Jean Stapleton, Who Played Archie Bunker’s Better Angel, Dies at 90 (May 31, 2013)

There shouldn’t have been any spin offs after this episode “Too Good Edith”, which ended the 1979 series, before it was re-tooled as the inferior “Archie Bunker’s Place” in 1980. To me, this would have  probably been the best way for the television show to say goodbye.

 

…“All in the Family” was Ms. Stapleton’s first television series, but before that she had appeared as a guest on several shows, including “Dr. Kildare,” “My Three Sons,” “Car 54, Where Are You?” and the courtroom drama “The Defenders,” in which she played the owner of a boardinghouse who accused a tenant — played by Mr. O’Connor — of murder.

Ms. Stapleton bowed out of “All in the Family” as a series regular in 1979, but she appeared in several episodes the next year, after the title of the show had been changed to “Archie Bunker’s Place.” The opening episode of the second season of “Archie Bunker’s Place” dealt with the aftermath of Edith’s death.

After “All in the Family,” Ms. Stapleton purposely sought out roles that would separate her from Edith, and in so doing she led a busy and varied, if less celebrated, performing life. She turned down a chance to star as Jessica Fletcher, the middle-aged mystery writer at the center of “Murder, She Wrote,” which became a long-running hit with Angela Lansbury.

But she appeared as a guest on numerous television series, including “Caroline in the City” and “Murphy Brown”; starred with Whoopi Goldberg in a short-lived series, “Bagdad Café”; did turns in films (“You’ve Got Mail,” “Michael”); and made several television movies, including “Eleanor: First Lady of the World” (1982), in which she starred as Eleanor Roosevelt. The film led to a one-woman show that toured the country.

Perhaps the most significant work of her later life, however, was Off Broadway, where she performed in challenging works by Mr. Foote (“The Carpetbagger’s Children”), John Osborne (“The Entertainer”) and Harold Pinter (“Mountain Language,” “The Birthday Party”) to sterling reviews.

“She brings supreme comic obtuseness to Meg, the pathetic proprietor of a shabby seaside boarding house,” Frank Rich of The Times wrote of Ms. Stapleton’s performance in “The Birthday Party.” Contrasting her role with that of her “broadly drawn Edith Bunker,” Mr. Rich concluded, “Ms. Stapleton’s Meg is the kind of spiritually bankrupt modern survivor who makes one question the value of survival.”

After “All in the Family,” it was Ms. Stapleton’s lot to live in Edith’s wake. In 1977, she was one of 45 International Women’s Year commissioners who convened the National Women’s Conference in Houston, a federally financed gathering of 2000 delegates from the 50 states, for the purpose of helping to form national policy on women’s issues.

On the third day of the conference, Ms. Stapleton left the commissioners’ seating area and wandered onto the conference floor among the delegates. She was besieged.

“Look, it’s Edith!” delegates and photographers shouted. “Look, it’s Edith!”

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