Jean Stapleton reflected on what it was like when Norman Lear left All in the Family

No Norman Lear? No problem. Jean Stapleton knew how to be head of the household on All in the Family.

Image credit: The Everett Collection

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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Runeshaper 8 months ago
"You've added many years to my life" is a truly beautiful sentiment (-:
Andybandit 8 months ago
Once season 8 started Edith started to stand up to Archie which was so cool. I love how Archie took care of Stephanie in ABP. I wonder if MeTv is going to put on ABP after AITF is finished, or will they go back to the beginning after season 9.
cperrynaples Andybandit 8 months ago
No, because ABP is on "another network"! You know, the one named after what comes out of Uncle Martin's head [yep, they own that one too...LOL]!
LoveMETV22 cperrynaples 8 months ago
That doesn't mean MeTV or Weigel can't negotiate for broadcast rights to that series. The same holds true for other series as well. If it's available then "anything is possible for a price". It's all a game. Take "AITF" as an example- I'm sure a few years ago, no-one would have guessed that would be on MeTV's schedule. But it became available and Weigel thought it was a good investment, and now its part of their library. Who knows for how long though?
Moverfan cperrynaples 8 months ago
There was an episode of Dave's World years ago where Harry Anderson and Meshach Taylor ended up in court and the judge was Ray Walston (Uncle Martin's alter ego). Dick Clark's Bloopers & Practical Jokes (I think) showed an outtake of one scene where Mr. Walston was having a bit of trouble saying his line...and Harry asked "It's not so easy without the antenna, is it?".
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