two seasons later; Cromwell told the New York Post that O’Connor had asked for him to be written out of the series “because I was getting too many laughs. Actually, he did me a great favor, because I might have ended up as another Fonzie, an actor totally identified with one character.”

12. SALLY STRUTHERS ALSO HAD CONTRACT ISSUES.

Struthers was itching to work in films and had scored an audition for the lead in the 1975 John Schlesinger film The Day of the Locust. But when All in the Family producers refused to give her time off if she landed the role, she took them to court. Tandem Productions countered by enforcing a provision in her contract that prevented her from appearing as an actress or celebrity anywhere other than on All in the Family. Karen Black eventually won the part in The Day of the Locust, and Gloria was absent from two episodes (“Archie the Hero” and “Archie the Donor”) while the whole kerfuffle was settled.

13. THE SHOW ONCE FEATURED FULL FRONTAL MALE NUDITY.

All in the Family shattered another taboo in 1976 when full frontal male nudity was shown for the first time on American network primetime television. Of course, the male in question was three-week old baby Joey Stivic, and the nudity was both tastefully filmed and germane to the plot. Later that same year, Ideal released an official Archie Bunker’s Grandson Joey Stivic doll that was “physically correct.”

14. THE FAMOUS “SOCK AND SHOE” DEBATE WAS BASED ON A REAL-LIFE INCIDENT.

Reiner stated in an interview that O’Connor happened to drop by his dressing room one day while he was getting dressed. Reiner’s habit is to put a sock and a shoe on one foot before dressing the other foot. O’Connor was nonplussed and proceeded to lecture Reiner on the “correct” way to don footwear. Reiner related the incident to the writers, who included it in a scene in “Gloria Sings the Blues."

15. SAMMY DAVIS JR. CAUSED THE LONGEST LAUGH RECORDED ON THE SERIES.

O’Connor and Sammy Davis Jr. were good friends in real life, and All in the Family was Davis’ favorite TV show. So at his request, a guest spot was arranged for him in season two’s “Sammy’s Visit.” The kiss at the end was O’Connor’s idea, and the audience reaction was the loudest and longest laugh in the history of the series.

16. EDITH DID NOT DIE ON THE SHOW.

Many viewers seem to recall an episode of All in the Family where Edith had passed away and was being mourned, but it never happened. The poignant scene where Archie wept while holding Edith’s pink slipper and asked how she could leave him happened in the first episode of the second season of Archie Bunker’s Place, the All in the Family spin-off series.

Additional Sources:
Even This I Get to Experience
, by Norman Lear
Archie & Edith, Mike & Gloria: The Tumultuous History of All in the Family, by Donna McCrohan
Norman Lear Interview
, The Archive of American Television
Carroll O'Connor Interview, The Archive of American Television
Jean Stapleton Interview, The Archive of American Television
Rob Reiner Interview, The Archive of American Television
"The Great Divide," The New Yorker
"The Many Beginnings of All in the Family," Splitsider
Nashua Telegraph, October 25, 1974
Sioux City Journal, February 11, 2014
Toledo Blade, June 12, 1975

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15 Confusing Plant and Animal Misnomers
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People have always given names to the plants and animals around us. But as our study of the natural world has developed, we've realized that many of these names are wildly inaccurate. In fact, they often have less to say about nature than about the people who did the naming. Here’s a batch of these befuddling names.

1. COMMON NIGHTHAWK

There are two problems with this bird’s name. First, the common nighthawk doesn’t fly at night—it’s active at dawn and dusk. Second, it’s not a hawk. Native to North and South America, it belongs to a group of birds with an even stranger name: Goatsuckers. People used to think that these birds flew into barns at night and drank from the teats of goats. (In fact, they eat insects.)

2. IRISH MOSS

It’s not a moss—it’s a red alga that lives along the rocky shores of the northern Atlantic Ocean. Irish moss and other red algae give us carrageenan, a cheap food thickener that you may have eaten in gummy candies, soy milk, ice cream, veggie hot dogs, and more.

3. FISHER-CAT

Native to North America, the fisher-cat isn’t a cat at all: It’s a cousin of the weasel. It also doesn’t fish. Nobody’s sure where the fisher cat’s name came from. One possibility is that early naturalists confused it with the sea mink, a similar-looking creature that was an expert fisher. But the fisher-cat prefers to eat land animals. In fact, it’s one of the few creatures that can tackle a porcupine.

4. AMERICAN BLUE-EYED GRASS

American blue-eyed grass doesn’t have eyes (which is good, because that would be super creepy). Its blue “eyes” are flowers that peek up at you from a meadow. It’s also not a grass—it’s a member of the iris family.

5. MUDPUPPY

The mudpuppy isn’t a cute, fluffy puppy that scampered into some mud. It’s a big, mucus-covered salamander that spends all of its life underwater. (It’s still adorable, though.) The mudpuppy isn’t the only aquatic salamander with a weird name—there are many more, including the greater siren, the Alabama waterdog, and the world’s most metal amphibian, the hellbender.

6. WINGED DRAGONFISH

This weird creature has other fantastic and inaccurate names: brick seamoth, long-tailed dragonfish, and more. It’s really just a cool-looking fish. Found in the waters off of Asia, it has wing-like fins, and spends its time on the muddy seafloor.

7. NAVAL SHIPWORM

The naval shipworm is not a worm. It’s something much, much weirder: a kind of clam with a long, wormlike body that doesn’t fit in its tiny shell. It uses this modified shell to dig into wood, which it eats. The naval shipworm, and other shipworms, burrow through all sorts of submerged wood—including wooden ships.

8. WHIP SPIDERS

These leggy creatures are not spiders; they’re in a separate scientific family. They also don’t whip anything. Whip spiders have two long legs that look whip-like, but that are used as sense organs—sort of like an insect’s antennae. Despite their intimidating appearance, whip spiders are harmless to humans.

9. VELVET ANTS

A photograph of a velvet ant
Craig Pemberton, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

There are thousands of species of velvet ants … and all are wasps, not ants. These insects have a fuzzy, velvety look. Don’t pat them, though—velvet ants aren’t aggressive, but the females pack a powerful sting.

10. SLOW WORM

The slow worm is not a worm. It’s a legless reptile that lives in parts of Europe and Asia. Though it looks like a snake, it became legless through a totally separate evolutionary path from the one snakes took. It has many traits in common with lizards, such as eyelids and external ear holes.

11. TRAVELER'S PALM

This beautiful tree from Madagascar has been planted in tropical gardens all around the world. It’s not actually a palm, but belongs to a family that includes the bird of paradise flower. In its native home, the traveler’s palm reproduces with the help of lemurs that guzzle its nectar and spread pollen from tree to tree.

12. VAMPIRE SQUID

Drawing of a vampire squid
Carl Chun, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This deep-sea critter isn’t a squid. It’s the only surviving member of a scientific order that has characteristics of both octopuses and squids. And don’t let the word “vampire” scare you; it only eats bits of falling marine debris (dead stuff, poop, and so on), and it’s only about 11 inches long.

13. MALE FERN & LADY FERN

Early botanists thought that these two ferns belonged to the same species. They figured that the male fern was the male of the species because of its coarse appearance. The lady fern, on the other hand, has lacy fronds and seemed more ladylike. Gender stereotypes aside, male and lady Ferns belong to entirely separate species, and almost all ferns can make both male and female reproductive cells. If ferns start looking manly or womanly to you, maybe you should take a break from botany.

14. TENNESSEE WARBLER

You will never find a single Tennessee warbler nest in Tennessee. This bird breeds mostly in Canada, and spends the winter in Mexico and more southern places. But early ornithologist Alexander Wilson shot one in 1811 in Tennessee during its migration, and the name stuck.

15. CANADA THISTLE

Though it’s found across much of Canada, this spiky plant comes from Europe and Asia. Early European settlers brought Canada thistle seeds to the New World, possibly as accidental hitchhikers in grain shipments. A tough weed, the plant soon spread across the continent, taking root in fields and pushing aside crops. So why does it have this inaccurate name? Americans may have been looking for someone to blame for this plant—so they blamed Canada.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

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18 Tea Infusers to Make Teatime More Exciting
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Make steeping tea more fun with these quirky tea infusers.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

1. SOAKING IT UP; $7.49

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That mug of hot water might eventually be a drink for you, but first it’s a hot bath for your new friend, who has special pants filled with tea.

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There’s no superlaser on this Death Star, just tea.

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3. SPACE STATION; $9.99

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This astronaut's mission? Orbit the rim of your mug until you're ready to pull the space station diffuser out.

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4. BE REFINED; $12.99

This pipe works best with Earl Grey.

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5. A RIBBITING OPTION; $10.93

This frog hangs on to the side of your mug with a retractable tongue. When the tea is ready, you can put him back on his lily pad.

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6. ‘TEA’ ALL LIVE IN A YELLOW SUBMARINE; $5.95

It’s just like the movie, only with tea instead of Beatles.

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7. SHARK ATTACK; $6.99

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This fearsome shark patrols the bottom of your mug waiting for prey. For extra fun, use red tea to look like the end of a feeding frenzy.

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8. PERFECT FOR A RAINY DAY; $12.40

This umbrella’s handle conveniently hooks to the side of your mug.

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9. AN EGGCELLENT INFUSER; $5.75

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Sometimes infusers are called tea eggs, and this one takes the term to a new, literal level.

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10. FOR SQUIRRELY DRINKERS; $8.95

If you’re all right with a rodent dunking its tail into your drink, this is the infuser for you.

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11. HANGING OUT; $12.85

This pug is happy to hang onto your mug and keep you company while you wait for the tea to be ready.

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12. ANOTHER SHARK OPTION; $5.99

If you thought letting that other shark infuser swim around in the deep water of your glass was too scary, this one perches on the edge, too busy comping on your mug to worry about humans.

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13. RUBBER DUCKIE, YOU’RE THE ONE; $8.95

Let this rubber duckie peacefully float in your cup and make teatime lots of fun.

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14. DIVING DEEP; $8.25

This old-timey deep-sea diver comes with an oxygen tank that you can use to pull it out.

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15. MAKE SWEET TEA; $10

This lollipop won't actually make your tea any sweeter, but you can always add some sugar after.

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16. A SEASONAL FAVORITE; $7.67

When Santa comes, give him some tea to go with the cookies.

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17. FLORAL TEA; $14.99

Liven up any cup of tea with this charming flower. When you’re done, you can pop it right back into its pot.

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18. KEEP IT TRADITIONAL; $7.97

If you’re nostalgic for the regular kind of tea bag, you can get reusable silicon ones that look almost the same.

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