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Jewish World Review June 25, 2001 / 4 Tamuz, 5761

Jimmy Breslin

Jimmy Breslin
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Consumer Reports


The opposite of Archie


http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- "The first time I saw him," the actor Donal Donnelly was saying of Carroll O'Connor the night he died, "he was at the Gate Theater, in Dublin, of course. He was the lead in 'Dr. Knock,' which was a pre-Victorian play. I was riveted by him.

He was just over here from Queens. Everybody back where he came from thought he was an Irish actor." At night's end, O'Connor would walk across the street to the great Groomes Hotel, whose clock died 50 years before this, and where anything went.

"He walks in there for the first time, mind you," Donnelly was saying, "and he looked like he had been born in the place. He had that wraparound warmth. So gregarious. I just stared. He was the fellow who just had captivated all of us and now he was one of us. Of course he had the drink in hand." O'Connor was the intrinsic opposite of the character he created, Archie Bunker.

There would have been no Archie Bunker without him. Only somebody with the depth of a classic stage actor could reach onto Cooper Avenue in Glendale and become the loud mouth in the living room chair.

And only a person of fanatic heart could shout what he shouted out into the American air and cause people to laugh as he taught them.

"Well, you see, ah, that there is, I need a certain kind, of lawyer for these kind of cases," he said in explaining to a common-looking lawyer why he wouldn't do for his accident case. "For one of these here cases, I need, ah, a Hebrew lawyer." The Hebrew lawyer then arrived. His name was Cohen and he was as black as you could find.

O'Connor

The night that Sammy Davis Jr. kissed Archie Bunker was the hour when all of Queens seemed sure to collapse.

Soon, however, people were pointing fingers at the worst of us and calling out in derision, "Archie Bunker!" When you find on the rolls of accomplishment in our time anybody who has been able to do that, please call.

I remember one day bumping into him in the lobby of the building where we lived in Manhattan, and he began talking in that soft voice and in such precise English.

The first thought was, what is this guy doing putting on these kind of airs? Why isn't he barking? Is he trying to put me in a spin? Suddenly, I realized that I had been overwhelmed by him on television. Here in real life he was a scholar of language.

Where did I hear him once? At a poetry reading at the University of Southern California. Yeats. There was not a deep breath in the place.

He used to give me lectures on the accents of people living around Woodhaven, Richmond Hill and Forest Hills. He said there was a difference.

"They talk like this on Woodhaven Boulevard," he would say, "and then, you get up there around Richmond Hill, on Park Lane South and they talk a little higher. Like this." The voice would rise just this little bit. I don't know if it was true or not. I've never been able to tell. But if he said it, then it must be right. Only you need his ear to hear it.

He came out of Newtown High School in Elmhurst, and his wife, Nancy's, family had a weekly newspaper in Woodhaven, of which she was the editor, if I recall it right. This is written late in the evening and the news has just reached us that this man of such immense talent was gone. He earned every bit of his heart.


Jimmy Breslin, a long-time friend of JWR, needs no introduction. Comment by clicking here.

© 2001, Jimmy Breslin