WASHINGTON, June 1, 2013 — For Chicago teens in the mid-70s, All In The Family was a weekly appointment. We watched, we laughed, we cried and we groaned.
But what this impressionable girl remembers is the love of Archie Bunker (Carol O’Connor), who was difficult to like at times, for his wife, Edith. In one episode, Edith is in tears as she asks Archie how he can love her now that she is old, and wrinkled, and not a young girl anymore.
Archie responds that life is funny, and as she is getting older, so is his eyesight. And she is as beautiful to him now as she ever was. Confronting her personal fears, she provided millions of women a guide in an emerging feminist environment.
While best known as Edith Bunker, Jean Stapleton enjoyed an accomplished career that included television, film and Broadway stage roles, including her role in Arsenic and Old Lace.
Stapleton’s roles in theater reach back to 1941, where she began in New England summer stock before landing roles on Broadway. In 1964, she starred as Mrs. Strakosh, a character she originated for Barbara Streisand’s Funny Girl. Other Broadway appearances included roles in Bells Are Ringing, Rhinoceros, and Damn Yankees.
Her film career included Nora Ephron’s You’ve Got Mail, with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan (1998), and working with actor John Travolta in Michael (1996).
For her work on All In The Family, Stapleton won three Emmy awards, in 1971, 1972 and 1978. She received five other nominations for the show, as well as one for her 1982 role as Eleanor Roosevelt in Eleanor, First Lady of the World for CBS, and another for her guest role in the 1995 ABC comedy, Grace Under Fire.
“I wasn’t a leading lady type,” she once told The Associated Press. “I knew where I belonged. And actually, I found character work much more interesting than leading ladies.”
Jean Stapleton was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 2002.
Stapleton’s son, John Putch, says that his mother, age 90, passed away peacefully from natural causes on Friday. The actress was in her New York City home surrounded by friends and her immediate family.
All In The Family worked because of Stapleton. She was Archie’s moral compass, a wise guide for daughter Gloria (Sally Struthers), accepting mother-in-law of Michael (Rob Reiner), and the personification of love when it came to her husband.
“What Edith represents is the housewife who is still in bondage to the male figure, very submissive and restricted to the home. She is very naive, and she kind of thinks through a mist, and she lacks the education to expand her world. I would hope that most housewives are not like that,” said Stapleton, whose character regularly obeyed her husband’s demand to “stifle yourself.”
But Edith was honest and compassionate, and “in most situations she says the truth and pricks Archie’s inflated ego,” Stapleton added.
While Archie called Edith a ‘dingbat’ (and she could easily be mistaken for one), she was anything but. Stapleton gave the character an intelligence and depth of understanding that allowed us to accept the show’s edgy story lines of racial tolerance and women’s rights, and that allowed us to grow as did the bigoted Archie.
Whom we learned to accept because if she could love him, so could we.
Communities offers their condolences to Ms. Stapleton’s family, friends and fans.
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