Media

Norman Lear Was Impacted by Royal Oak's Antisemitic 'Radio Priest' Father Coughlin

December 06, 2023, 10:11 PM by  Allan Lengel

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Father Coughlin and Norman Lear. (Photo from U.S. Holocaust Museum)

TV writer and producer Norman Lear, who created such TV hits as "All in the Family," and who died Tuesday at age 101, was profoundly influenced in life by the antisemitic rantings on radio of Father Charles Coughlin. 

As a kid, Lear, who was Jewish, listened to Coughlin, who was the pastor of the Shrine of the Little Flower in Royal Oak from 1926 until his retirement in 1966. Coughlin spewed antisemitic remarks on his national radio show from Michigan. Known as the "radio priest," Coughlin eventually built an audience of 90 million.

In his obituary, the Washington Post writes of Lear:

As a Jew, he said coming across the anti-Semitic radio personality Father Charles E. Coughlin helped awaken him to a strain of right-wing bigotry in American life that he sought to counter with his later activism.

In 2014, Lear told the Jewish publication, The Forward, about listening to Coughlin and said:

“At 9 I learned that people disliked me because of my Jewishness. It was a profound discovery and influenced everything I ever felt about the human species, the human condition. My sympathies, my empathy went out to people who are automatically disliked just because of who they are.”

Besides "All in the Family," Lear's shows included “Sanford and Son,” “Maude,” “Good Times,” “The Jeffersons” and “One Day at a Time.” Lear liked to touch on sensitive subjects in his shows including racism and antisemitism. 

In time, Lear turned some of his energy toward social activism.

The Post writes:

In 1980, alarmed by the growing political clout of the Moral Majority, he founded People For the American Way, a liberal advocacy group aimed at preserving the separation of church and state. In short order, the group had 200,000 members, a $5 million budget and a hard-working publicity machine that generated op-eds, public-service announcements and media appearances.

Mr. Lear’s group helped defeat Robert H. Bork’s 1987 nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, and Mr. Lear became a prominent spokesman for Hollywood’s progressive wing. The Rev. Jerry Falwell, founder of the Moral Majority, in a letter to supporters, was moved to label him “the greatest enemy of the American family in our generation.”

Coughlin died in 1979 in Bloomfield Hills at age 88.



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