Jean Stapleton Biography

Actress, Theater Actress, Television Actress (1923–2013)
Jean Stapleton was an American actress best known for her award-winning role as Edith Bunker in the hit TV series All in the Family.


Jean Stapleton was an American actress born on January 19, 1923, in New York City. She made her TV debut in Robert Montgomery Presents (1952). Stapleton appeared in the original Broadway casts of musicals Damn Yankees, Bells Are Ringing and Funny Girl. Her best known role was as Edith Bunker in the TV hit series All in the Family (1971–'79) where she won Emmy Awards multiple times. After the show ended, she returned to theater and acted in TV and film roles.

Early Career

Stage and television actress Jean Stapleton was born on January 19, 1923, in New York City to a billboard advertising salesman and an opera singer. She attended Hunter College and worked as a secretary before studying acting. In 1949, she got her acting break, appearing in the national tour of the play Harvey. She worked as an actress Off Broadway, in stock and regional theater and then stepped into a starring role on Broadway in the 1953 production of In the Summer House.

Stapleton continued to perform in the theater, receiving attention for her role as Sister in the 1955 Broadway production of Damn Yankees, for which she sang the classic show tune "You Gotta Have Heart." Other notable Broadway roles include playing Ella Peterson's cousin Sue in the 1956 production of Bells Are Ringing and Mrs. Strakosh in Funny Girl, the 1964 Broadway musical that launched Barbra Streisand's career. She also appeared in the 1961 play The Rhinoceros and reprised her stage roles in the film versions of Damn Yankees and Bells Are Ringing.

All in the Family

Stapleton broke into television, making guest appearances in Dr. Kildare and The Defenders. But it was her nasal-voiced performance in Damn Yankees that attracted the attention of televsion producer Norman Lear, who asked her to audition for what would become her most recognizable role, Archie Bunker's wife Edith in All in the Family. She won the role in 1971.

Stapleton's portrayal of bigoted Archie's charming "ding-bat" wife earned her 8 Emmy nominations and three wins during her eight years on the show. The groundbreaking TV show confronted social and political issues including Edith's breast cancer, menopause and death when Stapleton left the show in 1979.

Intelligent, liberal and outspoken off-screen, Stapleton strived to break away from being stereotyped as"Edith" after All in the Family. "My identity as an actress is in jeopardy if I invest my entire career in Edith Bunker," Stapleton said in an interview with the AP in 1979.

Later Career

After leaving All in the Family, Stapleton took on many TV, film and stage roles. She made guest appearances on TV shows including Murphy Brown, Touched By An Angel and Everybody Loves Raymond and in movies including Michael in 1996 and You've Got Mail in 1998, both directed by Nora Ephron.

She also returned to her first love, the theater, starring in Eleanor, a one-woman show about Eleanor Roosevelt. (She had also played Mrs. Roosevelt in a 1982 TV movie Eleanor, First Lady of the World, which earned her an Emmy nomination.) In the 2000s, she also performed in plays by Horton Foote, whom she had first worked with in one of his first full-length plays in 1944. And, in her later years, she performed at the Totem Pole Playhouse in Pennsylvania, which was run by her husband of 25 years, director William Putch. In 1983, Putch died of a heart attack while he and Stapleton were touring in a play he had directed.


In May 2013, the veteran stage, film and TV actress died at the age of 90 of natural causes at her home in New York City. She left behind her children, television producer Pamela Putch and director John Putch. Upon her death, Norman Lear remembered the talented actress: "No one gave more profound 'How to Be Human' lessons than Jean Stapleton."

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