Cast members of “All in the Family,” from left, Carroll O’Connor, Jean Stapleton, and Sally Struthers pose with their Emmys backstage at the 24th annual Emmy Awards in Hollywood, Ca., Sunday night, May 14, 1972. (AP Photo)
by Lynn Elber
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Jean Stapleton’s Edith Bunker was such an offbeat, irresistible charmer that we had to love her. And because she loved her bombastic husband Archie, we made room for him and TV’s daring “All in the Family.”
It took an actress as smart and deft as Stapleton to create the character that Archie called “dingbat,” giving a tender core to a sitcom that tested viewers with its bigoted American family man and blunt take on social issues.
Stapleton, 90, who died Friday of natural causes at her New York City home, was the sweet, trusting counterpoint to Carroll O’Connor’s irascible Archie on the 1970s groundbreaking show from producers Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin.
“No one gave more profound ‘How to be a Human Being’ lessons than Jean Stapleton,” Lear said Saturday.
While Edith faced problems, including a breast cancer scare, with strength, it was the demanding Archie who presented her greatest challenge. Stapleton made her much more than a doormat, but the actress was concerned about what the character might convey.
Edith’s dithery manner, cheerfully high-pitched voice and family loyalty enchanted viewers, while Stapleton viewed her as oppressed and, she hoped, removed from reality.
“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,” Stapleton told the New York Times in 1972.