Edith Bunker

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Edith Bunker
All In the Family Cast.JPG
Edith Bunker (Jean Stapleton, left) with her husband Archie (Carroll O'Connor, bottom). her daughter Gloria (Sally Struthers, right) and her son in law Mike "Meathead" Stivic (Rob Reiner, top) in cast photo
First appearance "Meet the Bunkers" (All in the Family)
(Original Air Date - January 12, 1971)
Last appearance "The Shabbat Dinner" (Archie Bunker's Place)
(Original Air Date - December 9, 1979)
Created by Norman Lear
Portrayed by Jean Stapleton
Information
Occupation housewife
elder-care caretaker
Family Michael Stivic (son-in-law)
Joey Stivic (grandson)
Harry Baines (brother)
Gertrude Baines (sister)
Helen Baines (sister)
Florence Chadbourne (aunt)
Maude Findlay, nee Chadbourne (cousin)
Stephanie Mills ("niece")
Floyd Mills (step-cousin)
Marilyn Mills, née Harris (step-cousin-in-law)
Amelia DeKuyper (cousin)
Russell DeKuyper (cousin-in-law)
Liz (cousin)
Rose (aunt)
Iola (aunt)
Clara (aunt)
Spouse(s) Archie Bunker (1948-1980, her death)
Children Gloria Stivic (daughter)

Edith Bunker (nėe Baines) is a fictional 1970s sitcom character on All in the Family (and occasionally Archie Bunker's Place), played by Jean Stapleton. She was the wife of Archie Bunker (who often called her a "dingbat"), mother of Gloria Stivic, mother-in-law of Michael "Meathead" Stivic, and, after 1975, grandmother of Joey Stivic. Her cousin was Maude Findlay (Beatrice Arthur) who was Archie's nemesis.[1]

Character background[edit]

Edith Bunker was a native of New York City. She was born in October 1927 and died in her sleep of a stroke in September 1980, at age 52. She attended Millard Fillmore High School and was in the graduating class of 1943. Her high school only had one reunion and that was the 30th, in 1973, which she attended. There is not an exact date brought up when she met Archie, but the place was the Puritan Maid Ice Cream Parlor. Her character and accent changed somewhat between the first and second seasons. In the earliest episodes, she was the "put-upon wife," often bemoaning (though softly) her husband's behavior or comments; also during the first season, Jean Stapleton spoke more in her own range (albeit with a pronounced accent), rather than the nasal, high pitched voice for which Edith is generally remembered. By the second season, she became the character more familiar to viewers: kind, utterly non-judgmental, and fully dedicated to her husband. Also, in the first season, she pronounced her husband's name as "Ahchie" or even "Archie." In the 1st season 2nd episode "Writing the President" Edith remarks how before her marriage, in 1946 she got a job and started working for the "Hercules Plumbing Company". By the second season, her husband became "Awwchie." In the third season episode "The Battle of the Month" and fourth season episode "Gloria Sings the Blues," Edith reveals that her parents almost divorced after a nasty fight and that although they stayed married, things were never the same between them. This deeply affected Edith and her views on marriage, marital fighting, and how to treat other people. In the fourth season episode "Archie the Gambler," Edith reveals that her father was addicted to gambling and almost brought his family to ruin (an experience which led Edith to put her foot down twice regarding Archie's similar gambling problem).

Edith was the voice of reason and rock of understanding, often contributing a unique perspective to a topic. She was decidedly less bigoted than Archie (e.g., she was good friends with her black neighbor Louise Jefferson, while Archie was always at odds with her and husband George). Though her opinions sometimes sharply differed from Archie's, she was intensely loyal to her husband, often stuck up for him and stood by him in his times of need. Edith was hardly the sharpest member of the family and could be a tad slow on the uptake, but she was certainly the happiest and wisest character on the show. For example, in a conversation with Gloria, Edith stated that she favored capital punishment, "as long as it ain't too severe." In the episode "Cousin Liz" (in which the Bunkers learn that her recently deceased cousin Liz was a lesbian with a life-partner, Veronica), Edith is at first shocked at the revelation, but quickly throws her arms around Veronica and warmly accepts her as Liz's "true next-of-kin", giving her the tea-set Liz's spouse would have legally inherited. Edith was extremely popular because she was easily the sweetest character on the show, unconditionally loving everyone she knew and also managing to keep high spirits even when she faced tragedy.

In contrast, in a memorable episode in the show's second season, Edith uncharacteristically snaps at Archie, repeatedly telling him (as he frequently did to her) to "stifle". Edith, who otherwise never cursed, also loudly instructed the family to "Leave me alone, dammit!" After a visit to the doctor Gloria explains to Archie that he needs to be sensitive to the fact that Edith is going through menopause. Later on in the episode, a frustrated Archie yells at Edith "When I had the hernia I didn't make you wear the truss. Now if you're gonna have a change of life, you gotta do it right now. I'm gonna give you 30 seconds!" In another episode, Edith, in a conversation with Gloria, wondered whether men go through "women-o-pause."

When All in the Family premiered in 1971, Edith was a housewife. In 1974 Edith got a part-time job as a caretaker at the Sunshine Home. She later was a partner in Archie's business, Archie's Place, the tavern he purchased in 1977. (In truth, she wasn't a legal official partner. She just made that claim after Archie forged her signature - Archie claimed he just "copied" it from a check - in order to secure funds for the purchase of the pub.) Edith loses her job at the Sunshine Home in 1979 (for breaking a policy by allowing a terminally ill woman to die and failing to inform the staff), but in an early episode of Archie Bunker's Place, she is able to find a similar caretaker's job at another nursing home.

Edith was most known for her shrill voice (her trademark "Oh, Aaaaaaaaaah-chie!" became very popular among viewers) and her flighty demeanor. The latter character trait caused Archie to call her "dingbat". However, Archie truly loved his wife and wanted what was best for both of them. Frequently, he would consult with her whenever something bothered him (such as the episode, "Archie and the KKK," where a distressed Archie asks Edith for advice on how to prevent a cross burning).

More than once, Edith sharply chastised Archie for casting judgment against other people, particularly when he mentions God. Two notable examples came in the episodes "Cousin Liz" (Archie went on a diatribe about how God hates gays) and "California, Here We Are" (where, upon learning that Gloria's near affair had almost destroyed the Stivics' marriage, berates the "Little Goil" and says that the matter is "God's business"). In both instances, Edith warned Archie to back off and says that God should be left to deal with those matters and the people involved. She also became close friends with a transgender person/drag performer known as Beverly LaSalle (Lori Shannon) who came into their lives when Archie saved his life when he required CPR, remaining friends with him, despite Archie's discomfort. Edith later had a crisis of faith after Beverly's death protecting Mike from muggers.

Edith also serves as the voice of reason for Mike and on several occasions corrects him when, as she says, "He's been acting all stuck up." She explains to Mike that Archie yells at him not because he hates Mike but because he is jealous of Mike's many opportunities in life. Edith also, on many occasions, helps Gloria to understand that Gloria's feminist views, while correct, do not mean other viewpoints are necessarily any less valid.

Edith is described by Archie's father as being "too smart" for him because, while Edith appears to have less-than-average intelligence, she is very wise about life and the way the world works.

Around the house, Edith usually ran everywhere she went, implicitly to please others without them having to wait. This included answering the doorbell or phone, and running to the kitchen to get Archie a beer.

In "The Saga of Cousin Oscar", Edith mentions she has two sisters, Helen and Gertrude. In "Lionel Steps Out," she mentions a brother, Harry.

The character suffers from several physical and emotional traumas throughout the series. Edith goes through menopause in the second season ("Edith's Problem"), discovers a lump in her breast just before Christmas in the fourth season ("Edith's Christmas Story"), is nearly raped on her 50th birthday in the eighth season ("Edith's 50th Birthday"), and in season nine briefly contracts laryngitis ("A Night at the PTA") and develops phlebitis in the show's final episode ("Too Good Edith"). The first episode of the second season of Archie Bunker's Place ("Archie Alone") reveals that Edith died of a stroke.

Edith's death[edit]

Archie was intensely protective of her and became upset at even the thought of losing her (a point driven home in the episode "Too Good Edith," the 209th and final episode of All in the Family, in which Edith becomes seriously ill while frantically helping Archie cook Irish dinners for a St. Patrick's Day celebration at the bar; she had been suffering from phlebitis and didn't tell Archie out of love, but he found out anyway and was upset that she'd hidden it from him. (Edith actually tried telling him, but Archie was so adamant that she cooks, that he didn't give her the chance to convey her illness to him.)

Archie's worst nightmare came true in 1980, on the All in the Family continuation series Archie Bunker's Place, when Edith died (off-camera) of a stroke in the 1-hour second-season premiere, "Archie Alone," which originally aired on CBS on November 2, 1980.

Fearing being typecast in a 'submissive' role,[2] Jean Stapleton had wished to leave her role as a regular character, although she was open to guest appearances (in interviews, Stapleton has stated the role of Edith had reached its potential). Her appearances in the prior season sharply declined; she appeared in only four episodes of the 1979-1980 season. The 1980–1981 season premiere of Archie Bunker's Place acknowledged Edith's death (which had occurred a month before), and focused on Archie's denial and later grieving over Edith's death. The memorable episode ends with Archie alone in the bedroom in which he finds one of Edith's slippers, at which time he mourns her death.

The following is part of the transcript from the episode on Edith's death:

Archie: "It wasn't supposed to be like this. I was supposed to be the first one to go. I always used to kid you about you going first. You know I never meant none of that and that morning when yous was laying there. I was shaking you and yelling at you to go down and fix my breakfast. I didn't know. You had no right to leave me that way ..." (Holding the slipper to his face, Archie starts to cry) "... without giving me just one more chance to say I love you."

It was only with great reluctance that producer Norman Lear agreed to have his beloved character killed off. When Stapleton reminded him that Edith was a fictional character, Lear took a long pause, causing Stapleton to think she'd hurt him. Finally, Lear said "She isn't [fictional to me]," but ultimately made the decision to have Edith die[3][4]

Stapleton later appeared as a presenter on the 1981 Primetime Emmy Awards telecast (after the episode "Archie Alone" aired) and said to the viewing audience: "See! I'm still here!"[citation needed] Stapleton would live 33 years after her character was killed off, passing away on May 31, 2013 at the age of 90.

Cultural impact[edit]

Edith and Archie's chairs have been noted as famous pieces of history by their inclusion in the National Museum of American History.[5] In 2009, Edith Bunker was included in Yahoo!'s Top 10 TV Moms from Six Decades of Television for the decade 1971–1979.[6]

References[edit]

External links[edit]