Mickey Rooney turned down the role of Archie Bunker in ''All in the Family''
Rooney told Lear himself he wouldn't accept the role.
When a character changes in a series, it affects the dynamic of the entire show, for better or for worse. Take a series like All in the Family. Do you remember in the eighth season when Gloria and Mike moved their family out of the Bunker residence and headed off to California, but the show continued without them? Granted, the ninth season of All in the Family wasn't unwatchable by any means, and it still produced a lot of great laughs, but the show was decidedly different without the original actors playing their original roles.
Now, there's nothing necessarily wrong with change, and there's certainly nothing bad about wondering about the way things might have been had life gone in another direction.
LIFE once explored one of these missed connections during the retrospective of All in the Family. In it, they revealed that in the early days of production, Carroll O'Connor was not the first pick for the role of Archie Bunker. There was another comic actor that creator Norman Lear was eyeing for the role: Mickey Rooney.
Rooney was a well-established film star, but he had also held several television roles on series like Wagon Train and General Electric Theater. So sure was Lear in his casting choice that once he received the green light to produce a pilot, he approached Rooney to see if he'd be interested in the role. Unfortunately, Rooney passed on the opportunity.
Today, this might be a shocking move, but at the time, balking at All in the Family wasn't necessarily an abnormal decision. The series' blunt and sometimes scathing content pushed the envelope of what someone could do or say on television. To keep on the safe side, Rooney decided to refuse the role. To be honest, he was a bit more direct than that and didn't mince words.
The LIFE article stated, "Lear hoped to get Mickey Rooney for the role of Archie. But when Lear explained the character to Rooney, the actor responded, 'Norm, they are going to kill you. They are going to shoot you in the streets."
Luckily, the next decision Lear made was the right one, and as soon as he saw Carroll O'Connor, he knew he was perfect for the role of Archie Bunker. We tend to think of missed opportunities as a wistful, "What might have been?" moment. But in a situation like this, while a Mickey Rooney All in the Family might be fun to think about, we're grateful that everything worked out the way it did with All in the Family.