I Think I'm Outta Hereby Carroll O'Connor
Growing up in Depression-era New York, Carroll O'Connor made his way armed with the quick wit, mischievous bent of mind, and engaging Irish charm that flow through these pages. From his rough-and-tumble days in the merchant marine during World War II - marked by big dreams, bar brawls, and bloody noses - he moved on to salad days in Dublin. There he received an… See more details below
Growing up in Depression-era New York, Carroll O'Connor made his way armed with the quick wit, mischievous bent of mind, and engaging Irish charm that flow through these pages. From his rough-and-tumble days in the merchant marine during World War II - marked by big dreams, bar brawls, and bloody noses - he moved on to salad days in Dublin. There he received an education in literature and in life, found his true calling in the theatre, and married his wife, Nancy...a fifty-year success story that's still going strong. O'Connor was soon invited to Hollywood, the scene of his greatest achievements. His unique perspective on the creation of All in the Family - and his certainty at the start that it was destined for ratings disaster - reveals television history in the making. But Hollywood was also the source of O'Connor's most painful memory: the cocaine addiction and suicide of his son, Hugh. As a grieving father, O'Connor was forced to assume the most poignant and powerful role of his life, and he speaks honestly here about both his loss and his efforts to educate others about the horror of drug abuse.
- Pocket Books
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- 6.45(w) x 9.59(h) x 1.14(d)
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CHAPTER ONE "Above all, keep it light!" That was my wife's warning on hearing that I was going to write an autobiography. I had just hung up the phone in the bedroom after agreeing to the deal. "You're not at your best," Nancy told me, "when you get too serious. You've been too serious on a couple of those talk shows. You disappoint people; they expect you to be entertaining." "I know," I said, leaving the bedroom. "Just keep it light!" she trilled. "I'm not getting the book out today," I called back. "Play down the politics and the anger. People much prefer to know about all the fun you've had." I was on the stairs. Her words were at my heels. "But of course when it comes to my advice you seldom listen!" I pressed an intercom button near the kitchen door and said, "I always listen. I seldom reply." Silence. She was postponing her response. She was aware that corroded wires in the kitchen speaker made everybody sound ridiculous. She did not want to sound ridiculous. I got the car out and headed for CBS, a twenty-minute drive from Brentwood by way of Sunset Boulevard through Beverly Hills, and then along Beverly Boulevard to the corner of Fairfax Avenue. Because the day was Monday, I was driving a Rolls Royce. And of course I must explain this odd offering of intelligence. I was not due till eleven on Mondays. I wanted to pass the Bel Air Gate as a certain television executive, who was not due till eleven on any day, was himself driving out onto Sunset. I hoped my arrival at the gate would be timely. This executive had roared at my agent, who was demanding a revision of my contract, "Don't tell me the son-of-a-bitch needs more money. I see him driving to work every day in a goddam Rolls-Royce!" That was not so. He may have seen me in the car once. But I was thereafter determined that he should see me in it a lot. Luck ran in my favor that very morning. He and I stopped abreast at a red light. His passenger window slid down and he, looking directly at me, taking no notice of the car, called out, "Doing anything new?" I shrugged. "Maybe a book about me. "Sensational! Who's going to write it for you?" "Wellù," I began. "Spill it all on tape. Your press agent'll find somebody to pull it together. Say hello homeù" He sped away, and I was amused to note that he was driving a luxurious foreign car that certainly cost him more than mine cost meùbecause I had acquired the Rolls-Royce at cost. Bill Harrah, the late gentleman gambler, who was also an importer of foreign cars, had offered the car to me at cost. That was in 1972 when I was making a nightclub appearance at Harrah's HotelCasino in Reno. I did not need the car, but Bill's generosity, and my own lust for a saving on anything, swept me away. During the next four years, to the morning of my literary decision, the car had traveled fewer miles than Nancy's car usually travels in a year. The executive's advice sounded frivolous, but it was well meant. He was a man who got things done and moved on energetically to other things, a man who succeeded not by merit but by force. I admire and envy such men. I am inclined to be dilatory, and if I had not enjoyed extraordinary luck in life and love I might have been living with my mother at that very moment, doing nothing. In evidence of this tendency I offer the fact that six years later my book was not finished, nor even well begun. Still I refused to consider giving the job to another writer. There was no public clamor for my story; it was not commercially promising, and besides, I did not believe that a good writer would be willing to "ghost" for an actor. Why not inch along with it myself, as the sluggish spirit moved me? For all I knew a rogue was still plotting entry somewhere, but at least I had fired a round of shot into the dark and maybe it would prove discouraging. I suddenly wanted to begin my book. I recall a surge of enthusiasm, but it soon subsided. How was I to begin? Who was I, anyway? Did I know? I asked myself that question until I got tired of it and one day the question was asked of me by a pretty blond woman who, with her friend, a pretty brunette, was looking at me across a luncheon table. "Do you know who you are?" I was thinking about a response but the brunette preempted me: she said "Of course he doesùhe knows exactly who he is." I smiled at her and looked back at the blonde, who shrugged; she would have preferred the answer from me. I was not acquainted with these ladies. They had won me in a raffle. Or rather their winning tickets had entitled them to a lunch with me at my Beverly Hills restaurant. I said to the brunette: "Funny you should think I know exactly who I am. If I knew, I could start writing about it." "An autobiography!" said the brunette. The blonde shook her head and said very seriously "You can't tell who you are in an autobiography. Who you areùthat's not to write about, it's just for you to know." "And he knows!" said the brunette. "He knows exactly. I know he knows." She knew I knew? What did she mean by that? Where did she? . . . What? Who was she? My face is a sphere on which little, least of all apprehension, may hide, and the brunette hastened to put me at ease. "Of course I have no personal knowledge" she said, "only psychic." I relaxed. Nothing psychic ever alarms me. "Exactly what is a book?" interposed the blonde. She did not wait for the answer I was trying to form. She said "A book is just a bunch of events from when you were born up to whenever. But the past can't tell anybody who you are because the past is not who you are." I said "Well the past, after all, is your life." Trying to make more of the commonplace, I asked the ladies whether they knew anything about the Great Depression of the thirties. They laughed and said they did not, and how could they? They were born, both of them, during the Second World War, nearer the end of it than the beginning. Hastily I said "It's obvious of course that you couldn't have lived before the war. I just thought you might have heard or readï" "I know it was a real poor time" the brunette said in a voice suddenly sad. "Were you a poor kid?" "No" I assured her, "I was well off, but there was something about that time, growing up in itù" "Who you are" said the blonde, "has nothing to do with any of that; it's about right now, today, and no other day matters." "Not even yesterday?" "Right now only. We are who we are, moment to moment, and every moment's different and things are always different." "You don't mean all things" I said. "All things." "Inanimate things? Objects?" "Objects too. Objects are only what we see them as. So objects change as we change, all the time." This kind of talk was not unfamiliar. It was, during that decade of the seventies, the kind of talk one often heard at trendy but goofy parties in the Hollywood Hills. The sense of it was that nothing and no one retained form, and there could be no valid standards, no definitions, no qualitative judgmentsùnothing that people could be fully agreed upon. Whatever you happened to be was wonderful. Whatever you happened to know was more than enough. And if you had been conned into believing this by some self-realization guru you could fancy yourself a savant regardless of the debris or vacuity of your past; you could feel whole and worthy right now. The brunette said "My friend is right, change is always going on, and people and things get better all the time. I'm an optimist" she added with a giggle. The blonde smiled tolerantly to imply, I think, that her friend's comprehension was characteristically in arrears. "The word 'better'" she softly advised, "is not really useful." And that was about all there was to that, but the point of the story is that the encounter put me off stride. Three brooding analysts could not have unbalanced me, but one blithe young woman could. Why? Because I take women very seriously, far more seriously than most men take them, or than I take most men. If a woman disapproves of what I'm doing, I worry, regardless of whether or not her reason makes complete sense to me. Woman's intuition may be an ancient cliche, but I believe in it, respect it, and sometimes panic in the face of it. I stopped working on the book. Two years later a letter came from the offices of Simon & Schuster in New York: "Your editor has passed on. I am your new editor. Can I help in any way? When may we expect to see something?" I replied "I don't know. Shall I return the advance?" A brief answer came from New York: "No, just stay in touch." In the summer of 1983, I happened to be in New York and contacted S & S again, not to report that I had any stuff to show them, just to say I had not forgotten the deal. Alas! they had. No one there had ever heard of it. I had a lot of notes with me, a briefcase full, in a kind of chronological disorder, and I thought I would just start somewhere, anywhere, maybe Dublinùbecause I got married there, finished college there, went into the theatre there. More than half my life has been in the theatre, one form of it or another, but getting into it obliged me to get myself out of some other things. I am not sure even now that I made the best choice in spite of the exceptional rewards of show business. Choice: that is what I would write about. Choice and of course discovery and the development of points of view. I would doubtless drift far, for better or worse, from both Flynn and Cagney. I certainly had drifted far from the expectations of Simon & Schuster, who, when they read my first seventy-five trial pages, decided that they had no need of the rest. Incidentally, they had found traces of my deal. Mr. Korda in a letter to my manager, Lionel Lamer, explained that the difference between the public perception of me and what I evidently was, was too large to be promotable. I didn't know what that precisely meant, but I couldn't doubt that a man like Korda must have something there, so I put the briefcase aside and forgot about it. A couple of years later a lawyer at Simon & Schuster, a charming young woman, reviewing the moribund deal, had an afterthought, and it was this: I owed them $6,000; it was the first installment of a $25,000 advance. They had bought for $6,000 something they found they didn't like, an irremediable mistake that occurs hourly in the movie business at far greater costs to the buyer. She asked if I intended to give back the money. I laughed. She started laughing. We laughed a lot and said a cordial, almost a fond good-bye. That was the end of the affair. I soon got my first chance, however, to write something about myself.
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Recently, I have become fascinated by Carroll O'Connor's talent as an actor by watching reruns of "In the Heat of the Night." My interest became piqued by his genuis as an actor since Chief Gillespie is a long way from Archie Bunker. "I'm Outta Here" demonstrates Mr. O'Connor's ability to put thoughts onto paper in such a way that it saddens me that he is no longer with us. I am particularly saddened because his autobiogrqphy is the closest I can ever get to him.