Film & TV

Jean Stapleton: A Look Back at Edith Bunker Through "Those Were the Days"

"Boy the way Glenn Miller played songs that made the hit parade."

From the first line of "Those Were the Days," the opening theme song from the TV series All In The Family, you know you were hearing an original.   

"Guys like us we had it made. Those were the days."

Sung by Archie and Edith Bunker as played by actors Carroll O'Connor and Jean Stapleton, the piano duet harked back to glory years that never existed. Archie's first note is off-key, and it only goes downhill from there. Edith sings the high notes, but at what cost? Cats squeal, and children cover their ears. Still, hearing it always brought a smile to your face.

"And you knew who you were then. Girls were girls and men were men."


Archie was a case-closed bigot, and Edith was his loyal-as-a-dingbat wife who stood right with him against the hippies and the blacks and the Jews until common decency forced her not to. As you can hear from the theme song, O'Connor and Stapleton were so committed to their roles that audiences and casting directors often confused them for the characters they so convincingly played. 

Ostensibly the straight man, Stapleton stole every scene she was in. Surely, a man like Archie Bunker would beat a woman who spoke out of turn to him, but Stapleton played Edith as such a paragon of decency she couldn't help but be her husband's conscience when he strayed too far. A book of her idiotic one-liners could be placed next to wisdom from Confucius and no one could tell the difference. But Confucius never got the standing ovations from a live studio audience that Stapleton did. 

"Mister, we could use a man like Herbert Hoover again."

Born in 1923 in New York, Stapleton was a veteran of Broadway and television. She had the role of Miss Teevee in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory but turned it down to film the pilot episode for All in the Family. The sitcom ran for eight years on CBS, with five of those years being the most watched show on television. She appeared in a few movies afterward and played Eleanor Roosevelt on television and stage. Somehow the music industry never took advantage of recording an album with her distinctive Vaudevillian voice.

"Didn't need no welfare state. Everybody pulled his weight. Gee our old LaSalle ran great."


Totem Pole Playhouse in Fayetteville, Pennsylvania -- where Stapleton worked on almost 300 productions with her late husband, William Putch -- announced plans Sunday to expand its renovation to memorialize the actress and Putch.

Jean Stapleton died on May 31, at 90 years of age. She is survived by her children and grandchildren.

"Those were the days."

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David Rolland is a freelance writer for New Times Broward-Palm Beach and Miami New Times. His novel, The End of the Century, published by Jitney Books, is available at many fine booksellers.
Contact: David Rolland