For a decade, Archie and Edith Bunker were a part of Americana, appearing each week in the hit Normal Lear sitcom ‘All in the Family.’
Carroll O’Connor and Jean Stapleton portrayed Archie and Edith Bunker in All in the Family, which premiered in 1971. The show took a satirical look at bigotry and discrimination.
What amazes me about the show is that it still holds up today, almost 50 years later. I suppose that’s a somewhat sad commentary on our society. A while back I narrowed down my 10 favorite episodes and I found it to be a daunting task. There are just too many good shows to pick just 10.
Along with Archie and Edith were their daughter, Gloria, and their son-in-law, Mike. Archie and Mike argued constantly because they were political opposites. Gloria and Edith tried to keep the peace as best they could.
But Edith, America’s lovable “dingbat,” was the long-suffering wife to the bigoted Archie who kept the family together.
After the first five years, Mike and Gloria moved next door. It changed the dynamic somewhat, but the yelling, debates and arguments remained. For eight seasons, the four characters continued their ongoing debates.
But at the end of the eighth season, Mike and Gloria, played by Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers, left the series. Suddenly the neighborhood felt a lot more quiet.
And honestly, I think that’s when the show should have ended.
But it didn’t. It continued on with a trick many sitcoms employ. It resorted to bringing in a child to serve as a foil for the adults.
The ninth season of the show was its final season.
Jean Stapleton was deciding she wanted out of the series, concluding she had done all she could do with the character. She feared, as she told an interviewer, being buried in that kind of part as casting was concerned.
Carroll O’Connor said CBS wanted to continue the show, but Lear did not. Lear, he said, wanted the show to “die an honorable death.” But after talks, Lear ultimately allowed them to continue the series with three conditions.
The most difficult of the three was that Edith Bunker would have to be kept alive as a character even though she wouldn’t be seen often (if at all).
The show’s title changed to Archie Bunker’s Place, named after the bar he purchased during the eighth season of All in the Family. The action, naturally, shifted to that tavern.
The audience saw less and less of Edith Bunker. She appeared in only five of the first 14 episodes of that first season. And by the end of 1979, that first year of Archie Bunker’s Place, she decided to leave the series completely.
Lear offered a simple solution: the action was at the bar and Edith was at home. Or, Edith went to visit out-of-town relatives.
Carroll O’Connor had a different idea.
O’Connor insisted it was time for dear Edith to die. That way, they could expand their stories. As a bonus, they wouldn’t have to explain why no one ever saw Edith week after week.
Lear recoiled at the idea.
Stapleton said she eventually received a phone call about her desire to return. She reiterated her belief that it was time to move on. Ultimately, Lear told her about the notion of killing the character.
“He could not say ‘yes’ to allow Edith to die,” Stapleton said. “So I brought it down to this. I said to Norman, ‘Norman, you realize, don’t you, that she’s only fiction?”
She recalled a long pause of silence. Then Lear came back with four words: “To me, she isn’t.”
Ultimately, Lear signed off on the idea.
The second season of Archie Bunker’s Place began weeks after Edith’s funeral. The story explained Edith died in her sleep from a stroke.
Archie refused to acknowledge the painful reality. Until the moment he finds one of her slippers in the bedroom:
O’Connor wrote the episode and won a George Foster Peabody Broadcasting Award for it.
As a fan of the original, I could never accept the show without Edith. Archie Bunker’s Place ran for a total of four years.
Four years too long, in my book.