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Washington, D.C. – Hollywood and Washington joined forces Thursday night to celebrate the 90th birthday of TV producer and political activist Norman Lear. In a glittering union of entertainment and politics, Kathleen Turner, Jane Lynch and Doris Roberts mixed and mingled with members of Congress at the fete held at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
In his nearly nine decades, (his actual birthday is July 29), Lear has produced some of the small screen’s most popular — and controversial — programming, including All in the Family, Maude, Sanford and Son and The Jeffersons.
Norman Lear’s 90th Birthday Celebrated by Stars of Entertainment and Politics
Lynch applauded Lear’s list of trailblazing sitcoms: “He was the first guy to have the toilet flush on TV,” the Glee actress said with a laugh before making a flushing sound.
“He dealt with things like homosexuality, and religious bigotry, racism, abortion… What he did that was groundbreaking back then, is still kind of groundbreaking today.”
Turner, who has known Lear for more than 20 years, recently caught a glimpse of a Maude episode from the 1970’s, in which Bea Arthur discusses whether or not to have an abortion.
“Do you believe there’s any network today who would run that show? Because I don’t. I mean cable might, but not a major network,” the Body Heat actress exclaimed.
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Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) couldn’t hold back his excitement about meeting the birthday boy. Some of the congressman’s earliest memories include Archie Bunker and other classic characters from Lear’s programs: “I was born in 1963, so I grew up watching Norman Lear shows. It’s shaped our nation, improved attitudes around inclusion, and helped reveal some of our more prominent flaws as a nation.”
The birthday party for the legendary producer doubled as a political rallying cry of sorts for People for the American Way, the liberal organization the soon-to-be nonagenarian founded.
It’s been 31 years since Lear created the advocacy group, which pushes for civil liberties and First Amendment rights, amid the growing influence of the religious right.
During her introduction, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) dubbed Lear a “magician producing one unimprovable masterpiece after another.”
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Lear seemed to take all the adulation in stride, joking to a packed crowd, “Please don’t be concerned for a second that this is all too much for me.”
He was also quick to jest about the increasing number of candles on his birthday cake, cracking that at his age, “Just getting up and out of a chair I get applause.”
At nearly 90, Lear said the TV show ideas keep coming. He’s busy pitching networks on a new program called Guess Who Died?.
It’s about retirement-age folks. But, he laments, “Nobody wants anything to do with it because it’s about your parents’ generation and mine. Everything in television is [aimed towards people] 18 to 39.”
Judy Kurtz is a reporter for The Hill. Read more at thehill.com.
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