Valentine’s Day is today. So is the 42nd anniversary of what is arguably the most talked-about kiss in television history. Put those two things together, and one conclusion is inescapable. The high-impact television kiss seems to have gone extinct.
There was a time when a kiss, delivered by the right kind of person to the right kind of person, could set the whole country abuzz and speak profoundly to our national identity crisis. That time was Feb. 19, 1972. On that night, a Saturday, near the end of an episode of the most popular show on television, “All in the Family,” Sammy Davis Jr. planted a kiss on the right cheek of Archie Bunker, the superbigot played by Carroll O’Connor, a split second that instantly became the stuff of television legend.
Davis, a glittery Vegas-style star who played himself in the episode (he had left a briefcase in Archie’s cab), may not have exactly been representative of the black power movement, but he was just right for the job of underscoring the hypocrisy of the age. John Rich, director of the episode, who died on Jan. 29, said in a 1999 interview that the kiss was added at his suggestion when the scripted ending felt weak.
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