How Edith informed Jean Stapleton's real-life views

Stapleton was a proud advocate for what she believed.

Sometimes, a bolt of inspiration can strike out of nowhere and change us forever. Other times, that same encouragement can stare us in the face for years, and it's up to us to make room for growth within. In the case of TV's Jean Stapleton, her on-air persona may have been the least likely source for profound personal change. 

Stapleton, of course, played one of television's most memorable, if often one-note, housewives in Edith Bunker. While some episodes pointed towards a real woman beneath the shrill affectation, most of the time, Edith was underfoot, a foil for Archie with little agency of her own. Edith was Archie's metaphorical punching bag, the vessel into which he dumped all of his awful opinions. She was his sounding board and contradicted Archie only when that served a comedic purpose.

In real life though, as we all are, Jean Stapleton was a whole person with thoughts and feelings not crafted by a television writers' room. Her life informed her opinions. People change, and so do their feelings. Stapleton, in keeping with the times, was radicalized by what she learned on All in The Family.

One episode in particular, season nine's eighth episode, "Edith vs. The Bank," changed Jean Stapleton forever, and may have even had real-world reverberations. In that story, Stapleton's Edith wants to buy Archie a new TV. However, she's unable to take out a line of credit by herself, because she's a woman. Further, Edith fails in convincing a bank to provide her a loan, again because she'd need a man to co-sign. Stapleton learned that this wasn't just a plot point devised by the show's writers. At the time, there were real-life laws that would've prevented Edith, or any married woman, from attaining the financial independence she deserved. 

The story stayed with Stapleton long after production wrapped. Rather than put what she'd learned away with the script, she did what Edith rarely could. Jean Stapleton spoke up.

"There's an obligation that fame puts on you to participate and do some good," Stapleton told The Charlotte Observer in 1984, "because it seems that people listen to the person they've invited into their home every week. When fame struck, I had no idea it would bring upon me all these offers to participate in society." Those offers included participation in a Presidential commission on the status of women. 

"I found it easy to embrace the women's movement [...] because I'm a woman. Equal rights to me was natural, a simple matter of justice."

Stapleton noted that she rarely felt discriminated against early in her show business career, as she was a woman playing women's roles. However, years later, she entered what she called her "age of enlightenment," and began seeing the world differently. 

"What's so interesting to me is the sometimes slow—I know it was for me—and sometimes faster discovery of one's own capabilities, which are always greater than our limited sense of them," said Stapleton. "So I am in wonderment about this discovery: that what you have personally, in terms of your character and talent and psychology, is what determines your contribution, It isn't something that comes from 'out there,' It's not a question of intellect and scholarship. I didn't have to go and learn it out of a book. It's thrilling to realize that because of my experience in a TV series, I can be supportive in Washington in the halls of power—and perhaps persuasive."

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CoreyC 10 months ago
Why isn't Klinger got a week?
Vickisue17 10 months ago
I remember in the 70's I needed my husband to be present when getting bids for siding & again for windows. He would tell them I made those decisions but they needed to hear it from him. Now a single woman I am still making those decisions.
15inchBlackandWhite 10 months ago
Pretty crazy that they wouldn't let an adult woman borrow money back then.
MC1707 10 months ago
There is a YouTube clip Ms. Stapleton Mr. O’Conner on the Donnie and Marie show. Watching this was nice, as they obviously made comments and reminisced about their characters of Archie and Edith. Donnie or Marie, asked about saying a word or two in character and Ms Stapleton refused, saying not unless she was paid for it. Donnie, thinking and taking this as a joke took out his wallet, but further comments showed she was SERIOUS. You could tell he was embarrassed. Audience reaction also was surprised. This I thought was a slap in the face to people who were fans. Even a simple “Oh Archie” would have brought down the house, but no. She refused to do the voice of a character she really in a sense was famous for. Fans of the show helped her get where she was, and doing something about simple for them was beneath her. Very sad indeed.
2006unknown MC1707 10 months ago
I saw the same clips years ago. Always thought that was very egotistical for her to say. Lost any respect I had for her (back when she was alive) after that.
Andybandit 10 months ago
Edith is my favorite character on AITF. I don't know how she put up with Archie. The way he treated her, and him being a bigot. I would not have put up with him. The only person he was nice to was Stephanie on Archie Bunker's Place
Pacificsun 10 months ago
Ms. Stapleton was very articulate in her thinking. And a nice admission to make. About learning something, even if only through a storyline. She was well-overqualified for that role (character). And which probably wouldn't have worked if she hadn't been. Am amazed she had the patience for it for so long. And yes, I remember reading MeTV's other stories, about how she lived her life beyond the studio. Glad the Series received all the awards for recognizing how much everyone put into it being successful.
justjeff Pacificsun 10 months ago
It takes a SMART actress to play a 'dumb' character so realistically.

Take Jean Hagen as Lina Lamont in "SIngin' in the Rain" or Gracie Allen in she and George's "Dumb Dora' act (that's what their type of act was called in Vaudeville)... There may have been people writing Gracie's material, but it was her special talent and savvy that could turn throwaway lines into comic genius!
LoveMETV22 Pacificsun 10 months ago
Nicely said. Yes she was a talented actress in her own right, with or without her role on AITF.
Although her character was designed in a specific way on that series, she did have some good moments. Always enjoy seeing her in roles outside of AITF, but do enjoy her Edith role as well in small doses.
Pacificsun LoveMETV22 10 months ago
Re: other topic. Actually it's all cleaned up. 😎
texasluva Pacificsun 10 months ago
See you @ Are these Wanted: Dead or Alive episodes or Grateful Dead songs? 9 P.M. Sharp (Friday) CT. Come one come all to the MeTv Friday Night Movie Quiz.
Where everyone can take a guess or make comments to other quizzers.
There will be extra bonus movies for just coming by. Including entertainment for all. Feel free to ask questions, copy movie links and just plain join in the fun via communication. The MQ will be up until the movie is guessed and an hour to look over and pick out what you wish. Have fun doing so. There are no wrong answers but the first one to guess the correct movie gets their names put up for getting it correctly.
Good luck and enjoy

Also Early Bird entertainment before MQ goes up.
harlow1313 10 months ago
Now I've a hankering for cling peaches in heavy syrup.
MrsPhilHarris harlow1313 10 months ago
Oh I used to love cling peaches and heavy syrup. 🍑
LoveMETV22 harlow1313 10 months ago
For some reason, guessing your reference is not the canned variety? Well, depending on how the word " can" is viewed. LOL
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