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Norman Lear Kicks Off Modern Masters Series at Garry Marshall Theatre

Norman Lear ’44 still speaks his own truth.

“You’ll try to make everyone laugh,” said Lear, the legendary writer and producer, “And some people are going to laugh, but they’ll still hate you.”

The creator of the groundbreaking sitcoms All in the Family, Maude, and The Jeffersons—just to name a few—spoke at the Garry Marshall Theatre on October 18, kicking off the playhouse’s Modern Masters Series. This fundraiser was the first of six one-night-only master classes curated by Joseph Leo Bwarie ’99 and Dimitri Toscas. The two artistic directors of the newly imagined nonprofit theater decided that bringing Lear to Burbank, California, was the perfect way to pay homage to the creator of Happy Days, Garry Marshall. 

“[Lear and Marshall] were contemporaries,” said Bwarie. “They were both changing American television at the exact same time.”

Norman Lear said the drive to the Garry Marshall Theatre was “ugly” due to traffic, but “worth it.” Photo/Tommaso Di Blasi.     

Lear shared personal stories with the packed house, playfully talking about his prestigious career and answering questions with quick wit. He even took the time to address Emersonians in the audience, singing an old alma mater tune. Cody Kenner ’18, a Visual and Media Arts major, attended the event in hopes of gaining inspiration from the icon.

“He’s made a huge impact on society,” said Kenner, “and he talked about things he thought he needed to talk about. I hope I can do that, too.”

Lear has a long legacy of creating revolutionary and socially conscious entertainment. He put one of the first African American families on television with The Jeffersons, and it’s a tradition that he continues today with his new Netflix show One Day at a Time. The sitcom is inspired by the ’70s show of the same name, but this time it follows the trials and tribulations of a Cuban American family.

“Nobody has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the American people,” said Lear, “but families are families.”

Joseph Leo Bwarie '99 sits in the Garry Marshall Theatre. Photo/Tommaso Di Blasi

Bwarie and Toscas hope to bring these unique storytelling experiences to the public. They want the Garry Marshall Theatre’s inaugural season to be about the power of art and the importance of community.

“We’re trying to give creative people a home. That’s what Gary wanted,” said Bwarie. “Gary believed that the theater was powerful,” added Toscas. “Everyone’s equal in a dark theater.”

Toward the end of the evening, Lear spoke about how meaningful it was for him to continue sharing his experiences. The famed producer, wearing his signature white fedora, told the audience that he finds inspiration everywhere.

“I am forever a part of the audience,” said the 95-year-old, before running off to watch Dave Chappelle perform in West Hollywood.

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