Beverly Hills, Nov. 18 – Norman Lear co-founded the Media Access Awards to recognize and encourage the accurate portrayal of people with disabilities in 1979. In 2017, he had the honor of awarding fellow co-founder Fern Field with the 2017 Norman Lear – Geri Jewell Lifetime Achievement Award at this year’s Media Access Awards.
Lear and Field pioneered depictions of disability; they also hired Geri Jewell for Facts of Life in 1980, the first person with a disability on a sitcom.
Lear, who received a standing ovation during the morning awards ceremony, said 2017 is the “most successful year for actors with disabilities on TV.”
He grew up in New Haven, Connecticut. Early in Lear’s life, his father went to jail for fraud and he constantly was relocated to different family members’ homes across the U.S. Lear grew up to be a college dropout and joined the Air Force as a radio operator and gunner during WWII. After leaving the military in 1945, Lear spent four years working in public relations before being a comedy writer.
Lear made his career during the 1970’s by making situation comedies that featured characters who made statements that examined issues of civil rights. For example, All in the Family included a bigoted character, Archie Bunker, which spun off into The Jeffersons. The Jeffersons starred a black family, who had a sharp political ideology, which reflected Lear’s political ideas.
In 1981, Lear left the world of television sitcoms for political activism. He founded People for the American Way, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting First Amendment rights, strengthening public education and promoting electoral and immigration reform. In 2000, Lear founded the Norman Lear Center at the University of South California to support research investigating the intersection of entertainment and society. In 2004, he founded Declare Yourself, a nonpartisan youth voter registration initiative. In 1999, President Bill Clinton presented Lear with the National Medal of Arts.
Read the profile on Fern Field’s Media Access Awards win on our website: https://www.respectability.org/2017/11/18/fern-field-honored-lifetime-work-devoted-disability-inclusion-media.