For better or worse, for much of the world outside of Queens, the borough is symbolized by a man who never existed: Archie Bunker. The star character of television’s “All in the Family,” one of the most popular and highly regarded shows ever made, was a gruff, blue-collar guy, old-fashioned and more than a little racist and sexist, but one who often did the right thing in the end, even if he had to be brought there kicking and screaming by his wife, Edith.
Actor Carroll O’Connor’s portrayal of Bunker was doubtlessly the key reason TV Guide ranked him the 38th greatest television star of all time in 1996. It later named Bunker himself the fifth greatest TV character ever.
But while some Queens residents revel in O’Connor’s portrayal of a WASPy racist who in many ways would rather live in the past, some even calling themselves “Archies” in the blogosphere to indicate their outlook, others object to the reputation Bunker gave to the borough.
Among the latter is Bob Holden, the civic leader from Middle Village, an area thought to have its share of Archies.
“I kind of resent it when you see people on blogs refer to Queens or certain neighborhoods as Archie Bunkerville,” Holden said. “When we don’t want a homeless shelter, we’re all Archies. In fact I know that most people in our neighborhood are not like that, though some people in Manhattan might disagree.”
Holden said it’s likely anyone from Queens — or anywhere else — knew someone like Archie Bunker when they were growing up, and that many of his attitudes were largely those of his generation. Holden, a baby boomer, said he and his friends related more to Archie’s son-in-law, Michael Stivic — “Meathead” to Bunker.
“I had a friend whose father always reminded me of Archie,” Holden said. “He would say things like Archie, had kind of a short fuse and had the mannerisms. But I’m talking now late ’60s, early ’70s. At that time I had long hair, and that’s how he talked to us. But he was a good guy who cared about his son.”
Holden also saw some of Archie in some of the people closest to him, and that’s where he says the character’s attitudes were generational, and that the show was really about family dynamics anyway. When he started dating his future wife, Amy Sciulli, her father, Angelo, told him he didn’t even want to see him on his block. Holden’s own father, Joseph, also disapproved of the match, because Amy is half-Japanese.
Holden’s father and uncle had both fought in the Pacific Theater in World War II, his father as a medic, and his uncle explained to Bob that he could hardly be blamed for not looking kindly on Japanese people. But eventually his father came around, just as Bunker usually did.
“I think that generation all had a little Archie in them,” Holden said. “I don’t think Queens had a monopoly on it. And Archie always came around. The show taught people something and was entertaining at the same time.”