June 1, 2013 at 1:40 pm #277902
‘All in the Family’ Star Jean Stapleton Dies at 90
12:59 PM PDT 6/1/2013 by Duane Byrge , Mike Barnes
Getty Images Jean Stapleton with her husband, William Putch, in 1972.
The actress didn’t attain stardom until she was nearly 50 years old, when the Norman Lear CBS sitcom became a hit.
Jean Stapleton, known to millions of viewers as the lovable Edith Bunker on the classic CBS sitcom All in the Family, died Saturday of natural causes at her home in New York, her family announced. She was 90.
Stapleton won three Emmys out of four nominations for her role as the lovable “dingbat” wife of blue-collar bigot Archie Bunker (Carroll O’Connor). She received Emmy nominations for two other performances: as Eleanor Roosevelt in the 1982 CBS telefilm Eleanor, First Lady of the World and as Aunt Vivian on the ABC series Grace Under Fire.
Despite a lifetime career in acting, Stapleton didn’t attain stardom until she was nearly 50 years old, when All in the Family became a hit. Along with O’Connor, Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers, she starred on the groundbreaking show from 1971 through 1979.
Following the departure of Struthers and Reiner, she remained, appearing regularly but not weekly, on the spinoff Archie Bunker’s Place. After one season, however, she became tired of the role. The 1980 season began on a bittersweet note, with Archie mourning the death of Edith a few months before.
It was writer/producer Norman Lear who lifted her to stardom. Lear remembered her from her role in the 1958 film Damn Yankees! and cast her opposite O’Connor in Those Were the Days, a 1968 TV pilot for ABC that was based on a hit BBC series. The network didn’t pick it up.
Lear and partner Bud Yorkin remade it once more for ABC, with different castmembers for the Mike and Gloria parts – Reiner and Struthers. The network still passed. Eventually, Lear and Yorkin sold it to CBS, whose new president Robert D. Wood, took it on as a midseason replacement and retitled it All in the Family.
The show debuted in January 1971 but was no instant smash. It inched up during the summer, and CBS switched it to the fall lineup in the 8 p.m. Saturday slot, where it attracted a wide audience.
The Edith character was meant to be the naive voice of truth to husband Archie, the bigoted loading-dock worker who railed against the political and social upheavals of the 1960s and ‘70s. With her high-pitched voice, addled enthusiasm and big heart, Edith became a more important character than Lear had imagined. She brought lovability to the role, and audiences embraced Edith for her well-meaning, decent ways.
In 1984, Stapleton was offered the lead role in a proposed CBS series about a teacher turned mystery writer, but despite announcements in both Hollywood trade papers, she turned down the part in the series that would become Murder, She Wrote, starring Angela Lansbury.
Jeanne Murray was born on Jan. 19, 1923, in New York City and graduated from Wadleigh High school. She received her dramatic training in off-Broadway productions at the American Theater Wing, and her first Broadway appearance came in 1953’s In the Summer House.
She garnered TV roles in the 1960s on such hits shows as Route 66, Dr. Kildare, Studio One and Philco Playhouse. She also won a few supporting parts in feature films, including Bells Are Ringing (1960), Something Wild (1961), Up the Down Staircase (1967), Cold Turkey (1971) and Klute (1971).
In 1974, Stapleton made her Los Angeles stage debut in The Time of the Cuckoo at the Music Center.
After All in the Family, Stapleton starred in several telefilms, including CBS’ Aunt Mary (1979), where she played an embittered old woman who becomes coach of a Little League team.
Eleanor: Woman of the World (1982) looked at the immortal first lady in the years after her husband Franklin Roosevelt‘s death.
In the 1990s, Stapleton continued a healthy acting career, with parts on stage, TV movies and features. She appeared in the sitcom Caroline in the City and in the 1996 feature Michael, starring John Travolta.
A surprisingly gifted singer, she performed on such variety shows as The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour and The Carol Burnett Show. Of course, she sang “Those Were the Days” with O’Connor beneath the opening credits of each episode of All in the Family.
Other leading roles came in such TV productions as You Can’t Take It With You (1979), Angel Dusted (1981) and Isabel’s Choice (1981).
Her appearances became less frequent in the late 1980s, but she continued to appear on stage. She starred on Broadway in a 1986 revival of Arsenic and Old Lace and in Juno, Rhinoceros and Funny Girl. Off-Broadway, she toplined The Birthday Party and won an Obie Award.
Stapleton returned to sitcoms in 1990, co-starring with Whoopi Goldberg in CBS’ Bagdad Cafe. She also starred in the TV movie Ghost Mom for Fox in 1993 and played the title role in the 1994 Showtime series Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. She also turned in a memorable appearance as Miles Silverberg’s (Grant Shaud) aunt in the Murphy Brown 1996 episode titled “All in the Family.”
Stapleton was married to William Putch, a producer/director of the Totem Pole Playhouse in Fayetteville, Pa., where she appeared regularly for many seasons. He died in 1993.Marcus Snowden (The Artist Formerly Known as msnowden1)ParticipantJune 1, 2013 at 5:02 pm #277905
RIP JeanJune 1, 2013 at 5:20 pm #277906
Incredible actress and really the heart of “All in the Family”.
Not mentioned in the article, but inducted into the TV Hall of Fame a few years ago.June 1, 2013 at 6:20 pm #277907
Sad to lose such a talented veteran actress. RIP.June 1, 2013 at 7:28 pm #277908
An amzing talented actress, a true legend. RIPJune 1, 2013 at 8:31 pm #277909
Loved her dearly, happy to see her having lived a wonderful long life.
She and Betty White are the same age, it would have been the greatest pity if they never acted together.
Could have played sisters of sorts.
She could also have been a screen sister of Maureen Stapleton. Though not similar in looks or mannerisms, they could have been sisters sharing a same father or same mother. Another missed great opportunity.June 1, 2013 at 10:20 pm #277910
She did incredible work in ALL IN THE FAMILY…a truly legendary performance and character.
Note: The article is wrong about the number of emmy nominations she recieved for ALL IN THE FAMILY, instead of four it was 8. She wa snominated for every season the show was on except for the 1975-1976 season because of someone’s mishap with mailing in the eligibility application…no actors from the show were nominated that year…only the series itself recieved a comedy series nomination.June 2, 2013 at 2:12 am #277911
Founder, People for the American Way
Goodbye, Edith Darling
Posted: 06/01/2013 7:28 pm
This will be short and sweet. Never as sweet as I’d wish it to be if I took a month to write it. I only just learned that Jean Stapleton, our beloved Edith — or Edith, our beloved Jean Stapleton — has passed.
Back in 1971, possibly the first time I was asked by a journalist “What is Jean Stapleton like?”, my reflexive response was: “She’s always where she is.” I was surprised by my answer; I’d never had the thought before and never knew it resided within me. Can I reach deeply enough inside me now to express how much that, the idea and Jean Stapleton herself, has meant to me?
I was at my computer when her glorious children, John and Pam, phoned me, and I told them I was working on my memoir, and reflecting on the time I was a gone-to-work father to my personal family on Mooncrest Drive while also fathering Archie and Edith and three other families on CBS. And I added — so, at 90, here still is Jean Stapleton, “always where she is,” helping me to see my own frailties and humanity yet again. No one gave more profound “How to be a Human Being” lessons than Jean Stapleton. Goodbye, Edith darling.