"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.'"
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). 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, Pennsylvania. 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 TV, 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 TV movies including Aunt Mary and Eleanor, First Lady of the World, as well as series work in 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. Jean Stapleton was interviewed in Brentwood, CA on November 28, 2000; Karen Herman conducted the two-hour interview.