Were The Days:
Queens History And The Small Screen
By ANGELA MONTEFINISE
In the 1970s the top rated show was
"All in the Family," a groundbreaking sitcom about a loveable bigot named Archie
Bunker who lived at the fictional address of 704 Hauser Street in Queens.
During the 1970s Carol OConnors character (top
right) of Archie Bunker and the rest of the cast of "All In The Family," brought
a portrait of Queens life into the homes of millions of Americans.
This week, the world lost actor Carroll
O Connor, the man who made the borough famous with his portrayal of loud-mouth,
OConnor died on June 21 in a Los Angeles
hospital following a heart attack. His death at age 76 was not only a loss for Hollywood,
and "All in the Family" fans, it was also a loss for Queens.
OConnors character of introduced
the borough to the rest of America.
From his easy chair in Corona, Archie let
every American know that, believe it or not, New York City is more than just Manhattan.
Queens stole the spotlight during "All in
the Familys" highly rated 13-year run and the show broke ground and shaped the
way Queens would be portrayed on TV for years to come.
Through And Through
OConnor not only played a
Queens native on television, but was a Queens native himself.
Much unlike his TV family,
OConnor grew up with two brothers in a white-collar house in Forest Hills. His
father was an attorney and his mother was a school teacher.
Ironically, neither of them would have liked
the way "Archie" spoke of minorities.
OConnor once said, "My father was a
lawyer and was in partnership with two Jews, who with their families were close to us.
There were black families in our circle of friends. My father disliked talk like
Archies - he called it lowbrow," OConnor once said.
Lowbrow or not, Archies rantings and
raving about minorities and liberals kept America smiling for 13 years after "All in
the Family" premiered on January 12, 1971.
OConnor went to Newtown High School in
Elmhurst before serving as a merchant seaman in World War II.
He attended the University of Montana when he
returned, where he began acting in plays and got interested in show business.
He finished his undergraduate studies at the
National University of Ireland, and in the late 1950s, began landing roles in
theatre and films that included "Lonely Are the Brave," "Cleopatra,"
"Hawaii," and "Point Blank."
In 1971, he got cast as as the character of
Archie in "All in the Family" and lived by that role until 1988, when he starred
in a hit drama, "In the Heat of the Night." OConnor received four Emmy
Awards as Archie Bunker and one Emmy for "In the Heat of the Night."
He was married to his wife, Nancy Fields, for
50 years, and she was by his side at Brotman Medical Center in Culver City, California
when he died. OConnors health had been deteroriating in recent years. He
underwent coronary artery bypass surgery in 1989, and had a toe amputated in November 2000
because of a circulation problem. His personal life was not easier to deal with. In 1995,
his only son Hugh killed himself as a result of a drug-related problem.
From the shows opening
credits to its final applause, viewers of "All in The Family" were treated to a
half-an-hour in the life of a "typical" Queens family.
Much like America learned about Brooklyn in
"The Honeymooners" and Manhattan on "I Love Lucy," Queens was Archie
Bunker territory, and OConnor made the borough famous among a national audience.
During the opening credits, while
OConnor and Jean Stapleton, who played Edith, croon "Those Were the Days,"
the Bunkers "house" is shown.
The building is an actual Queens home which
still stands today.
The house is on Cooper Avenue in Glendale, and
still looks almost exactly as it did when its image was first captured in the seventies.
Donald Richards, a life-long resident of the
area where the Bunkers TV house stands, said, "Its amazing. The people in
the neighborhood have changed, but the neighborhood itself looks similar. Archies
place is frozen in time or something!"
Bill Richards, a life-long Queens resident,
said, "Nobody knew Queens until that show. New York was just Manhattan to people.
After that show, people realized there was more than one borough."
"I loved that guy,(Archie Bunker)"
Sarah Bernstein, a 32-year Glendale resident, said. "He reminded me of one of my
neighbors. He was so Queens. Not of his bigotry, of course, but his attitude. He acted
like a regular guy from Queens. Thats why people loved the show. Who wouldnt
love Queens? And who wouldnt love him?"
The Trib On The Map
"All In The Family"
also helped place the Queens Tribune on a national stage in an episode entitled
"The Baby Contest" which aired on December 11, 1976.
In the episode, Archie enters his grandchild
Joey into a "Most Beautiful Baby" contest, sponsored by the Tribune.
A fictional reporter, Harley Benson, comes to
the Bunkers home to interview the family, and in doing so put this community paper
in the Hollywood spotlight for two episodes.
A quick look at the current Tribune
masthead will show that Mr. Benson still "works" for the paper as a reporter.
Thats a little Tribune humor.
Queens On The Small Screen
Despite the success of
"All in the Family," Queens remained largely untouched by the tube for years
after Archies quick wit left television.
Producers and writers refused to venture back
into Queens, keeping TV storylines primarily in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Even the "All in the Family"
spin-off "The Jeffersons" was set in Manhattan, as Archies ex-neighbors
moved on up to the East Side in 1975.
But much of that changed in the 1990s.
In 1996 Bill Cosby helped put Queens on the small screen with
The house that appeared in the opening
credits of "All In The Family" still stands in Glendale.
Tribune Photo By Ira Cohen
In "Cosby," Bill
Cosbys 1996 sitcom set in Queens, the diversity of Queens was represented with a
multi-ethnic cast and with scenes showing immigrants in their native attire.
But the show never really seemed to take off.
Many Americans still associated Bill Cosby
with Cliff Huxtable and the Huxtable home in Brooklyn and seeing Cosby as a grouchy,
retired Queens man may not have sat well with television viewers.
In 1998, "The King of Queens,"
premiered on CBS.
The shows lead character, played by
Kevin James, is a blue collar worker who delivers packages UPS-style and whose adventures
include ventures include lying to his wife about working late so he can play football with
his friends, and telling a friend of his that he attended his wedding when he actually
The 1980s sitcom, "Dear John,"
starred Judd Hirsch as a divorcee trying to cope with his "abandonment" by
attending group therapy at the "Rego Park Jewish Center." Hirschs
character in the show moved to Queens from Long Island after his wife split
cleaning out his bank account in the process.
The sitcom "The Nanny," starring
Queens-native Fran Drescher, was set in Manhattan, but based around the character of Fran
Fein, a Jewish former hairdresser from Flushing living in a millionaires home.
Frans over-exaggerated accent and
flamboyant attitude are used as the punch-line in almost every gag.
Real-life Queens College alumni Jerry Seinfled has appeared on his show
sporting a sweatshirt from his alma-mater. Jerrys pal on the show George lived with
his parents in Queens.
Queens doesnt fare any better on
the hit show "Seinfeld," as whiny, socially troubled George Costanza is
portrayed as the shows only Queens-native.
Real life Queens College alumnus Jerry
Seinfeld has worn Queens College sweatshirts and drank from a Queens College mug on the
show, at least promoting his alma mater.
On the early 1990s show "Northern
Exposure," the character of Dr. Joel Fleischman, played by Rob Morrow is a Flushing
-raised doctor who fulfilled the terms of his Columbia medical school scholarship by
serving for four years, under duress, as general practitioner in the town of Cicely,
Alaska. Flieschmans character was the only Jewish person in the entire Borough of
Arrowhead County, Alaska.