By JERRY BARMASH
In the world of television comedy, Lucille Ball, Mary Tyler Moore, and Betty White are among the best.
But Jean Stapleton took a backseat to no one. She will forever be remembered as Edith Bunker, a role that garnered her the Emmy Award three times. Stapleton died Friday of natural causes. She was 90.
Stapleton is a product of New York City, who was a Broadway veteran before Hollywood and Norman Lear called.
On All in the Family, the groundbreaking 1970s comedy, previously taboo topics were now part of the TV palette. Stapleton’s character was always loving to her bigoted husband Archie Bunker, played by Carroll O’Connor.
During the show’s run she dealt with “adult” topics such as menopause, swingers, and rape.
“Jean Stapleton was one of the greatest actors ever to have graced our television screens,” Pavan Patel, sitcomsonline.com director, tells Tuned In. “The character of Edith Bunker could not have been played by anyone else but her. She gave that character life and spice and whenever I think of All in the Family I think of how much depth Jean gave to that character.”
As Edith’s character developed, she added a nasal sound that she first used in Damn Yankees.
“I’ll steal it from myself,” Stapleton told the Archive of American Television in 2000.
Edith Bunker was not the most educated, or intelligent, but she had the ability to befriend anyone.
The experience of making All in the Family in front of a live studio audience drew on her Broadway background.
“It was like doing theater and I was very comfortable in that,” Stapleton said. “That laughter just feeds you. As an actor it was a wonderful thing to do.”
Stapleton had a recurring role in the first season of the spinoff Archie Bunker’s Place before officially moving on in 1980. She was written off the show in an emotional farewell having died of a stroke.
“When Edith Bunker died on Archie Bunker’s Place, the show was no where near the quality when she was on screen,” Patel says.
She admitted in the 2000 interview with the Archive of American Television watching All in the Family once while it was airing. But in the years since, she was able to watch objectively.
“I love it, and I laugh [thinking], ‘Gee, that’s good,'” Stapleton said.
Stapleton followed up Edith with Eleanor, playing the former First Lady in a 1982 television movie. Later in life, she made several supporting appearances in films, including Michael and You’ve Got Mail.
“She’s definitely going to be missed but her work, especially All in the Family, will live on for the end of time,” Patel says.