Even This I Get to Experience
By Norman Lear
Penguin Press, 2014
448 pages

In the world of television, there are fewer names bigger than Norman Lear – he of the socially aware programs like ALL IN THE FAMILY, MAUDE, GOOD TIMES and THE JEFFERSONS. Therefore, a book from the hands of this television industry giant would be a typical Hollywood ‘tell-all’ book with slanderous starlets, the inside dirt on actors, and titillating descriptions of lavish parties in lavish hotels in the most lavish parts of Beverly Hills.

A good read – no lightweight Hollywood drivel here at all. This is a good read about a good man who has spent his time in some exciting moments and knows how to write about them. In this book that covers Norman Lear’s life from birth to his 90th birthday and beyond (he’s 92) – we get so much more.

In his first decade on this earth, Norm was shuttled between a handful of relatives because his mother wasn’t able to care for him and his sister since his father was serving time in the New York penal system. We get to meet Norm’s aunts, uncles and grandparents in detail, complete with their particular quirks and habits; sometimes in a humorous style, sometimes with an acerbic tone.

His parents do indeed figure in the book. His father was a dreamer, who chased every strand of his dreams, no matter where it took him or what it did to his family. Norm deals with this over the years, and as he matures, he realizes his dad was no more than a fraud when it came to careers – but a well-meaning fraud, always believing his ideas will work.

His mother was always there for him – but Norm found her difficult. She so very seldom supported Norm as a student – and even with all his successes as an adult, his mom had a way of being able to find a way to burst those bubbles, to deflate them.

Then there’s his years as a writer in the entertainment industry. I learned so much more about his writing: one of his first big jobs was writing for Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin – a mercurial job, what with the ego of Jerry Lewis to deal with … and then writing for other TV shows of the 1950s and into the 1960s.

All this time, his mind is starting to develop ideas for his own shows to develop … and with the advent of the 1970s, the TV schedule contains shows by Norman Lear that have become part of the American lexicon of entertainment – all of them mentioned in the first paragraph of this writing…and all of them appearing in the top ten shows of their times.

Lear spends some time discussing matters that occur behind-the-scenes of these shows, dwelling a good deal on the personalities of the various shows. Difficult moments with Carroll O’Connor, disagreements with John Amos, and a bit of distaste over how Jimmy Walker adlibbed a line that ended up being a whole lot more than it was worth (Yes, DY-NO-MITE was an ad lib). On the up side, Bea Arthur, we find out, ends up being one of his absolutely favorite performers, and we learn that the reason Edith was called a ‘dingbat’ was because that’s what Norman’s dad called his mom back in is childhood.

Norman Lear, we learn, is more than those tv shows as well. In his other efforts, he developed some movies with his business partners. He provided funds for some charitable efforts. He married 3 times, and loved his children dearly. He traveled the world, but particularly enjoyed some property he owned in Vermont. He also found himself a victim to some big financial losses as one of his companies was mismanaged by those he hired – but he recovered, only to be stronger than ever.

A bit opulent in lifestyle, but yet he found unique ways to use his money. He founded an organization to promote American values that existed to fight the opposition by the Religious Right like Jerry Falwell, who was convinced that all Norman Lear shows were evil. Lear also bought an actual handwritten copy of the Declaration of Independence and then paid to have it tour the country so the citizens could see it.

The ups and downs of one’s life can be trying, but the title of the book tells his attitude to it all. His respect for such events is also revealed in a bumper sticker he has on his car to this day that reads, “I am another version of you”, which could have also functioned as a title for the book.

Either way, the reader wins with this one.