Jean Stapleton: Actress hailed as sweetly naive Edith
in 'All in the Family'

 

Jean Stapleton was a character actress who played Archie Bunker’s far better half, the sweetly naive Edith, in the groundbreaking 1970s US comedy All in the Family.

Little known beforehand, she co-starred with Carroll O’Connor in the top-rated CBS comedy about an unrepentant bigot, the wife he churlishly but fondly called “Dingbat”, their daughter Gloria and liberal son-in-law Mike, or “Meathead”.

She received eight Emmy nominations and won three times during her eight-year tenure. Produced by Norman Lear, the series broke through the timidity of US TV with social and political jabs and was the No 1-rated programme for an unprecedented five years in a row.

Lear, who went on to create a run of socially conscious comedies, said, “No one gave more profound ‘How to be a Human Being’ lessons than Jean Stapleton.” She also earned Emmy nominations as Eleanor Roosevelt in the 1982 film Eleanor, First Lady of the World and for a guest appearance in 1995 on Grace Under Fire.

Her films included two by Nora Ephron, the 1998 Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan romance You’ve Got Mail and 1996’s Michael starring John Travolta. She turned down the chance to star in Murder, She Wrote, which became a showcase for Angela Lansbury.

The theatre was Stapleton’s first love and she compiled a rich resume, starting in 1941 as a New England stock player and moving to Broadway in the 1950s and ’60s. In 1964 she originated the role of Mrs Strakosh in Funny Girl with Barbra Streisand, while other musicals and plays included Bells Are Ringing, Rhinoceros and Damn Yankees, in which her performance – and the nasal tone she later used in All in the Family – attracted Lear’s attention and led to his auditioning her forthe role of Archie’s wife. “I wasn’t a leading lady type,” she said. “I knew where I belonged. And actually, I found character work much more interesting than leading ladies.”

Edith, of the dithery manner, cheerfully high-pitched voice and family loyalty, charmed viewers but was viewed by Stapleton as “submissive” and, she hoped, removed from reality. She said she didn’t think Edith was a typical American housewife – “at least I hope she’s not. 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.”

She confounded Archie with her malapropisms – “You know what they say, misery is the best company” – and her open-hearted acceptance of others, including her beleaguered son-in-law and African-Americans and other minorities Archie disdained.

Stapleton had the chance to offer a deeper take on Edith, who faced tribulations such as a breast cancer scare and the menopause. She was proud of the show’s political edge, citing an episode about a draft dodger who clashes with Archie as a personal favourite.

But she worried about typecasting, rejecting any roles in commercials or sketches on variety shows that called for a character similar to Edith. Despite pleas from Lear not to let Edith die, she left in 1980. In Archie’s Place, Archie carried on as a widower. Stapleton proved her own toughness when her husband of 26 years, William Putch, suffered a fatal heart attack in 1983 at 60 while the couple was touring with a play directed by Putch. Stapleton went on stage that night and continued with the tour. “That’s what he would have wanted,” she said.

Born in New York, Stapleton worked as a secretary before studying acting with the American Theatre Wing and others. She had a long working relationship with the playwright Horton Foote, starting with 1944’s People in the Show and continuing through to the 2000s. Her early TV career included appearances on series such as Dr Kildare.

She and Putch had two children,John and Pamela, who followed their parent s into the enter tainment industry.

Jean Murray (Jean Stapleton), actress: born New York 19 January 1923; married 1941 William H Putch (died 1983; one son, one daughter); died New York 31 May 2013.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Sport
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum
France's Front National and the fear of a ‘gay lobby’ around Marine Le Pen

Front National fear of ‘gay lobby’

Marine Le Pen appoints Sébastien Chenu as cultural adviser