‘All in the Family’ Star Gave Perfect Example of Carroll O’Connor’s Acting Greatness

by Joe Rutland
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Fans of “All in the Family” can testify to how wonderful Carroll O’Connor was as Archie Bunker. One of his costars goes a step further.

Jean Stapleton, who played his long-suffering wife Edith Bunker on the CBS sitcom, said O’Connor “is a very fine actor.” She talked a bit more about him at length in an interview with the Archive of American Television.

“Great versatility and that showed so much in his other work and his [then] recent movie, ‘Return to Me,'” Stapleton said. “Return to Me” featured O’Connor co-starring alongside David Duchovny and Minnie Driver in 2000.

“Played another Irishman but totally different,” Stapleton said. “Very warm, giving Irishman. Totally different, though, and yet he was in that same ethnic characterization. It’s remarkable to divorce himself so completely from the Archie Bunker character.”

Stapleton earned three Emmy Awards and two Golden Globe Awards for her work on “All in the Family.” She died on May 31, 2013, at 90 years old. O’Connor died on June 21, 2001, at 76 years old.

O’Connor’s Acting Ability Stretched Beyond ‘All in the Family’

After “All in the Family” and its spinoff “Archie Bunker’s Place” ended, O’Connor was waiting to see where he might land again on TV.

It happened to be on a TV version of the movie “In The Heat of the Night” for NBC. O’Connor portrayed Sheriff Bill Gillespie for eight seasons on the show.

In order to sound like a sheriff from the south, O’Connor needed a southern accent to use on the show. He looked back to his college years for some help.

“The Wake Weekly” has a 1989 column talking about O’Connor appearing on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.” Then-guest host Jay Leno asks O’Connor where he picked up his accent.

O’Connor said that he went to college “in the little southern town of Wake Forest, North Carolina.”

“I didn’t really learn much, and then I learned to play nine-ball at ‘Shorty’ Joyner’s poolroom and didn’t learn anything else,” O’Connor said.

While that college education didn’t stick, he did remember that accent and used it to his advantage years later.

Rob Reiner Remembers O’Connor Saying Good Script Helps Actors

A good script can help actors in more ways than one. This bit of wisdom comes from actor-director Rob Reiner, who played Michael Stivic on “All in the Family.”

Reiner talked about this a little bit more in-depth during a 2014 interview with Film Linc.

“What I did learn from ‘All in the Family’ and from Carroll is that if you’ve got a good script and a good story, then as an actor, you really don’t have to do a lot,” Reiner said. “You don’t have to do any handsprings or pyrotechnics if you’re acting because you let the story and the words you’re saying support you.”

Reiner learned what audiences will actually respond to in a show.

“We did almost 200 episodes,” he said. “It was like getting a Ph.D. from film school doing the show, and I learned a tremendous amount from Carroll.”

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