Bud Yorkin: Director and producer who transformed US prime time television with 'Sanford and Son' and 'All in the Family'

Yorkin began his career in the early days of television as a stage manager and Emmy Award-winning director

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The Independent Online

The producer and director Bud Yorkin teamed up with Norman Lear to create the 1970s American sitcoms All in the Family and Sanford and Son, which brought a fresh sense of social urgency and changed the landscape of US prime-time television.

According to most accounts – though not Lear’s – it was Yorkin who discovered the inspiration for All in the Family in Britain, in Till Death Us Do Part. He took the idea to Lear, who wrote the script, setting the show in a blue-collar household in Queens, New York.

The action revolved around the struggles of the Bunker family as they coped with the social changes of the 1960s. Carroll O’Connor starred as the bigoted family patriarch, Archie Bunker  Warren Mitchell’s Alf Garnett in the original – with Jean Stapleton as his long-suffering wife, Edith. After ABC rejected the show, Lear and Yorkin took it to CBS, which committed to only 13 episodes at first.

The reviews were mixed, but public discussion was intense. With its frank discussions of racial prejudice, feminism, the Vietnam War and other issues, it shattered TV taboos. A year after came a spin-off series, Maude, starring Bea Arthur as a tart-tongued liberated woman and Sanford and Son, inspired by Steptoe and Son, with Redd Foxx as a cantankerous scrap dealer. The new wave of sitcoms moved network TV beyond its comfort zone of polite shows about doctors and suburban family life.

Yorkin began his career in the early days of television as a stage manager and Emmy Award-winning director before joining forces with Lear in 1958. Born in 1926 in Pennsylvania, he was a cousin of David Selznick, producer of Gone With the Wind. He began working as a stage manager in TV and by the early 1950s was directing episodes of NBC’s Colgate Comedy Hour. He produced variety shows in the 1950s and made a splash in 1958 as director and producer of An Evening With Fred Astaire.

With Lear as writer, Yorkin produced and directed dozens of specials in the 1960s, starring such stars as Danny Kaye, Jack Benny, Bobby Darin, Carol Channing, Duke Ellington and Andy Williams. His directing credits included the films Come Blow Your Horn (1963), starring Frank Sinatra; Divorce American Style (1967) with Dick Van Dyke and Debbie Reynolds; and Start the Revolution Without Me (1970), with Gene Wilder and Donald Sutherland.

“If I had to boil down all of Norman and Bud’s work into a single word, I think it would have to be ‘honesty,’” said Sally Struthers, who played the liberated daughter in All in the Family. “You never before saw women portrayed as honestly as they were on All in the Family and Maude. I think it helped change things.”

MATT SCHUDEL  

Alan David Yorkin, producer and director: born Washington, Pennsylvania 22 February 1926; married twice (four children); died Los Angeles 18 August 2015.

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