Actress Jean Stapleton dies at 90

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 June, 2013, 4:53am

Jean Stapleton

Jean Stapleton, the character actress whose portrayal of a slow-witted, big-hearted and submissive housewife on the groundbreaking series All in the Family made her one of the foremost women in television comedy in the 1970s but a symbol of emergent feminism in American popular culture, died at her home in New York. She was 90.

The actress won three Emmys for her role as Edith, the long-suffering, unsophisticated, but understanding wife of the reactionary and often racist Archie Bunker, played by the late Carroll O'Connor, in the hit TV sitcom.

All In The Family, inspired by the British programme Till Death Us Do Part, was a success with audiences even as it helped usher in a new era for United States television by confronting contentious topics such as racism, the Vietnam war and the feminist movement.

Stapleton appeared in All In The Family from 1971 to 1979, and continued her role for a time in the 1979 spin-off Archie Bunker's Place.

Stapleton was born Jeanne Murray in New York in 1923 to an opera singer mother and a businessman father. She would later adopt her mother's maiden name, Stapleton, as her stage name.

She worked during the second world war as a typist for the British war ministry office in New York and made her professional stage debut in 1941. In the 1950s and 1960s, she acted in Broadway productions, including a turn alongside comedian Zero Mostel in Rhinoceros and a part in Damn Yankees that got her the attention of producer Normam Lear and her role in All In the Family.

After All In The Family, she played former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt in a 1982 television movie, and had a supporting role in the 1998 romantic comedy You've Got Mail.

She maintained a life-long love of the theatre, and in 1990, received the Village Voice newspaper's Obie Award for her performances in Harold Pinter's off-Broadway plays Mountain Language and The Birthday Party.

She spent several years later in her time living and working in Los Angeles, but returned to her native New York in 2002 to live permanently.

Stapleton is survived by her son and daughter. Her husband, William Putch, died in 1983 and she never remarried.

Reuters, McClatchy-Tribune