Past Honorees

At Central Synagogue

Norman Lear
1985 Television Writer and Political Activist

In 1999, President Bill Clinton said, “Norman Lear has held up a mirror to American society and changed the way we look at it.” Born in New Haven Connecticut in 1922, Norman Lear is a renowned film and television writer, producer, and political activist. The recipient of four Emmy awards, Norman Lear used his public position to advocate for American civil liberties and work towards a better democracy.

Lear began his career as a comedy writer in the 1950s, working with fellow writer Ed Simmons on sketches for famous comedians like Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, among others. In 1959 Lear created his first television series called The Deputy, starring Henry Fonda. Lear’s first hit sitcom, All in the Family, premiered in 1971 and earned him two Emmy awards. This popular series about a blue-collar American family struggling to adapt to the changing times ran for 9 seasons and inspired several spin-off series. The show commented on many pressing and controversial issues of the time, including racism, abortion, rape, women’s liberation, and the Vietnam War. Lear’s other hit television shows include Sanford and Son, Maude, The Jeffersons, One Day at a Time, and Good Times.

Lear also forayed into film – in 1967 he wrote and produced Divorce American Style, starring Dick Van Dyke, which earned him an Academy Award nomination. In 1971 he directed the film Cold Turkey, again starring Dick Van Dyke.

Throughout his career, Lear was concerned with merging his interest of entertainment and political activism. In 1981 he founded People For the American Way, which campaigned against the mingling of religion with politics. He later founded an educational organization to spotlight innovation in business practices called Business Enterprise Trust. In 2000 the University of Southern California established the Norman Lear Center, and he gave an endowment for a multidisciplinary research center that explored the connection between entertainment, public policy, and society.

Among the many recognitions Lear received for entertainment and humanitarian endeavors are the National Medal of Arts, four Emmy awards, a Peabody award, a Woman in Film Lucy Award, and the Humanist Arts Award from the American Humanist Association. He was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1984.
Before his career in television, Lear dropped out Emerson College in 1942 to join the United States Air Force. During World War II, he flew 52 combat missions, earning him an Air Medal.  He currently serves as a trustee emeritus at The Paley Center for Media. He has been married to Lyn Davis since 1987.