"Those were the days..." Jean Stapleton is most remembered for and recognized as the beloved "dingbat" and grandmotherly Edith Bunker from the hit '70s television series All in the Family (1971-1979). Her character's hitch: a sweet soul adjusting to a changing world a whole lot better than her bigot husband, Archie. Both characters became pop icons and props from the show have been retired to the Smithsonian Museum. After winning three Emmys for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy and three Golden Globes for Best Actress in a Television Series during the run of the show, the character Edith also appeared on the first season of the spin-off, entitled Archie's Place.
Relatively unknown until her stint on the series, Stapleton, typically a character actor, had quite a stage career. Even with her television success, continues to favor the stage today. She appeared in the original casts of Funny Girl and Damn Yankees early in her career. In 1989, she won the Obie Award for both The Birthday Party and Mountain Language. In the later part of the 20th century, she appeared in revivals of Arsenic and Old Lace, The Cherry Orchard, and The Matchmaker.
Stapleton never did another successful network television series; there was a brief attempt with Baghdad Café, co-starring Whoopi Goldberg, and she also turned down an offer for the lead part in Murder, She Wrote. But in the 20 years after All in the Family, Stapleton continued to make a number of made-for-TV movies such as Eleanor: Woman of the World (playing the part of Eleanor Roosevelt) as well as several features. She undertook the role of Eleanor a second time in the solo stage show Eleanor: Her Secret Journey. She also made memorable guest appearances on sitcoms like Grace Under Fire (for which she received an Emmy nomination), Murphy Brown, and Everybody Loves Raymond. She also received a Cable Ace Award nomination for the mini-series Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, in which she played the title role (from the children's books) and did many movies, including Up the Down Staircase, The Buddy System, and Michael. Stapleton's unique voice has been heard in the Disney feature Pocahontas and the family film Dr. DoLittle.
She got her start on-stage in the '40s and made her first appearance on television in the 1954 series Woman With a Past. Norman Lear then cast her in the movie Cold Turkey in the early '70s and then, ultimately, as Edith. She studied at Hunter College in New York as well as the American Apprentice Theater, the American Actor's Company, and American Theater Wing. Married to producer and director William H. Putch from 1957 until his death in 1983, they had a daughter, Pamela, who is a producer, and a son, John, who is an actor and director.