My 15 Minutes With Jean Stapleton
Jean Stapleton who was the far better half of Archie Bunker in All in the Family died last Friday at the age of 90. Now while this is not new news, I have a different take on her passing.
Like many people my age, I grew up in an era where on Sunday evenings, we joined the Bunkers in their home in Queens where week after week we learned much about Archie and his blue collar roots that make him a very interesting character.
He is an outspoken bigot, seemingly prejudiced against everyone who is not a U.S.-born, politically conservative, heterosexual White Anglo-Saxon Protestant male, and dismissive of anyone not in agreement with his view of the world. But, this is not fully about Carroll O’Connor – without him, the role of Edith Bunker might have been a whole lot different.
Edith(played by Stapleton) meanwhile was the loveable soft spoken one who was almost always the brunt of Archie’s quick snaps like “Dingbat” and “Stifle yourself.” She was in every episode of All in the Family from the start in 1971 until it closed in 1979. She did go on to be in almost one full season of a spinoff called Archie Bunker’s Place.
A trained stage actor, she loved the theater and it was there for almost three decades on stage where she earned many Emmys and Golden Globe awards. Stapleton performed in many roles from Damned Yankees, Funny Girl to name a few. There was television before and after All in the Family, including a portrayal of Eleanor Roosevelt in 1982. Later on, Stapleton took her “Eleanor” characterization to live theaters, now adapted as a one-woman show. This is where I came to meet her.
Stapleton came to Norfolk, Virginia in 2000 to perform her award winning role as Roosevelt at Chrysler Hall. Prior to opening night she wanted to take a tour of the USS Wisconsin which is part of the US Navy Museum in downtown Norfolk. I was stationed there prior to my retirement from the Navy.
I had the honor of taking Ms. Stapleton to the bow of the ship and giving her a quick tour and answering her questions about the Battleship. She then turned the tables on me and wanted to know if I had any questions for her.Wow. What an opportunity. Now you would think that I would quickly snap off a question. But no. I had to think for a minute or two before I finally asked – “What was it like working with O’Connor?”
She replied “he was a wonderful man on and off the camera.” She went on to say “There were many people who did not really understood him and what he was about.”
We just enjoyed a moment with a bit of small talk that not many people had. We took a picture and I walked her back to the area where the rest of her entourage was waiting for her. I wished her well in her performances at the hall and then she was gone.
People come and go all the time from our lives. In this business, we meet celebrities all the time. I wish that I could meet more like her. I do have a picture of us on the bow of the USS Wisconsin (BB-64) – I just have to go through a bunch of other pictures to find it.Once I do find it, I will add it here.