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TSgt Norman Lear, U.S. Army Air Force (1942-1945)

Norman Lear, most known for his TV producing as the creator of such shows as All in the Family, The Jeffersons, Maude, Sanford and Son, Different Strokes, Mary Hartman, Mary, One Day at a Time and Good Times, didn’t always bask in the glitz of Hollywood. Before crafting iconic television shows, Lear’s journey unfolded in the United States Army during World War II. Norman Lear’s military service, encompassing various roles and a transformative encounter, marked the inception of a prolific career that spanned seven decades. 

Norman Lear’s Early Years

Born on July 27, 1922, in New Haven, Connecticut, Norman Milton Lear was 19 years old when the Japanese Nava Air Forces bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Raised in a Jewish household, Lear’s early years were marked by the Great Depression. His family relocated multiple times during his childhood, finally settling in New Haven.

During his formative years at Weaver High School in Hartford, Connecticut, Lear displayed a keen interest in music and literature. The challenges of the Great Depression shaped his outlook, fostering resilience and adaptability. While a student, Lear took on a variety of jobs, including selling cookies and working as a caddy. 

In 1942, as World War II raged on, Lear dropped out of Boston’s Emerson College to enlist in the U.S. Army Air Forces. “I couldn’t wait to enlist,” Lear told the Wexler Oral History Project in 2021. His decision to serve was a pivotal moment that would influence not only his personal growth but also the trajectory of American television.

Norman Lear’s Service During World War II

Lear underwent basic training at Fort Devens, Massachusetts, and later found himself stationed at a pilot training camp in Buffalo, New York. Нe encountered challenges with the math portion of his exams, redirecting him toward training as a radio operator and gunner.

Stationed at the Army Air Forces base in Clovis, New Mexico, he assumed various roles, including that of a radio operator and gunner on a B-17 bomber. Lear’s military journey wasn’t confined to the cockpit; his talents also found expression in creating entertainment for his fellow servicemen.

Following this shift, Lear became part of the 772nd Bombardment Squadron, 463rd Bombardment (Heavy) Group, Fifteenth Air Force. Operating primarily in the Mediterranean Theater, he engaged in bombing missions over prominent German cities like Berlin, Frankfurt, and Stuttgart. Notably, he flew alongside the renowned Tuskegee Airmen.

Overseas, Lear completed an impressive 52 combat missions aboard Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses. In the latter stages of World War II, he volunteered for missions delivering supplies and personnel, leading him to the vibrant city of Cairo, Egypt. Upon his honorable discharge in 1945, Lear held the rank of technical sergeant. Recognizing his contributions, he was awarded an Air Medal adorned with four oak leaf clusters.

After being discharged from the military in 1945, Lear pursued education at Emerson College in Boston, where he delved into the world of radio and eventually transitioned to writing and producing. 

From Bomber to Blockbuster Creator: Norman Lear’s Breakthrough in Television

After the Second World War, Norman Lear transitioned into the realm of public relations upon returning to the United States. Inspired by his uncle, who had pursued a similar career, Lear set his sights on following in his footsteps. His journey led him to Los Angeles, California, where he entered the world of show business by collaborating with his writing partner, Ed Simmons. Together, they successfully sold jokes to notable figures such as Dan Rowan and Richard Martin, as well as the iconic duo Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin.

In 1971, he achieved a breakthrough with the creation of “All in the Family.” This groundbreaking sitcom, known for its candid exploration of societal issues, catapulted Lear to the pinnacle of television success.

The 1970s and 1980s saw Lear’s creative genius flourish with a string of hit shows, including “Maude,” “Good Times,” “The Jeffersons”. His storytelling prowess and commitment to addressing social issues through the lens of humor earned him widespread acclaim and numerous awards.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Lear’s contributions to television persisted with shows like “One Day at a Time” and “Diff’rent Strokes.” He continued to shape the cultural landscape through storytelling that resonated with diverse audiences.

Norman Lear’s Impact: A Legacy That’s No Laughing Matter

In his philanthropic endeavors, Lear belonged to the playfully dubbed “Malibu Mafia,” a circle of affluent Jewish individuals committed to supporting progressive causes. Their contributions spanned issues such as nuclear disarmament, advocating for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, and backing various Democratic campaigns. Leveraging the substantial wealth he accrued in the television industry, Lear established the Lear Family Foundation. This foundation serves as the financial backbone for the Norman Lear Center, dedicated to the study of entertainment, media, and society at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication

One notable initiative under the Lear Family Foundation’s umbrella is the establishment of the Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication. This center, named in Lear’s honor, serves as a hub for the study of entertainment, media, and society.

The Norman Lear Center at USC provides a unique space for researchers, scholars, and students to delve into the intricate connections between media and societal trends. Its mission extends beyond the academic realm, aiming to bridge the gap between theory and practice by fostering a deeper understanding of the role media plays in shaping public opinion, cultural norms, and political discourse.

Additionally, the foundation extends its support to a diverse array of initiatives, ranging from arts and environmental projects to healthcare and activist organizations. Lear’s commitment to philanthropy reflects his dedication to making a positive impact across a spectrum of social and cultural spheres.

Norman Lear: Surprising Facts About the TV Trailblazer

While Norman Lear is best known for his groundbreaking contributions to television, there are some unusual and interesting facts about him:

Failed College Basketball Dreams: Lear attended the University of Denver on a basketball scholarship but left the school just four weeks shy of graduation. His dreams of becoming a professional basketball player were thwarted when he failed to make the Air Force basketball team.


Stand-Up Comedy Beginnings: Before making a name for himself in television, Lear started his career in show business as a stand-up comic. He toured the country, honing his comedic skills on stage.

Political Activism: Lear is known for his political activism. In the 1980s, he founded the advocacy group People for the American Way, which focuses on defending constitutional liberties.

Record-Setting Emmy Nominations: Lear holds the record for the most Emmy nominations in a single year. In 1977, he received four nominations in the same category (Outstanding Comedy Series) for “All in the Family,” “Maude,” “Good Times,” and “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.”

Early Entrepreneurship: Lear displayed entrepreneurial skills at an early age. While in high school, he started a business selling baby ducks to pet stores.

These unusual facts provide a glimpse into the diverse and dynamic life of Norman Lear, showcasing his experiences beyond the realm of television.

Norman Lear: Awards and Honors

Throughout his illustrious career, Norman Lear has garnered numerous awards and honors, recognizing his significant contributions to television and society. Some notable accolades include:

Peabody Award: Norman Lear received a Peabody Award in 2016 for his exceptional contributions to the television industry.

Kennedy Center Honors: In 2017, Lear was celebrated at the Kennedy Center Honors for his lifetime achievements in the arts and culture.

National Medal of Arts: President Bill Clinton bestowed the National Medal of Arts upon Norman Lear in 1999, acknowledging his profound impact on American entertainment.

World War II Veteran Norman Lear Dies at 101

In memory of Lear, who passed from this world on December 5, 2023, surrounded by his loving family. They convey, “Thank you for the moving outpouring of love and support in honor of our wonderful husband, father, and grandfather.”

The family goes on to highlight, “Norman lived a life of creativity, tenacity, and empathy. He deeply loved our country and spent a lifetime helping to preserve its founding ideals of justice and equality for all. Knowing and loving him has been the greatest of gifts. We ask for your understanding as we mourn privately in celebration of this remarkable human being.”

Even at the age of 101, Lear remained actively engaged, a lot of of producing multiple TV shows and movies a testament to his enduring passion and commitment to his craft.

TogetherWeServed extends its salute to Norman Lear for his honorable military contributions and the lasting impact he has made on the landscape of entertainment. His legacy stands as a testament to the extraordinary achievements that arise when talent, hard work, and military values converge. We take pride in acknowledging Norman Lear’s dual roles as a serviceman and a trailblazing figure in the entertainment industry.

Read About Other Celebrities Who Served

If you enjoyed learning about Norman Lear’s service in the military, we invite you to read the stories of other remarkable celebrities who served on our blog. In addition to our profiles of celebrities who served, we share military book reviews, veterans’ service reflections, famous military units and more on the TogetherWeServed.com blog. If you are a veteran, find your military buddies, view historic boot camp photos, build a printable military service plaque, and more on TogetherWeServed.com today.


Tags: 463rd Bombardment (Heavy) Group, 772nd Bombardment Squadron, B-17 bomber, Celebrities Who Served, famous military units, Fifteenth Air Force, military book reviews, Norman Lear, Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication, Peabody Award in 2016, Pearl Harbor in 1941, President Bill Clinton bestowed the National Medal of Arts upon Norman Lear, United States Army, USC's Annenberg School for Communication, veterans’ service reflections, Wexler Oral History Project in 2021, World War II


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