Picture in your mind’s eye a movie star sitting in a chair, watching TV, on the “All in the Family” set. Got it? Good. It never happened.
Truth is, show creator Norman Lear did consider having Mickey Rooney play the bigoted Archie Bunker in his CBS comedy. In a 2017 interview, Lear talked about having a phone conversation with Rooney himself.
It should be noted that Rooney had quite a career up to that point. He made a number of movies with Judy Garland as Andy Hardy, yet also made a mark as a child star in the motion picture industry.
Rooney Gave Lear Earful About ‘All in the Family’ Role
So, Rooney was not a nobody when Lear approached him about playing Bunker.
“In New York, I thought before I came out here (to Los Angeles) and met Carroll (O’Connor), I thought about Mickey Rooney playing the role,” Lear said in an interview. “I knew his manager. (But) I never met Mickey Rooney. I called his manager and he said, ‘Well, Mickey’s in the office, he happens to be in the office. Why don’t you talk to him?'”
Oh boy, Lear ended up chatting with Rooney himself. Let Lear tell you how that conversation about “All in the Family” went down.
Throughout the chat, Lear said Rooney kept talking about himself in the third person. Rooney told Lear, “If you got something for the Mick, just tell ’em.”
Describing Bunker Role Truly Turned Off ‘The Mick’
Lear then talked about Bunker and his character traits, including that of being a bigot.
Rooney’s response? “‘Norm, they’re gonna kill you. They’re gonna shoot you dead in the streets,'” Lear recalled. “Can never forget this speech. ‘You wanna do something with the Mick, listen to this: Vietnam vet, short, blind, large dog…private eye.'”
Obviously, that chat ended up with Rooney not getting that role. Lear met with O’Connor about “All in the Family” and the rest is TV history.
But people, we almost had Mickey Rooney playing Archie Bunker in a show that changed television. It didn’t fit what “The Mick” was looking for in his career, though.
Turns out Carroll O’Connor made that role his own on “All in the Family.” No one else really could have played Bunker the way he did, even if he was a headache to Lear and producers at times.