Archie Bunker's Last Stand

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."

Bunker, ultimately, is not malevolent as much as he's just ignorant. The world's changed just a little too much since he came back from "Dubya-Dubya Two." He's painfully slow to let go of the prejudices that he embraced as a kid, even though, somewhere deep inside, lurks a heart of gold.

In a classic confrontation, Sammy Davis Jr. once found himself at the Bunker residence.

"Now, no prejudice intended," Bunker tells the famous entertainer. "But I always check with the Bible on these here things. I think that, I mean if God had meant for us to be together he'd a put us together. But look what he done. He put you over in Africa, and put the rest of us in all the white countries."

Davis replies, "Well, he must've told 'em where we were because somebody came and got us."

But Davis later decides that Bunker, for all his failings, isn't the sort who would burn a cross on your lawn. "But if he saw one burning, he's liable to toast a marshmallow on it."

As we bid goodbye to O'Connor, here then are some of the most enduring Bunkerisms — those moments when Archie is trying to prove a point. And he does. Only it's not the one he's trying to make.

Here's Archie Bunker:

On Gun Control: His daughter tells him that guns cause 60 percent of all deaths in America. "Would it make you feel any better if they was pushed out of windows?" he asks.

On Crime: "All the airlines have to do to end sky-jacking is arm the passengers."

On Homosexuality: "I never said a guy who wears glasses is a queer. A guy who wears glasses is a four-eyes. A guy who is a fag is a queer."

On a typical day: "Yeah, it was a beauty, coming home I was held up 31 minutes in the subway. Packed in like sardines, we were. No lights, no fans, just me pressed up against a 300-pound Italian man, half of which was pure garlic."

On Affirmative Action: Archie reads off the names on the slate he's voting for: "Tore, Feldman, O'Reilly, Nelson," he says "That's an Italian, a Jew, an Irishman and a regular American. That's what I call a balanced ticket."

On the difference between Richard Nixon and Franklin Roosevelt: "Well, I'll tell you one thing about President Nixon. He keeps Pat home. Which was where Roosevelt should have kept Eleanor. Instead he let her run around loose until one day she discovered the colored. We never knew they were there. She told them they were gettin' the short end of the stick and we been having trouble ever since."

On his memories of carrying his wife across the threshold on their wedding day: "I says to her, 'Watch your head, Dingbat, or you'll knock your brains out!'"

On premarital sex: Archie tells his son-in-law that he never, ever had sex with his wife until they were married. "Yeah," Edith adds, "And even then … "

On God's words to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden: "Get your clothes and get the hell out of here."

It's O'Connor's genius that he could deliver such material with humanity. Folks say he was as nice and kind as they come. May he rest in peace.

Buck Wolf is entertainment producer at The Wolf Files is published Tuesdays and Thursdays. If you want to receive weekly notice when a new column is published, join the e-mail list.