Jean Stapleton

Actress


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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About
About this interview

Jean Stapleton says of All in the Family's approach to topical issues, "There's nothing like humor to burst what seems to be an enormous problem. Humor reduces it to nothing and wipes it out. That's what humor does. That was a great part of that show in terms of every issue, but especially bigotry. And you know you make fun of something, it reduces it to nothing." Stapleton became a television icon as "Edith Bunker" on All in the Family and was later associated with playing First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt on television and on the stage. She recounts how she became interested in acting by reading the theater page in The New York Times (and attending the theater when she could). In her two-hour Archive interview she describes her acting training and her Broadway roles. She talks about balancing her career and family life and talks about her work with her husband, William Putch, at the theater he founded, the Totem Pole Playhouse in Fayetteville, PA. Noting her casting in character parts in television, she recalls playing a secretary on Woman with a Past and an American Indian on cultural anthology Camera Three. She also humorously mentions that in one of her early parts on television, on the legal drama The Defenders, she was a woman who fingers a murderer— played by future co-star Carroll O'Connor. On All in the Family, Stapleton discusses the pilots made, developing her character, singing the series theme song with Carroll O'Connor, and the collaborative nature of the show. She also comments on the dramatic themes of the series— most notably the exposing of bigotry and prejudice— and gives details on some of the series most memorable episodes, including "Edith's Christmas Story," which dealt with breast cancer. She then explains how she left the role of "Edith Bunker" with the death of the character in the opener of the second season of Archie Bunker's Place. Stapleton recalls producer/series developer Norman Lear's difficulty in allowing the "Edith Bunker" character to die: "Norman said on the phone, 'I just haven't been able to say yes to this.' ... I said, 'Norman you realize, don't you, she is only fiction,' And there was a long pause. And I thought I've hurt this dear man that I love so much. And then the voice came back to me, 'She isn't.' But, shortly thereafter, he gave the word and they made Edith die." She then discusses her post-All in the Family appearances in a series of made-for-television movies, including Aunt Mary and Eleanor, First Lady of the World, as well as series work on the sitcom Bagdad Café and the children's program Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. With fond acknowledgment of later-cast Angela Lansbury's talent, Stapleton talks about turning down the lead role of Murder, She Wrote. Other subjects Stapleton discusses in her interview are: the Hollywood Blacklist of the 1950s-60s, her involvement in the Women's Rights Movement of the 1970s and dealing with fame. Karen Herman conducted the interview on November 28, 2000 in Brentwood, CA.

"Truck drivers would call at me if they'd spot me on the street, and yell out 'Edith!' … And I find most of the time, I'm addressed by my real name which is a great step of progress. But if anybody calls me 'Edith,' I just correct them, say, 'the name is Jean.'"

Highlights
Jean Stapleton on how All in the Family used comedy to expose social issues, including bigotry
00:37
Jean Stapleton on her description of All in the Family's Edith Bunker
00:58
Jean Stapleton on getting the acting "bug"
00:48
On appearing on The Defenders with future All in the Family co-star Carroll O'Connor
00:54
Jean Stapleton on filming All in the Family in front of a live audience
00:28
Jean Stapleton on turning down the lead role in Murder, She Wrote
01:31
Full Interview

Chapter 1

On choosing her stage name; on her parents; on getting the acting "bug"
05:23
On her acting training and making the rounds; on her first Broadway role; on researching the role of Eleanor Roosevelt
09:46
On her early television appearances in "under-fives" and her first regular role; on appearing in "Damn Yankees" and "Bells Are Ringing"
07:09
On her television appearance on Camera Three; on her marriage to William Putch and maintaining her career; on appearing at the Totem Pole Playhouse; on appearing on an early episode of Dr. Kildare
06:14

Chapter 2

On making the rounds as a character actress; on the Hollywood Blacklist; on appearing on The Defenders with future All in the Family co-star Carroll O'Connor
08:35
On reading for All in the Family; on her initial characterization of "Edith Bunker" and the traits that developed through rehearsal
08:21
On All in the Family co-star Carroll O'Connor; on the long gestation from pilots to airing of the All in the Family; on the frankness of the material; on the casting of Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers as "Mike" and "Gloria"
06:11
On performing "Those Were the Days," the theme song from All in the Family; on the response to the show; on the collaborative nature of the set; on series developer/executive producer Norman Lear
05:29

Chapter 3

On Norman Lear's business partner Bud Yorkin; on All in the Family directors John Rich and Paul Bogart; on the issues dealt with on All in the Family; on her involvement with the Women's Movement of the 1970s
09:21
On avoiding typecasting due to "Edith Bunker"; on fame; on memorable episodes of All in the Family; on leaving "Edith Bunker" with the death of her character on the second season of Archie Bunker's Place
12:16
On the growth of "Edith Bunker" over the course of the series; on her favorite episodes; on taking a buyout from residuals on All in the Family
06:00

Chapter 4

On the made-for-television movie Aunt Mary; on being directed by her son, John Putch, in the feature film "Pursuit of Happiness"; on the television movie Eleanor, First Lady of the World; on turning down the lead part in Murder, She Wrote
07:17
On the short-lived sitcom Bagdad Café; on the family series Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle; on her one-woman show "Eleanor: Her Secret Journey"
05:30
On ageism; on advice to aspiring actors; on the fan mail she receives; on some of the actors and producers she worked with in television
09:18
On the donation of "Archie" and "Edith's" chairs from the set of All in the Family to the Smithsonian Institution
04:44
Shows

All in the Family

View Show Page
Jean Stapleton on refusing to reprise "Edith Bunker" or a likeness of her in television commercials
00:37
Jean Stapleton on appearing on The Defenders with future All in the Family co-star Carroll O'Connor
00:54
Jean Stapleton on reading for All in the Family and her impressions of the pilot script
01:48
Jean Stapleton on her initial characterization of "Edith Bunker," and seeing a single episode of the British show on which All in the Family was based, Till Death Do Us Part
01:41
Jean Stapleton on creating "Edith Bunker's" characterization, including her constant hurrying and nasal voice
00:54
Jean Stapleton on her description of All in the Family's "Edith Bunker"
00:58
Jean Stapleton on All in the Family co-star Carroll O'Connor
00:54
Jean Stapleton on the long gestation period between the All in the Family pilots and a series pick-up
01:12
Jean Stapleton on why ABC passed on All in the Family
00:40
Jean Stapleton on her opinion of the frank nature of All in the Family
00:52
Jean Stapleton on the casting of Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers as "Mike" and "Gloria" on All in the Family, following recasts from the pilots
01:14
Jean Stapleton on performing "Those Were the Days," the theme song from All in the Family, and a lyric that proved problematic
00:32
Jean Stapleton on filming All in the Family in front of a live audience
00:28
Jean Stapleton on the collaborative nature of the All in the Family set
00:51
Jean Stapleton on All in the Family executive producer/series developer Norman Lear
00:57
Jean Stapleton on All in the Family director John Rich
01:53
Jean Stapleton on All in the Family director Paul Bogart
01:00
Jean Stapleton on favorite All in the Family episodes
01:08
Jean Stapleton on how All in the Family used comedy to expose social issues, including bigotry
00:37
Jean Stapleton on consciously trying to avoid being typecast by "Edith Bunker"
01:32
Jean Stapleton on dealing with fame
01:22
Jean Stapleton on the pilot of The Jeffersons, aired as the All in the Family episode "The Jeffersons Move Up"
00:50
Jean Stapleton on the decision to have the character of "Edith Bunker" die, in the Archie Bunker's Place episode "Archie Alone"
03:27
Jean Stapleton on the All in the Family episode "Edith's Christmas Story," which dealt with breast cancer
01:01
Jean Stapleton on the growth of "Edith Bunker" over the course of All in the Family, as seen in such episodes as "Edith's Night Out"
02:06
Jean Stapleton on learning to be open for all projects, as a result of her work on All in the Family
00:21
Jean Stapleton on taking a buyout from residuals on All in the Family
01:23
Jean Stapleton on the donation of "Archie" and "Edith's" chairs from the set of All in the Family to the Smithsonian Institution
01:03

All in the Family: "Sammy's Visit"

View Show Page
Jean Stapleton on how All in the Family used comedy to expose bigotry
00:37
Jean Stapleton on All in the Family director John Rich
01:53

Archie Bunker's Place

View Show Page
Jean Stapleton on the decision to have the character of "Edith Bunker" die, in the Archie Bunker's Place episode "Archie Alone"
03:27

Aunt Mary

View Show Page
Jean Stapleton on the made-for-television movie Aunt Mary
02:40

Bagdad Café

View Show Page
Jean Stapleton on the short-lived sitcom Bagdad Cafe
01:04

Camera Three

View Show Page
Jean Stapleton on her appearance on Camera Three
01:19

Defenders, The

View Show Page
Jean Stapleton on appearing on The Defenders with future All in the Family co-star Carroll O'Connor
00:54
Jean Stapleton on working on The Defenders with E.G. Marshall
00:19

Dr. Kildare

View Show Page
Jean Stapleton on appearing on an early episode of Dr. Kildare
00:50

Eleanor, First Lady of the World

View Show Page
Jean Stapleton on researching her role as Eleanor Roosevelt
02:15
Jean Stapleton on Eleanor, First Lady of the World
00:52

Jeffersons, The

View Show Page
Jean Stapleton on the pilot of The Jeffersons, aired as the All in the Family episode "The Jeffersons Move Up"
00:50

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle

View Show Page
Jean Stapleton on the family series Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, the role she played, and working with producer/actress Shelley Duvall
01:20

Murder, She Wrote

View Show Page
Jean Stapleton on turning down the lead role in Murder, She Wrote
01:31

Woman with a Past

View Show Page
Jean Stapleton on being happy to get cast on the short-lived soap opera Woman with a Past
00:31
Topics

Advice

View Topic
Jean Stapleton on advice to aspiring actors
01:21

Characters & Catchphrases

View Topic
Jean Stapleton on her initial characterization of "Edith Bunker," and seeing a single episode of the British show on which All in the Family was based, Till Death Do Us Part
01:41
Jean Stapleton on creating "Edith Bunker's" characterization, including her constant hurrying and nasal voice
00:54
Jean Stapleton on her description of All in the Family's "Edith Bunker"
00:58
Jean Stapleton on the decision to have the character of Edith Bunker die, in the Archie Bunker's Place episode "Archie Alone"
03:27
Jean Stapleton on the growth of "Edith Bunker" over the course of All in the Family, as seen in such episodes as "Edith's Night Out"
02:06

Classic TV series episodes

View Topic
Jean Stapleton on the All in the Family episode "Edith's Christmas Story," which dealt with breast cancer
01:01

Comedy

View Topic
Jean Stapleton on the All in the Family episode "Edith's Christmas Story," which dealt with breast cancer
01:01

Diversity in Television

View Topic
Jean Stapleton on how All in the Family used comedy to expose social issues, including bigotry
00:37
Jean Stapleton on her involvement with the Women's Movement of the 1970s
01:21

Fame and Celebrity

View Topic
Jean Stapleton on her marriage to producer/director William Putch and maintaining her career
01:30
Jean Stapleton on the professional reasons for not giving her age
00:44
Jean Stapleton on refusing to reprise "Edith Bunker" or a likeness of her in television commercials
00:37
Jean Stapleton on dealing with fame
01:22
Jean Stapleton on Bette Davis (who she was with when "Archie" and "Edith's" chairs were being donated from the set of All in the Family to the Smithsonian Institution)
03:00

Historic Events and Social Change

View Topic
Jean Stapleton on how All in the Family used comedy to expose social issues, including bigotry
00:37
Jean Stapleton on her involvement with the Women's Movement of the 1970s
01:21

Hollywood Blacklist

View Topic
Jean Stapleton on John Randolph and others standing up to the Hollywood Blacklist
01:00

Industry Crossroads

View Topic
Jean Stapleton on John Randolph and others standing up to the Hollywood Blacklist
01:00

Memorable Moments on Television

View Topic
Jean Stapleton on how All in the Family used comedy to expose social issues, including bigotry
00:37
Jean Stapleton on the decision to have the character of "Edith Bunker" die, in the Archie Bunker's Place episode "Archie Alone"
03:27

Pop Culture

View Topic
Jean Stapleton on her marriage to producer/director William Putch and maintaining her career
01:30
Jean Stapleton on the professional reasons for not giving her age
00:44
Jean Stapleton on refusing to reprise "Edith Bunker" or a likeness of her in television commercials
00:37
Jean Stapleton on her initial characterization of "Edith Bunker," and seeing a single episode of the British show on which All in the Family was based, Till Death Do Us Part
01:41
Jean Stapleton on creating "Edith Bunker's" characterization, including her constant hurrying and nasal voice
00:54
Jean Stapleton on her description of All in the Family's "Edith Bunker"
00:58
Jean Stapleton on performing "Those Were the Days," the theme song from All in the Family, and a lyric that proved problematic
00:32
Jean Stapleton on dealing with fame
01:22
Jean Stapleton on the decision to have the character of "Edith Bunker" die, in the Archie Bunker's Place episode "Archie Alone"
03:27
Jean Stapleton on the All in the Family episode "Edith's Christmas Story," which dealt with breast cancer
01:01
Jean Stapleton on the growth of "Edith Bunker" over the course of All in the Family, as seen in such episodes as "Edith's Night Out"
02:06
Jean Stapleton on Bette Davis (who she was with when "Archie" and "Edith's" chairs were being donated from the set of All in the Family to the Smithsonian Institution)
03:00

TV Theme Songs

View Topic
Jean Stapleton on performing "Those Were the Days," the theme song from All in the Family, and a lyric that proved problematic
00:32

Television Industry

View Topic
Jean Stapleton on John Randolph and others standing up to the Hollywood Blacklist
01:00
Jean Stapleton on learning to be open for all projects, as a result of her work on All in the Family
00:21
Jean Stapleton on taking a buyout from residuals on All in the Family
01:22
Jean Stapleton on advice to aspiring actors
01:21

We Considered

View Topic
Jean Stapleton on how All in the Family used comedy to expose social issues, including bigotry
00:37

We Cried

View Topic
Jean Stapleton on the decision to have the character of "Edith Bunker" die, in the Archie Bunker's Place episode "Archie Alone"
03:27

Women

View Topic
Jean Stapleton on her involvement with the Women's Movement of the 1970s
01:21
Professions

Actress

View Profession
Jean Stapleton on the professional reasons for not giving her age
00:44
Jean Stapleton on consciously trying to avoid being typecast by "Edith Bunker"
01:32

Performers

View Profession
Jean Stapleton on the professional reasons for not giving her age
00:44
Jean Stapleton on consciously trying to avoid being typecast by "Edith Bunker"
01:32
Genres

Comedy Series

View Genre
Jean Stapleton on how All in the Family used comedy to expose social issues, including bigotry
00:37

Commercials

View Genre
Jean Stapleton on refusing to reprise "Edith Bunker" or a likeness of her in television commercials
00:37

Music Shows & Variety Shows/Specials

View Genre
Jean Stapleton on consciously trying to avoid being typecast as "Edith Bunker," by declining, among other things, guest appearances on variety shows that were a variation of "Edith"
01:32
People

Paul Bogart

View Interview Page
Jean Stapleton on All in the Family director Paul Bogart
01:00

Bette Davis

View Person Page
Jean Stapleton on Bette Davis (who she was with when "Archie" and "Edith's" chairs were being donated from the set of All in the Family to the Smithsonian Institution)
03:00

Shelley Duvall

View Person Page
Jean Stapleton on the family series Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, the role she played, and working with producer/actress Shelley Duvall
01:20

Mort Lachman

View Interview Page
Jean Stapleton on writer/producer Mort Lachman
00:23

Angela Lansbury

View Interview Page
Jean Stapleton on turning down the lead role in Murder, She Wrote
01:31

Norman Lear

View Interview Page
Jean Stapleton on All in the Family executive producer/series developer Norman Lear
00:57
Jean Stapleton on the decision by Norman Lear to have the character of "Edith Bunker" die, in the Archie Bunker's Place episode "Archie Alone"
03:27
Jean Stapleton on the All in the Family episode "Edith's Christmas Story," which dealt with breast cancer, and how Norman Lear convinced her to do the story
01:01

E. G. Marshall

View Interview Page
Jean Stapleton on working on The Defenders with E.G. Marshall
00:20

Don Nicholl

View Person Page
Jean Stapleton on All in the Family producer Don Nicholl
00:53

Carroll O'Connor

View Interview Page
Jean Stapleton on appearing on The Defenders with future All in the Family co-star Carroll O'Connor
00:54
Jean Stapleton on All in the Family co-star Carroll O'Connor
00:53

John Putch

View Person Page
Jean Stapleton on working with her son, John Putch
00:49

John Randolph

View Person Page
Jean Stapleton on John Randolph and others standing up to the Hollywood Blacklist
01:00

Rob Reiner

View Interview Page
Jean Stapleton on the casting of Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers as "Mike" and "Gloria" on All in the Family, following recasts from the pilots
01:14

John Rich

View Interview Page
Jean Stapleton on All in the Family director John Rich
01:53

Eleanor Roosevelt

View Person Page
Jean Stapleton on researching her role as Eleanor Roosevelt
02:15

Sally Struthers

View Person Page
Jean Stapleton on the casting of Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers as "Mike" and "Gloria" on All in the Family, following recasts from the pilots
01:14

Bud Yorkin

View Interview Page
Jean Stapleton on Bud Yorkin
00:39

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