A Sensitive All In The Family Moment Elicited An Explosive Audience Reaction

As harrowing as the episode may have been for studio audiences and unsuspecting viewers, it had an important net positive outcome: Lear said the consultant who helped with “Edith’s Birthday,” Gail Abarbanel, was able to open a rape crisis center in the wake of the episode’s publicity. “As a result of all the press that episode got, she started the Rape Treatment Center in Santa Monica, which has had a huge influence on the issue across the country,” he explained in the 2017 interview. According to a UCLA retrospective on Arabanel’s career, the former social worker had already opened the center by 1974, but “All in the Family” raised its profile considerably — and opened up the door to talking about assault.

“It really raised the nation’s consciousness,” Abarbanel said in the 2015 interview, noting that women including those he worked with personally opened up to Lear about their own histories of sexual violence after “Edith’s Birthday” aired. “He was so moved that he became a founding member of the board and helped us raise money and break the silence about rape to build community support,” she explained.

Behind the scenes, the episode also set a vital (yet unfortunately, still often-ignored) precedent for TV writers to consult with the people whose experiences they want to portray. According to Abarbanel, when Lear called her about the episode, he asked: “If you could talk to 40 million people about rape, what would you want to say?” Her answer became “Edith’s Birthday,” a powerful, frightening episode of “All in the Family” that still elicits chills, tears, and — in its climactic cake-throwing scene — uproarious cheers decades later.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN’s National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

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