Jean Stapleton was a true American revolutionary, according to Carroll O'Connor

"Edith helped work a change in America," O'Connor wrote.

Sony Pictures Television

That lived-in chemistry on All in the Family was no coincidence. While they'd become closest while on the show together, Carroll O'Connor and Jean Stapleton knew each other well before the series began. The pair, who would go on to play Archie and Edith Butler, respectively, first met on the set of The Defenders. In this particular episode, O'Connor played a murderer, with Stapleton co-starring as the witness who testified against him. 

But the two actors' mutual admiration turned into a lifelong friendship on the pilot of All in the Family. During that show's run, O'Connor and Stapleton's natural rapport was on full display and was fundamental in the audience's suspension of disbelief. Archie Bunker said outrageous things, but all his nonsense was grounded in the relationship his relationship with Edith.

O'Connor understood the power of the laugh, but he also saw just how important the show's messaging could be. Specifically, he understood that Jean Stapleton, as Edith Bunker, could be a vessel for change— not just in terms of sitcom storytelling, but also in societal norms. 

In his 1998 memoir I Think I'm Outta Here: A Memoir of All My Families, Carroll O'Connor praised his co-star and the character she played.

"Edith helped work a change in America," O'Connor wrote, "and she did this by signaling and encouraging a change in women. What we then called 'the women's movement' was getting into stride, and Jean, besides being herself involved in it, and being a pace-setter in the real world, saw to it that Edith, observed by twenty-five million people every week, was a courageous women's champion in her own imaginary family.

"Before Edith came and endeared herself to America, women who lived with fellows like Archie were usually submissive and suffering in the face of roaring nonthink; after Edith, they confronted nonthink a little more sternly and stiffly, and gave a hint of serious readiness to rebel, just as Edith rebelled from time to time."

The change Stapleton set in motion still ripples across television and society today.

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3 Comments

Runeshaper 11 days ago
Stapleton was a revolutionary thinker and it's cool that O'Connor gave her credit for that.
LoveMETV22 11 days ago
Jean Stapleton was just as important as Carroll O'Connor as was Sally Struther's and Rob Reiner. They all played pivotal roles in "All in the Family"
texasluva LoveMETV22 1 day ago
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