June 1st, 2013

RIP Jean Stapleton

Jean Stapleton, best known for playing the role of the lovable Edith Bunker on “All in the Family,” has died at 90.

She and Carroll O’Connor as Archie made the show. Stapleton managed to walk a fine line that conveyed the humanity and depth of her character despite the ditsyness. I could probably spend hours looking at old videos of her (and O’Connor) at YouTube, but just a quick look uncovered these two clips that show their range:

34 Responses to “RIP Jean Stapleton”

  1. M J R Says:

    I once was privileged to hear Jean Stapleton talk at a convention — no, not about Edith Bunker, or even about drama — it was at a religious convention. The topic had to do with things of the Soul, things of the Spirit.

    Edith was a ditz, complete with that squeaky voice; but Ms. Stapleton had a normal, well-modulated speaking voice, as well as a very fine, well-modulated mind.

    You brought us lotsa laughs, Ms. Stapleton. R.I.P.

  2. carl in atlanta Says:

    She and Carroll O’Connor were so good that I didn’t realize I had been watching propaganda until years later. My father – who died in 1988 — fell for MASH as well, though I like to think I always saw through that one.

    RIP Ms. Stapleton

  3. Gringo Says:

    From the WaPo link:

    For years, she rarely watched “All In the Family,” but had softened by 2000, when she told the Archive of American Television that enough time had passed.

    “I can watch totally objectively,” she said. “I love it. And I laugh. I think, ‘Oh,’ and I think, ‘Gee, that’s good.’”

    Yes, it was good. Turned out a 25 minute play on a weekly basis. Jean Stapleton’s Edith was an endearing character. I have a lot more sympathy these days for Archie than I did when I first watched it. Like all humans, Archie and Edith had their flaws, which is why we identified with them. Their flaws were our flaws- or the flaws of people we knew and loved.

  4. parker Says:

    It was a great series, and Stapleton was the beating heart of what made it so entertaining. I haven’t watched commercial TV since approximately 1990; but All In the Family remains a memory of a great sit-com. Thanks Edith & Archie.

  5. Gary Rosen Says:

    “I didn’t realize I had been watching propaganda until years later”

    Maybe, but did it work? What percentage of the audience identified with (right-wing) Archie vs. (left-wing) Meathead?

  6. M J R Says:

    Gary Rosen, 9:07 pm — “What percentage of the audience identified with (right-wing) Archie vs. (left-wing) Meathead?”

    I think we need to be aware that it was a stacked deck, an unlevel playing field. It was very rare that the left-leaning Meathead (or left-leaners) came in for criticism and/or lampooning; it was practically always right-leaning Archie.

    The rightie was made to come off as bigoted and stupid, but the leftie rarely so: only a little naive and dogmatic, like one’s endearing cousin who has a little to learn yet. Extremely tilted playing field.

    The underlying theme was that bigotry is bad (with which virtually all readers here agree), and that bigotry is found almost exclusively on the right (with which I venture to speculate very few of us here will agree) — George Jefferson notwithstanding. (And George was not a leftie, he was merely black, and a black capitalist at that.)

    And that righties are ignorant. And that righties are oafish. And that righties mistreat their wives. And that . . . .

  7. ziontruth Says:

    R.I.P. Jean Stapleton. Everyone has to stifle someday. (Wry tribute.)

    All In The Family Way did have its moments, though. One episode was devoted to Meathead’s inability to think about non-whites as anything but “oppressed”. The half-black Lionel chides him for this, to which Meathead says, indignantly, “So what do you want to talk about—the weather?!” Lionel’s response: “Why not? Blacks have weather too, don’t they?”

    And then there was Jefferson, the black racist who’s the yin to Archie’s yang. Not much chance of having such a character on a show today, even though such satire would be in much need, in view of the sentiments of a certain pastor under whom the current U.S. president studied under for 20 years. An “Invert colors” operation on Jeremiah Wright gives you David Duke.

    Let’s say this comedy was still appropriate in the 1970s. But with a [half-]black president, black Atty-General (I could go on), what more could one ask as proof that institutional white racism is history? But you needn’t tell me why the flame of gratuitous hatred is being kept burning: The political power to be gained and unearned benefits to be had are all too appealing to human beings; resisting their appeal takes efforts and character.

    Marxism both political and cultural derives its strength from the corruptibility of the human spirit.

    One of my favorite Edith Bunker quotes, after Gloria asks why people always talk about fallen women but never about fallen men: Maybe because there are so many that you just can’t be bothered calling them that way. True dat…

  8. MollyNH Says:

    I don t feel that the producer ( forget his name)
    really succeeded that well in smearing Archie type
    Conservatives. Mostly because of the skillful acting interplay between Jean & Carroll.
    I think most of America considered them *lovable* & people with honest emotions.
    Gloria & Mike had most of the *canned liberal mindset* IMHO, they came across as boooring & predictable to me.
    Oh yeah, Norman Lear was the producer, thought of it, must be the turmeric I take, it s a memory enhancer.

  9. Susan Kaye Says:

    In one episode, Archie is gone and they play a typical 70′s “honesty” game. Mike figures he’ll clean up with compliments on his transparency. In the end, Edith takes him into the kitchen and schools him on why he’s not so much and why Archie has reasons for being the way he is.

    In another, later, episode Mike and Archie are locked in the attic together. Wacky antics ensue as do a few stories about Archie’s growing up in the depression. There were writers on that show who really did try to make Archie a truthful character and not just a walking stereotype.

  10. Lorenz Gude Says:

    Yeah, I was a liberal then and young, but for me the dippy hippy was hopeless and Archie was real. That he was conservative was not so important. It seemed to me it skewered both sides of the emerging culture wars and did so with amazing acting way above the TV average with Stapleton and O’Connor.

  11. Smock Puppet, "Faeces Evenio, Mr. Holder?" Says:

    She and Carroll O’Connor were so good that I didn’t realize I had been watching propaganda until years later. My father – who died in 1988 — fell for MASH as well, though I like to think I always saw through that one.
    …and…
    There were writers on that show who really did try to make Archie a truthful character and not just a walking stereotype.

    True. But for the most part it was liberal propaganda against “the common man conservatives” as liberalism reached one of its zeniths in the historical cycle, much as it did in the mid-30s, and is reaching now.

    Anyone else noticing how those times are always financially disastrous for America?

  12. Charles Says:

    MJR – I too remember hearing Jean Stapleton talk (outside of playing Edith) and she was fantastic!

    It was then I realized what a great acting talent she was – only someone as smart as her could give life to Edith and make us believe Edith was real.

    I think the same can be said about O’Conner. He, too, with his talent made us believe that Archie was real.

    The rest of the characters on the show? – Meh, not so much. They were okay; but, Neo, you are right Stapleton and O’Conner carried that show.

  13. Artfldgr Says:

    one of her best was a theater piece having something to do with a dolphin… hm… i am getting too old…

    a big time favorite of mine..
    but then again, different than the newest versions of actors

  14. neo-neocon Says:

    As far as I know, the producer and writers wanted a liberal message to get out. But funny thing, the writing and characters and acting sort of took on a life of their own, didn’t they?

    They didn’t want to make Archie a complete villain, so they wrote in softness and kindness, too, but somehow he ended up very human and lovable and therefore a very sympathetic character to all but the most die-hard liberals. Stapleton’s character was a fascinating mix of things, as well. Her politics were probably meant to be more liberal than Archie’s but not liberal, but as a person she was loving and salt of the earth, as well as traditional.

    And yes, Jefferson was sort of the black version of Archie, only without as much lovableness. Whereas the meathead and Gloria, the liberals, were much much less likable, and they were fake-smart rather than smart (and I thought that even back then, when I considered myself a liberal). Funny how that worked out.

  15. Ymarsakar Says:

    Neo, they may have given out the orders but the writers themselves were still a product of their cultures. The Left needed more decades to finish processing the writers themselves.

    Also the way these stories are written is kind of schizophrenic, sort of like the US’s foreign policy. One episode is written by one guy, while another is written by another guy. Fan fiction has more consistency than that.

  16. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    Leftist subliminal messages notwithstanding, what a brilliant job of acting, not one false note.

  17. Artfldgr Says:

    i really wish people would not blame “the writers”, as they are not the ones who decide what gets made or not. that is, they produce for people who buy their work, so the real molders of things are the selectors. if they selected other things, then the writers would gravitate to what earns them a living and not starve sticking to what is not able to be sold.

    100 manuscripts are sent in, and we blame the writer that is selected for what he wrote, not the selector for what they choose to use

  18. Gary Rosen Says:

    One funny bit of dialogue that sticks in my mind (maybe because I live in CA now):

    Mike and Gloria are talking about moving to California.

    Archie: Why do you want to move to California?!? You’ll get murdered! (this was not long after the Manson/Tate/LaBianca kilings)

    Mike: We could get murdered in New York too

    Archie: Yeah but at least you’ll know why

  19. Gringo Says:

    Agreed with others who said that Archie and Edith carried the show. For all their faults, they were endearing people. Meathead and Gloria were not deep thinkers, for all their pretensions at same.

    There was one episode where a pair of black burglars broke into the Bunker household, holding them hostage. Meathead went into the liberal spiel about how racism etc drove these two blacks to a life of crime. The blacks responded to Meathead’s spiel with the epithet of “LIBERAL,” in a tone full of scorn. Meathed’s liberal condescending views did not sit well with them.

    For all of Archie’s alleged intolerance, he let Meathead stay for free in his house, and put up with Meathead’s liberal rants. With the distance of four decades, “Meathead” seems more and more appropriate. Meathead was a moocher, yet Archie didn’t bring that up as much as he could have.

    Archie and Edith were decent people who were tolerant where it really counted: in dealing with the people who mattered to them. Their political views may not have been as knowledgeable as some, but politics to them was not as important as leading their lives in an honorable manner. Both Archie and Edith lead honorable lives.

    Gloria- didn’t she walk out on Meathead and her kid? Not very honorable.

    That Edith and Archie were more honorable than Meathead and Gloria left a deep impression on me.

  20. Alan Says:

    I watched the show as a kid so some of the situations went over my head, like the famous “change” episode when Edith was going through menopause. When she very un-Edithly used the word “dammit” my parents debated whether they should send my out of the room.

  21. Ymarsakar Says:

    I have yet to find anyone that could easily explain how the Hollywood writers guild/union works.

  22. Don Carlos Says:

    It should go without saying that these were skilled actors who acted what they were given by the writers and producer exactly what to act. Sheesh. That we project on them reflects on us. That we are surprised that Stapleton was in real life not a flake is a surprise?
    The show was symptomatic of the times, and it often showed that BS was nothing more than BS.

  23. M J R Says:

    neo-neocon, 2:35 pm — “They didn’t want to make Archie a complete villain, so they wrote in softness and kindness, too, but somehow he ended up very human and lovable and therefore a very sympathetic character to all but the most die-hard liberals.”

    neo (and anyone else), for what it’s worth (not a whole lot) . . .

    I had a great deal of trouble seeing Archie as “lovable”. Yes, I came to understand why he was the way he was. But to me, he was an extremely unpleasant LOUT. And I was hardly a die-hard liberal then *. Your mileage may vary . . .

    * [I was sorta rightie -slash- sorta neutral then, who was willing to hear out and meet halfway with left-oriented types, and who was willing to accept their intentions as honorable, if (only!) they were willing to accept mine as equally honorable. I finally abandoned this delusion in the 1980s! But I digress].

  24. M J R Says:

    M J R, 8:07 pm –

    In the bracketed paragraph:

    “motives” was the word I was really looking for, not “intentions”.

    Whatever [ smile ] . . .

  25. M J R Says:

    For you All In The Family -philes out there . . .

    Archie and Edith Bunker’s Final Appearance:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=31D3BU1LbjE

    (April 24, 2000, on the Donnie-and-Marie Show)

  26. Gary Rosen Says:

    ” But to me, he was an extremely unpleasant LOUT.”

    Not, apparently, to a great many posters to this thread.

  27. Gringo Says:

    M J R
    ” But to me, he was an extremely unpleasant LOUT. And I was hardly a die-hard liberal then.”

    I was a liberal back then, and I found him funny as all get out. That helped tone down whatever unpleasantness his political views may have had for me. I found it difficult to get angry at Archie when I was laughing at him.

    The occasional scenes where he expressed tenderness towards Edit or his “little goil” Gloria helped endear Archie to me.

    While Noo Yawkah Archie lived 2000 miles from my grandmother, he reminded me of her. Consistent with the views of her region and of her generation, my grandmother did not support the Civil Rights Bill of 1964. Nor did I agree with her views on religion. It might be easy to paint my grandmother as having been intolerant. Yet my grandmother maintained cordial relations with a daughter in law who, with cause, had divorced my uncle. That is tolerant. While my grandmother wanted her children and grandchildren to belong to her church, she did not let their choices of religion impede warm relationships with them.

    Archie and my grandmother had this in common: while you might disagree with their views on politics or religion, you had to admit they were good people.

  28. M J R Says:

    Gary Rosen, 11:32 pm — “Not, apparently, to a great many posters to this thread.”

    Agreed. Differing senses of humor, I suppose. Well, no: he could be *very* funny, I often thought he was funny, but he was generally a LOUT (capitalized again).

    Except . . .

    Gringo, 11:50 pm — “The occasional scenes where he expressed tenderness towards Edit or his ‘little goil’ Gloria helped endear Archie to me.”

    Yes, endearing (how could I disagree? [smile]). But overall, as I capitalized above, LOUT: you know, the rare moments of tenderness just plain couldn’t cancel out the overriding boorishness, not for me.

    But Gringo ends with a very good point: “while you might disagree with their views on politics or religion, you had to admit they were good people.”

    Yes, Sr. Gringo, yes. Archie was, deep down, a good man. From dictionary.com here . . .

    “lout (noun) an awkward, stupid person; clumsy, ill-mannered boor; oaf.”

    Archie was, deep down, a good man, but sez M J R, his behavior was predominantly clumsy, ill-mannered, boor(ish), oaf(ish). In other words, (here comes that capitalized word again . . . all together now . . .) . . .

  29. ziontruth Says:

    http://neoneocon.com/2013/06/01/rip-jean-stapleton/

    M J R,

    Maybe it was actually being a lout (all-caps or not), among other things, that made the character more likable than the others.

    The fake-smartness of Meathead and Gloria has been pointed out, and I believe it ties with this discussion. One thing that’s plain to see in the past few decades is how the smalltown, folksy, sometimes backward but always honest values that made America great have been eroded, not by incivility and loutishness, but by over-tolerance coupled with zero-tolerance nanny-statism that puts you in chains with a civil attitude and an intelligent and understanding demeanor.

    The baby’s been thrown with the bathwater, in this case as in so many.

  30. ziontruth Says:

    Dang, I wrote the link to this page in the local file (for saving it in the case of interruption, compuglitch et cetera), and absent-mindedly pasted it into the response. The wages of being sophisticated…

  31. Gringo Says:

    M J R: Having seen the actual definition of lout, I would agree with you that Archie was a lout. Perhaps I was not as inclined as you to see him as an unpleasant lout because I had a greater tolerance for louts than you had. I grew up in an environment where I saw the educated liberal versus uneducated lout conflict on a daily basis- and also saw it with my relatives. While I was on the side of the educated liberal, I had to admit from my childhood experience that 1) educated liberals were not as great as they often painted themselves to be and 2) the uneducated louts had their good points.

    In looking back, I can see that the current cultural conflict had some resonance with my childhood experiences. I knew people from my childhood who claimed that “the US is just as bad as the USSR” – equivalence which morphed into claims like “Taliban=Tea Party” a half century later.

  32. Ymarsakar Says:

    Many people can become tolerable when you can turn them off at the flip of a tv switch. Things are much less tolerable when they are forced on you, you can’t get rid of them, and you have to live your entire life with em. Then there can be issues.

  33. Ymarsakar Says:

    The idea was to throw out the baby as a cheap alternative to abortion. They were’t throwing it out with the bath water because it was a convenient way to get rid of the bath water. The Left’s strategic initiatives weren’t about fixing anything or working towards anything productive, and thus their evil wasn’t the result of an “oops, my bad”.

  34. M J R Says:

    ziontruth, 6:13 am — “[T]he smalltown, folksy, sometimes backward but always honest values that made America great have been eroded, not by incivility and loutishness, but by over-tolerance coupled with zero-tolerance nanny-statism that puts you in chains with a civil attitude and an intelligent and understanding demeanor.”

    Well-spoken/written!

    Gringo, 11:32 am — “While I was on the side of the educated liberal, I had to admit from my childhood experience that 1) educated liberals were not as great as they often painted themselves to be and 2) the uneducated louts had their good points.”

    BINGO for Gringo! Yes.

    Mark Twain is reputed to have said that he never let his schooling interfere with his education. Many educated liberals are well-schooled, and many who are called “uneducated” happen to know what the h#ll they’re talking about.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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