Friday, June 7, 2013

JEAN STAPLETON (1923 - 2013)

This huge All in the Family fan was saddened last week by the news that Jean Stapleton had died. Like most I identify her with the role of "Edith Bunker", wife of television's most likable bigot "Archie". What was an almost guaranteed-to-win role, anyway, was turned into something of even more dimension by the actress.

The character of a subservient mate of a husband who hasn't a lot of nice things to say about people who are not white and Republican would generate some frustration for the average viewer. Edith Bunker could give it back, however. The way she would speak up and stand up to Archie when she could not take his crap anymore was the thing to elicit rapturous cheers from a studio audience. It was great.

Of course I'm speaking of the "moments of rebellion", but most of the time Edith would keep her mouth shut while Archie ranted and raved about how things were not right in his world. Part of the reason, it was claimed onscreen, that daughter Gloria (Sally Struthers), even before she met that "Meathead" of a husband Mike Stivic, turned out "okay" was due to Edith's ultimate influence at home. While I don't know this for a fact, feminists must have liked Edith Bunker. (Maybe not... they may have demanded she move on.)

What must not be forgotten is that Edith loved her hard-done-by Archie. She showed her husband sympathy at all the right moments; like when he came home complaining about having to endure the "weirdos" and "preverts" on the subway ride to and from work. "Oh, Archie..."

Needless to say, especially for those familiar with All in the Family, Stapleton was also a great "Dingbat". The look on Edith's face as she slowwwlyy "got it" was yet another ingredient in a great series -- my favourite of all time.

During the run of the super-popular show there was an often-quoted trivial bit which was not true -- I did not find this out until a few years later: Actress Maureen Stapleton was no relation to Jean.

Like many actors, while she was known for appearing on film and television, Jean Stapleton's first love was the stage. I am thankful that she took on the role of Edith Bunker and then played her so brilliantly.

The Telegraph...

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