Archie Called Her ‘Dingbat,’ But We Knew Better. Jean Stapleton, Who Made Edith Bunker a Character for the Ages, Dies at 90

Jun 1, 2013  •  Post A Comment

"Jean Stapleton, 90, the actress who endeared herself to viewers in the 1970s as Edith Bunker, and whose sudden bursts of truth regularly cut through her husband Archie’s bluster on the groundbreaking television series ‘All in the Family,’ has died, writes Claudia Luther in the Los Angeles Times

The obituary continues, "Stapleton died Friday, May 31, 2013, of natural causes at her New York City home, her family announced. She earned three Emmy Awards starring as the wife of Carroll O’Connor’s loud-mouthed, bigoted Archie Bunker on the series, which marked the beginning of sitcoms as a forum for political — albeit often comical — family warfare."

Stapleton was in her late 40’s when she achieved TV stardom. "All in the Family," on CBS, was the No 1-rated show on TV from 1971 through the end of the 1975 season. The lowest average season rating it did in any of those years was 30.1. Yes, those were the days.

Here at TVWeek we found that in a 1987 piece in the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Tribune’s assistant entertainment editor, Don Braunagel wrote, about Stapleton:

Her face, voice and posture were among the most familiar on television– and thus in the United States.

The round-eyed naivete. The hunched, arms-up shuffle as she hurried to get Archie a beer. The off-key screech with which she concluded the singing duet on "Those Were the Days."

It was "All in the Family," the landmark sitcom that dominated prime-time TV throughout the ’70s. Integral to that show– the "dingbat" who bested, and mellowed, husband Archie Bunker, that teddy-bear bigot– was Edith.

And Edith Bunker was Jean Stapleton. But Jean Stapleton never was Edith Bunker.

Away from the cameras, Stapleton was a poised, confident actor, happy with her home life and articulate in her advocacy of such causes as women’s rights. The contrast surprised some people.

The Los Angeles Times obituary also says, "As Edith, Stapleton became a role model for other women who had to deal with their own hot-headed Archies, a fact that O’Connor relished.

" ‘Before Edith … women who lived with fellows like Archie were usually submissive and suffering in the face of roaring nonthink,’ O’Connor later wrote of his on-camera wife. ‘After Edith, they confronted nonthink a little more sternly and stiffly and gave hint of a serious readiness to rebel, just as Edith rebelled from time to time.’ "

The Times story adds, "The character that Stapleton created made the break-the-mold sitcom work, according to O’Connor. ‘The benign, compassionate presence she developed made my egregious churl bearable,’ he wrote in his 1998 autobiography. Her ‘idea of Edith Bunker was not only original and perfectly suited to the American audience, but very comical and emotionally moving.’ "

Reuters obituary about Stapleton says, "The New York-born Stapleton had a lifelong love of the theater, and her stage roles after ‘All In the Family’ included a part in a 1987 Broadway revival of the play ‘Arsenic and Old Lace.’

"In 1990, she received the Village Voice newspaper’s Obie Award for her performances in Harold Pinter’s plays ‘Mountain Language’ and ‘The Birthday Party.’

"After spending a number of years living and working in Los Angeles, Stapleton returned to New York in 2002 to live permanently.

"She is survived by her son, John Putch, and her daughter, television producer Pamela Putch. Her husband, William Putch, died in 1983."

Jean Stapleton.jpg

  Jean Stapleton

Your Comment

Email (will not be published)