We loved Jean Stapleton as Edith Bunker, but don’t pigeonhole her as the Dingbat.
Jean Stapleton was best known for one iconic television role.
Stapleton, who died May 31, 2013, at age 90, played the loveable “Dingbat” – otherwise known as Edith Bunker – on All in the Family for nine seasons (plus one season of the show’s spinoff, Archie Bunker’s Place). Along the way, she earned three Emmys for her portrayal of kind, maternal, screechy-voiced Edith, who was generally a bit dopey – except when she proved herself to be the wisest and most tolerant member of the Bunker family.
But don’t pigeonhole her as Edith Bunker. The role was just one in the talented actress’s long and diverse career. And though Stapleton appreciated the beloved character she played, she felt Edith was “submissive” and out of step with the changing times. So, after ten years as Archie Bunker’s better half, Stapleton made the decision to move on, and requested that Edith’s death be written into the plot. As she explained at the time, “My identity as an actress is in jeopardy if I invested my entire career in Edith Bunker.”
In 1982, in one of her first roles following All in the Family, the gifted actress had the opportunity to demonstrate her impressive range by portraying quite a different woman: Eleanor Roosevelt.
And for anyone who thinks Stapleton’s singing voice was a bit abrasive…
Here is Stapleton on The Muppet Show, proving that the All in the Family theme song – as well as Edith’s voice in general – was just a marvelous bit of acting.
Whether she was playing a dingbat or a great humanitarian, Jean Stapleton won our hearts.