They’re gonna shoot you dead in the streets.” I can never forget this speech. The walls of Kenya Barris’ Burbank office are lined with framed script pages from pieces by his favorite screenwriters. BARRIS: When did you know you wanted him? There was a giant wood wheelbarrow. Listen to this: Vietnam vet. RELATED: EW’s 25 Best TV Shows in 25 Years
KENYA BARRIS: At the height of your career, you had The Jeffersons, All in the Family, Good Times, Maude, and One Day at a Time all on TV. And some of that traveled with me, you know. Oh my God! Short. Lear even visited the writer’s room on season 1 of black-ish and pitched a couple of ideas. Everybody was black. Or did you [just] envision these people? I’ll be out there Tuesday.” “You got something for the Mick, just tell him!” I said, “Well, he’s a bigot, he’ll say spics and spades and hebes” — and he said, “Norm, they’re gonna kill you. Why don’t you talk to him!” And I said, “No, no, this is a character I would rather talk to him about and then have him read,” and he said, “No, no, no.” Anyway, before I know it, Mickey [was on the phone] talking about himself in the third person. For more from Norman Lear and Kenya Barris, pick up Entertainment Weekly‘s Untold Stories issue on stands today, or buy it right here. There was one black guy who was coming up as I was going down, and every time he saw me, he said, “Gator gonna get you, white boy.” That was like a love letter, every time. Blind. Now this odd couple has reunited for an interview in which Barris, 43, gets to ask Lear, 94, everything he’s ever wanted to know about the icon. They dumped manure into it, and I took it down this track and dumped it out, and then it came back on another track. I [was a pilot] in WWII, and we were stationed at Avon Park, Florida. I was bored to tears. Who was your toughest character to cast? BARRIS: So if for some reason the business of it couldn’t happen, can you remember who would have been Archie Bunker? I probably saw a dozen before he came in and sat down. I was the only white guy there. Large dog.”
Show Full Article He wasn’t off the first page before I knew. BARRIS: Yes, shared humanity is a common theme on your shows. LEAR: The minute he uttered the first line. Private eye. I never lost that feeling of shared humanity. You managed to write about seemingly every different kind of person. Among them are Woody Allen, Spike Lee, and, of course, Norman Lear, the man —with his indelible hits, including Good Times, All in the Family, and The Jeffersons — Barris credits with shaping his approach to the modern network sitcom. “You wanna do something with the Mick? When you started writing professionally, had your life become a life in which you actually knew these kind of people? And you told me a story about how when you would ride the train from Brooklyn into the city, you’d look at the housing tenements, and you’d think about who lived there. LEAR: No, I wasn’t close. We were living in a ballpark while we waited for the B-17 to fly us overseas. The two met years ago, and that encounter quickly blossomed into a friendship. NORMAN LEAR: I didn’t have relationships, but I had the affection for and the appreciation of. “You got the Mick!” “Mickey is gonna be out there, can I see you out there? Here’s how far away I was: Before I came out here and met Carroll, I thought about Mickey Rooney playing the role. BARRIS: What?! LEAR: I called his manager, and he said, “Oh, Mickey happens to be in the office. When I wrote Archie Bunker, I didn’t have Carroll O’Connor in mind. I’m in awe of what an actor can do with a role. For more revelations from the past four decades of entertainment, visit ew.com/untoldstories. I had seen 30 to 40 people in the East, and I came out West to read actors. An actor had to walk in and sit down and show me what I had in mind. Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW. The provocative mind behind All in the Family, Good Times, The Jeffersons, and many more sits down with his friend and heir apparent, the creator of black-ish, to reveal the surprising aspects of his glorious seven-decade-long run — from working in a manure factory to nearly casting Mickey Rooney as Archie Bunker. I saw an ad to work in a manure factory. LEAR: I’ve been really lucky.