“All in the Family” star Carroll O’Connor admired and respected actress Jean Stapleton as his character, Archie, never seemed to admire or respect her character, his wife Edith.
In a Television Academy Foundation interview, O’Connor opened up about his relationship with Stapleton and how important her role was to the success of the show.
“All in the Family” would go on to win four Emmy Awards for Outstanding Comedy Series. The show was one of the most successful sitcoms of its era, according to Britannica. Moreover, it tackled what were controversial issues at the time through Archie’s disagreements with his son-in-law Mike (Rob Reiner).
‘All in the Family’ star Carroll O’Connor On Jean Stapleton
“Working with Jean was one of the great pleasures of my life,” O’Connor said. “Jean – I say so in my book – I think Jean made ‘All in the Family.’ I think she set that show going. Because she was the exactly right counterforce for Archibald.”
“And her character was all-important,” he added. “She represented, not the target of all of his remarks, but the proper reaction. She was the proper, sensible, moral reaction to this nonsensical, immoral man. It was just as important a role as the immoral man.”
But O’Connor himself wasn’t always so easy to work with. In his autobiography, show co-creator Norman Lear described how much of a struggle it was to get O’Connor to accept a new script.
“Carroll sat down to every reading worried and unhappy,” Lear wrote, according to Variety. “For the next eight years, Carroll would continue to dislike every script at the start. It was nothing but fear, and blind anger was his only defense.”
Still, no one could accuse O’Connor of caring too little. He reportedly completely re-wrote the pilot episode himself. And he worked hard to develop the character of Archie onscreen.
“As difficult and often abusive as Carroll could be, his Archie made up for it and I could kiss his feet after every performance,” Lear later noted.
Stapleton Decided to Leave the Show
In May of 1979, while “All in the Family” was wrapping up its ninth season on CBS, CBS announced that a new show, “Archie Bunker’s Place,” would launch that fall. The new show took place in a pub owned by Archie in Queens.
Around that time, Stapleton had decided not to renew her contract to play Edith. She eventually agreed to put in limited appearances in “Archie Bunker’s Place” as Edith. But by January of 1980, she wanted out.
Stapleton reportedly wanted Edith to die off-camera. And in the end, that’s what happened. Stapleton watched the episode, in which Edith dies of a stroke, at home with her husband.
“We loved it,” Stapleton said afterward, according to Variety. “We cried for [Archie’s] compassion. Carroll is a wonderful actor.”
Watch the Television Academy Foundation interview here: