Jean Stapleton 1923-2013
Born in NYC whose father was an advertising salesman and mother an opera singer, Jean Stapleton, who graduated with a degree from Hunter College, worked as a secretary until deciding to do summer stock in Peaks Island, Maine in 1941 which would change her life. She eventually made her Broadway debut in 1948 in Emlyn Williams’ semi-autobiographical work, The Corn is Green.
Stapleton, with her larger than life talent became well-known around Broadway and never lacked work, was an original cast member of three landmark musicals, Damn Yankees, 1955 and Bells Are Ringing, 1956, where she reprised her roles for the film versions, as well as Funny Girl,1964, where her distinctive voice can be heard on the original cast recording.
During the 50s and 60s she did her share in the new medium of television appearing in classic anthology programs such as Lux Radio Theatre and Philco-Goodyear Playhouse which featured live performances of plays as well as in sitcoms including My 3 Sons, Car 54, Where Are You?, Dennis the Menace, Naked City and the Defenders where she co-starred with Carroll O’Connor who would become her future television husband.
Her film career included Klute with Jane Fonda and Cold Turkey directed by Norman Lear, both in 1971. Michael in 1996 with John Travolta directed by Nora Ephron and You’ve Got Mail with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, also directed by Ephron. It was her collaboration with Lear in Cold Turkey that led her to become a household name when he cast her in the role of Edith Bunker, Archie’s wife, in his groundbreaking television sitcom All in the Family that was modeled after the hit British sitcom, Till Death Do Us Part.
The character of Edith was sweet, understanding and naïve which stood in sharp contrast to Archie (portrayed by Carroll O’Connor) who was bigoted, stubborn and ignorant. On the few occasions when Edith did take a stand she proved herself the wisest of all the characters in the show which included their feminist daughter Gloria played by Sally Struthers and her husband Mike played by Rob Reiner. The series tackled subjects that had previously been taboo on American television including racism, abortion, death, homosexuality, women’s liberation, breast cancer, the Vietnam war, impotence and menopause. Despite the differences between Edith and Archie it was made clear that they loved each other deeply and in spite of Archie’s up front and in your face bigotry, he was portrayed as a lovable and decent man who constantly struggled to adapt to a rapidly changing world.
All in the Family ran from 1971 until 1979 and won Stapleton 3 Emmy’s and 2 Golden Globes. She also received an honorary degree from Wilson College and has a scholarship named after her.
In 1977 she was one the commissioners who helped put together the National Women’s Conference in Houston, a gathering of 2000 delegates from every U.S. state–part of International Women’s Year–to assist in the formulation of national policy on women’s issues.
In 1979 Stapleton played the role of Eleanor Roosevelt in a one woman show for television afterward taking the show on the road to play before live audiences. Her later television work included Scarecrow and Mrs. King, Murphy Brown, Touched By An Angel and Everybody Loves Raymond.
Jean Stapleton was married 30 years to William Putch, a director of summer stock theatre until his death in 1983. They had 2 children, John Putch an actor and filmmaker and Pamela Putch, a producer. She was surrounded by family and close friends when she died of natural causes in New York City on May 31st.
Jean Stapleton was not related (as popularly believed) to Maureen Stapleton.