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.
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- Jean Stapleton on how All in the Family used comedy to expose social issues, including bigotry
Clip begins at: 06:44, Duration: 00m 37s
- Jean Stapleton on her description of All in the Family ’s Edith Bunker
Clip begins at: 14:19, Duration: 00m 56s
- Jean Stapleton on getting the acting “bug”
Clip begins at: 05:04, Duration: 00m 49s
- On appearing on The Defenders with future All in the Family co-star Carroll O’Connor
Clip begins at: 06:41, Duration: 00m 56s
- Part 1
- On choosing her stage name; on her parents; on getting the acting "bug"
Clip begins at: 0:29
- On her acting training and making the rounds; on her first Broadway role; on researching the role of Eleanor Roosevelt
Clip begins at: 05:25
- On her early television appearances in "under-fives" and her first regular role; on appearing in "Damn Yankees" and "Bells Are Ringing"
Clip begins at: 15:11
- 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
Clip begins at: 22:20
- Part 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
Clip begins at: 0:0
- On reading for All in the Family; on her initial characterization of Edith Bunker and the traits that developed through rehearsal
Clip begins at: 08:26
- On All in the Famil y 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"
Clip begins at: 16:50
- 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
Clip begins at: 23:07
- Part 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 rights movement of the 1970s
Clip begins at: 0:30
- 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
Clip begins at: 09:21
- 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
Clip begins at: 21:37
- Part 4
- On the TV movie Aunt Mary; on being directed by her son John Putch in the feature film Pursuit of Happiness; on the TV movie Eleanor, First Lady of the World; on turning down the lead part in Murder, She Wrote
Clip begins at: 0:18
- On the short-lived sitcom Bagdad Café; on the family series Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle; on her one-woman show "Eleanor: Her Secret Journey"
Clip begins at: 07:17
- 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
Clip begins at: 12:47
- On the donation of Archie and Edith's chairs from the set of All in the Family to the Smithsonian Institution
Clip begins at: 22:05