Jean Stapleton reflected on what it was like when Norman Lear left All in the Family
Jean Stapleton was best known for playing the role of Edith Bunker, the wife of Archie Bunker, in All in the Family (1971). Playing Archie's wife couldn't have been easy — not with the way Archie used yelling as his main form of communication.
Yet, Edith and Archie became legendary characters. Norman Lear, the creator of All in the Family, had perfected making art from controversy.
The cast and crew of All in the Family became bonded by their success and had a similar mindset when it came to showing all of America's biggest flaws onscreen each week for everyone to see.
According to a 1978 interview with The Morning Call, All in the Family was originally set to end with season eight in 1978. But, pressure from CBS changed the minds of both O'Connor and Stapleton. However, it did not change the mind of Norman Lear.
Lear departed after season eight to attempt a switch from television to film. With six hit shows, some of which were on at the same time, we could understand why.
"The father is leaving," Stapleton said. "It's like we have to quit leaning on him. I'm happy for Norman, but for Carroll and myself, this is a triple loss."
According to the article, many tears were shed during their final dress rehearsal with Lear. Stapleton said Lear stepped forward and very simply said: "You've added many years to my life." With that, his goodbye was set in stone.
After Lear's departure, the biggest question surrounding All in the Family was this: Will his absence take some life out of the Bunkers? Stapleton said it didn't.
Stapleton tried to remember the words Lear said to her during her script read whenever she felt lost without him. She figured if she kept following his voice in her head, everything would turn out in the final season.
"Norman gave me a point of reference," Stapleton said. "He said 'Edith is able to let Archie's abuse roll off her back. She just tunes him out!' From that clue I became Edith."
Edith Bunker evolved into a warm, compassionate woman who was willing to play dumb when called upon. She became a lady to listen to, not ignore... even if Archie didn't realize that. After nine seasons on TV, Edith's following was so large it could win elections.
"Some think All in the Family is dirty," Stapleton said. "I get a lot of 'How could you, a Christian woman, do this?' notes. Others are highly offended when Archie and I are in bed together, and one viewer pointed out that 'You and Mr. O'Connor aren't attractive in your night clothes...'"
Her response to the comments?: "We're real."
It's safe to say that even with the departure of Norman Lear, All in the Family still had everything it needed to succeed. The series went down in history as one of the most real, funny, and edgy comedies of the time.
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