Tales From A Hungry Life

June 5, 2013

Those Were the Days

By Maria Schulz

My smart phone is set up to receive breaking news from the newspaper, which often leads me to just close it without even looking at the story. But on Saturday, it stopped me cold when I saw this headline:

Jean Stapleton, Who Played Archie Bunker’s Better Angel, Dies at 90.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/02/arts/television/jean-stapleton-who-played-archies-better-angel-dies-at-90.html?_r=0&adxnnl=1&ref=obituaries&adxnnlx=1370425751-JyaTgGZaupkfU/Ud0eOomg

Oh no! I thought. Not Edith!

I ran to my husband and told him the news. “Oh no,” he said. “Not Edith!”

archie and edith

We spent the day talking about our favorite episodes and singing/screeching “Those Were the Days,” the theme song that Edith and her husband, Archie, sang at the beginning of every episode. We talked about other things that we remembered Jean Stapleton doing, like her turn in “You’ve Got Mail” as a quirky bookseller and friend to Meg Ryan, or her turn as Eleanor Roosevelt, Julia Childe, and on Broadway. She was a really accomplished actress.

Our older daughter finally asked us: “What’s the big deal about this Edith person?”

“She was a part of the biggest TV show around when I was a kid,” I said, “and everyone watched it when it was on.”

Her eyes began to glaze over and I realized that she was done wondering about Edith anymore. But it didn’t stop me from thinking of why it was such a big deal to me.

When All in the Family was on, everyone (and I do mean everyone) I knew would stop whatever they were doing come Saturday night, and watch Archie, Edith (a.k.a. “Dingbat”), Gloria (a.k.a. “Little Girl”) and Mike (a.k.a. “Meathead”) live, love, and fight.

 

Those were the days.

Those were the days.

They were a normal working class family from Queens (yes! Queens!) who lived in a row house in Astoria. Archie worked on a loading dock to support his family, which now included his son-in-law, Mike. Gloria worked in a local department store while Edith stayed at home.

Some of the funniest episodes featured Edith trying to make sense of a changing world. She was not the brightest bulb on Broadway, but her big heart and a compassionate streak a mile wide helped her learn as she went.

Edith’s lost look when she began struggling with hot flashes and mood swings during the onset of menopause caused Archie to try to make her happy by buying her little gifts (a Lady Gillette razor, which she promptly threw at him) until he finally lost his patience with her and said, “You’ve got 5 minutes Edith. NOW CHANGE!”

Mike and Gloria were horrified at Archie’s insensitivity, but Edith was delighted. All she wanted was someone to make her feel like nothing would really change, and Archie came through for her.

Another episode found Edith struggling with a cancer scare. In the end, the lump in her breast was negative; so when Archie asks her why she’s still in bed at the hospital, she pulls off the sheet and explains, “I got so excited by the good news that I jumped off the examining table and broke my leg!”

edith and gloria

You couldn’t help but love Edith. When the people around her were sad, she always had a story that would make them stop, and think, and realize that maybe she wasn’t so dumb after all. Of course, this happened after many winding turns and the feeling on Archie’s part that he would like to hang or shoot himself, as evidenced by him making believe he was fastening a noose over his head or pumping a bullet into his skull. Still, Edith insisted on making her point, and everyone felt better afterwards.

Two episodes stand out in my mind. The first one is about how Edith, good, kind, gentle Edith, opens the door to a salesman who attempts to rape her. No one will be coming to save Edith, because everyone is next door at Gloria’s house, waiting to surprise her for her birthday. It’s up to her to figure out how to escape, and she does—by pulling a burning cake out of the oven and shoving it in the creep’s face.

The second episode is the one where Archie is angry at Edith for loving her new job as a sunshine lady at the local nursing home. Archie feels abandoned and he goes off on a date with another woman. Of course, Edith recognizes that Archie has been out since he’s wearing his Disney World shirt, and she immediately gets out of him that he “kissed another woman!” Who couldn’t feel bad for Edith as she runs out the door towards her daughter’s house?

edith bang

When Jean Stapleton finally tired of being known to the world as Edith, she bowed out of the series. It was renamed “Archie’s Place,” and in the first episode of the second season, they killed Edith off.

Everyone I knew watched this episode. When Archie finally broke down and cried over Edith’s death (we find out that she died in her sleep, laying in bed next to Archie), everyone in my family sat and cried along with Archie.

How could you not grow to love someone you watched over the course of 10 years?

So, in answer to my daughter’s original question, “what’s the big deal about this Edith person,” I finally got an answer.

The most lovable dingbat on the planet

The most lovable dingbat on the planet

When I was a kid, there were only the 3 Networks and some local channels, plus PBS. If we called something the biggest show on TV, it meant that virtually everyone was watching it. An episode of All in the Family wasn’t just a random episode in the hundreds of alternative television shows that was on any old night; it was Must See TV long before the phrase was coined.

I didn’t have to worry that my friends were busy watching a cable show on their iPads or playing Angry Birds on their phones. You sat glued to the television with your family, taking it all in, and anxious to talk to friends about it the next day. Today’s television isn’t so much a communal event as it is just another way we sit by ourselves and shut the world out.

Edith was a housewife and a mother. She wasn’t famous or well educated, but she made a huge difference in the lives of everyone who loved her. In big and small ways, Edith was everyone’s mother back in the day.

I’m so glad that Norman Lear “found” Jean Stapleton on Broadway and plucked her out of relative obscurity to become America’s favorite “other mother.”

Recipe:

meatloaf

I tried to think of a recipe that was quintessentially “1970s” in honor of Edith, and the first thing that popped into my mind was meatloaf. Here’s a recipe that looks delicious:

http://allrecipes.com/recipe/easy-meatloaf/

One suggestion: add Worcestershire sauce (1 tablespoon) to your meatloaf recipe to keep it moist.

So, Hungry Lifers…do you remember All in the Family? What was your favorite Edith moment? What would be your favorite 1970s recipe? Please leave a comment and let us all know. Thanks.

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17 Comments »

  1. Wait, you and your husband sang together all day?

    Comment by Suzanne Tavel — June 5, 2013 @ 7:15 am | Reply

  2. Yes “All In The Family” really was one of the truly great shows then and of all time. The thing about movies, TV, the theatre and sports is it transforms the real world into a world of fantasy weaving a wonderful magical spell that have the performers melting away and only the characters they are portraying remain as if they were alive, living breathing persons. The escape it provides is a terrific medicine letting us leave our own problems, troubles aside for an hour or two, a respite much needed. But alas, it is only a fantasy world and the performers are real people with many problems of their own, Carroll O’Connor and his troubled son,and they live and die for real not as the characters do in the series who only need a writer to stop writing about them. Is that what God does? Stop writing about us? You know Mike had a mop of hair but his portrayer was really bald. So Edith really died when the series became “Archie’s Place” and Jean Stapleton died for real only recently. Both of them had great lives and finally their series was cancelled as all series must eventually reach the end of the run. .

    Comment by Bglou — June 5, 2013 @ 11:02 am | Reply

    • Very intriguing! But if God is a writer, there are some revisions I’ve got for Him. Thanks for commenting!

      Comment by talesfromahungrylife — June 5, 2013 @ 5:29 pm | Reply

  3. What an awesome show. So politically incorrect! Great post, Maria, and a sweet tribute to a TV icon!

    Comment by Lisa — June 5, 2013 @ 11:41 am | Reply

  4. Great post Maria! I loved the show and the issues they brought up at the time. The spinoffs like The Jefferson’s, and even better, Maude, were all ahead of their time. I do remember, however, being embarrassed because my Mom had a collection of dresses that made her look like Edith Bunker. Please Mom, don’t wear that sleeveless tablecloth today. As the years went on, I still loved the show, but could not stand hearing them sing Those Were the Days. Of course when Edith ” died ” so did the show pretty much.

    Comment by John Berghino — June 5, 2013 @ 3:55 pm | Reply

    • Thanks for commenting John! All those Norman Lear shows were great. I don’t remember your mom wearing house dresses when I met her!

      Comment by talesfromahungrylife — June 5, 2013 @ 5:49 pm | Reply

  5. Nice post Maria! Those really were the days…three stations to choose from and the family sat, watched TV together and grew attached to the characters (real characters)! I remember laughing watching this show, and my father couldn’t wait for it to be on! True entertainment. Thank you for a wonderful tribute to a lady that touched many people.

    Comment by Gina Arresta — June 6, 2013 @ 8:47 pm | Reply

    • Thank you, Gina! I’m so glad you liked it. I do miss that “event” quality that a favorite program brought to our homes. You always knew where we’d be on Saturday nights–watching Archie and Edith first, and finishing the night with Carol Burnett!

      Comment by talesfromahungrylife — June 6, 2013 @ 9:03 pm | Reply

  6. Great post, and a fitting tribute to one of the most beloved TV characters in one of the greatest TV shows of all time. Nicely done! (As usual….you’re putting me to shame!)

    Comment by turafish — June 7, 2013 @ 12:10 am | Reply

  7. I loved loved loved that show! I can remember waiting for it to come on. I loved Jean Stapleton. I loved it when she tried to stand up for herself and put Archie in his place. Sometimes, I would get so mad at him for how he treated her but deep down in the end he truly loved her. Please don’t get mad at me, but she reminded me of your mother a lot. Don’t get me wrong your mother was very bright, but she had the heart of gold Edith had. She would do anything for a family and she always put her family first. I was so sad to hear of Jean’s passing too. Great blog as always.

    Comment by Kathleen Lagalante — June 8, 2013 @ 4:10 pm | Reply

    • I am not mad, Kathie. I can see what you mean about Edith and my mom being a like. Maybe that’s why she was such a beloved character — everyone could identify someone they knew who reminded them of Edith.

      Comment by talesfromahungrylife — June 9, 2013 @ 10:31 pm | Reply

  8. The tag recipe to your story was screaming for “Cling Peaches!” http://youtu.be/HoIMvOUM3po

    A wonderful commentary on a time the world has passed by. I expect nothing less from my twin.

    Comment by Chris — June 9, 2013 @ 1:15 am | Reply

    • Chris, I wish I had spoken to you before posting. That skit is hilarious! Thanks for sharing. I would expect nothing less from my twin.

      Comment by talesfromahungrylife — June 9, 2013 @ 12:21 pm | Reply

  9. “Oh Archie…” That signature line, uttered countless times, could mean so many different things. It could evoke everything from playful insinuation to outright shame and disappointment. The masterful ability to convey so much emotion into such a seemingly simple line is truly a credit to her acting ability. There will never be a show quite like All in the Family ever again but its repercussions will resonate for many generations.

    Comment by John Wagner — June 9, 2013 @ 11:49 am | Reply

    • Hi John! You are so right. “Oh, Archie!” could mean so many things. Edith was one of my favorite characters ever, and I can see a lit of people agree. Thanks so much for weighing in.

      Comment by talesfromahungrylife — June 9, 2013 @ 12:23 pm | Reply


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