Sally Struthers has led a decadeslong career in Hollywood – but she’s still recognized as Archie Bunker’s “little girl.”
The actress played Gloria Stivic in the hit ‘70s sitcom “All in the Family,” which starred Carroll O’Connor as Archie as well as Jean Stapleton and Rob Reiner, among others. The series, which centered on a working-class family, aired from 1971 until 1979.
“I had just come off ‘The Tim Conway Comedy Hour,’” Struthers recently recalled to Closer Weekly. “I should have been on all 13 weeks of it, but after the fifth show, the executives said, ‘Get rid of that dancer girl. She makes the show look cheap!’ So I was let go. I was distraught! I adored Tim Conway and wondered what would happen to me next.”
“But I went to read for this man nobody knew, [‘All in the Family’ creator] Norman Lear,” the 74-year-old continued. “He said it was the role of the daughter, and he gave me a yelling scene. I had laryngitis that day, so my voice was raspy, but I guess it made him remember me. He narrowed it down to four young ladies, and I was one of the final four.”
A promotional still shows the cast from the American television show “All in the Family,” Los Angeles, Calif., early 1970s. They stand in the doorway of their television address, 704 Hauser St., Astoria, Queens, New York, and are, from left, American actors Jean Stapleton, Rob Reiner, Carroll O’Connor (1924-2001) and Sally Struthers. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)
Struthers went on to get the role. And the cast made her feel right at home from the start.
“We got along as beautifully as anyone could have ever hoped,” she said. “There wasn’t any competition between us. We all revered one another because it was the perfect casting. Rob and I were the third set of kids – Carroll O’Connor and Jean Stapleton had made two other pilots before we went to CBS. I have never seen those two pilots, but I hear you can find them on YouTube. People who’ve seen them say that Rob and I finally had the right chemistry for Jean and Carroll.”
Struthers noted that she instantly connected with O’Connor, who appeared as an outspoken, cranky bigot on screen.
“In 1968, my own father passed away,” said Struthers. “I was still feeling bad and fatherless when I got this show. Carroll and his wife, Nancy, turned out to be as parental with me as he was in the show. Carroll gave me advice, he laughed at my antics, he hugged me all the time – and he introduced me to my husband, [William Rader]! So I gained a father again by doing that show.”
American actors Sally Struthers, Carroll O’Connor (1924-2001) and Dean Martin (1917-1995) chat in the dugout during a celebrity baseball game. Martin wears a Los Angeles Dodgers uniform and Struthers wears a minidress with the team logo. (Photo by Darlene Hammond/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
When the show finally came to an end, Struthers admitted it wasn’t easy parting ways with the cast.
“It was emotional, but it wasn’t sad,” she said. “I didn’t have any idea at the time how much I would miss it. Whenever I see an episode on TV now, I stop for a second. As soon as I see Carroll or Jean, I get so sad that I have to change the channel.”
O’Connor was an unknown when Lear tapped him to play an unapologetic blue-collar worker from New York’s borough of Queens whose ignorance and intolerance was his own comic foil. While “All in the Family” initially faced a rocky start, viewers eventually embraced Archie, and the series ranked No. 1 for five years.
Over the years, O’Connor kept busy as a sought-after actor. In 2000, he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Even as his health declined, O’Connor remained active. He had a toe amputated because of circulatory troubles related to diabetes and underwent coronary bypass surgery in 1989.
Actress Sally Struthers still has fond memories from her time filming “All in the Family.” (Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic/Getty Images)
O’Connor’s last screen appearance was in the 2000 romantic comedy “Return to Me.” In 2001, the star died at age 76 from a heart attack. His wife, Nancy, was by his side.
Struthers said she’s proud of her work in “All in the Family” – as well as the close-knit friendships she developed along the way.
“I’ve done so many shows as a guest, and that’s fun, but ‘All in the Family’ was history-making, and that doesn’t happen to too many actors,” said Struthers. “I knew it the day my daughter was in her room writing a report, using the Encyclopedia Britannica. She screamed from her room and said, ‘Mom, come in here!’ She had the encyclopedia opened to the letter T on her desk. Under the word television was a picture of the ‘All in the Family’ cast. That’s when you say, ‘Wow!’”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.