Keck's Exclusives: Sally Struthers Remembers All in the Family Mom Jean Stapleton
Sally Struthers, Jean Stapleton | Photo Credits: Theo Wargo/WireImage, Evan Agostini/Liaison
As the world mourned Jean Stapleton this week, I was reminded of the sadness I felt in the fall of 1980 when it was revealed on CBS's Archie Bunker's Place (the rechristened All in the Family) that Stapleton's Edith Bunker had died suddenly of a stroke. Stapleton's TV daughter Sally Struthers (Gloria) shares memories of her onscreen mom, who passed away May 31 at age 90 of undisclosed causes.
TV Guide Magazine: Sally, thank you so much for calling.
Sally Struthers: You're very welcome. This is the first I've been able to talk without crying. I'm in Maine in rehearsals for Thoroughly Modern Millie.
TV Guide Magazine: I'm so sorry about the loss of your TV mom.
Struthers: Yeah. I last spoke with Jean two years ago but saw her children two weeks ago.
TV Guide Magazine: Tell me about your last visit with Jean.
Struthers: I flew up to New York from Virginia specifically to visit Jean. I was so happy to see her in her beautiful apartment overlooking Lincoln Center. The walls were this buttery yellow inside — as cheery and happy as Jean was. She couldn't have picked a better color. She was so proud of that space and kept showing me around. Her favorite room was quite tiny: an office filled with all her awards, mementos and scripts. She had a place where she could sit and write. A lot of reminiscing and laughter went on. I caught her up on my daughter, and she caught me up on her children, John and Pam. It was as if we had said goodnight the night before in the CBS parking lot and had picked up the next day.
TV Guide Magazine: Besides her three Emmys and two Golden Globes for playing Edith, did she have any other All in the Family reminders on display?
Struthers: No. Jean lived so in the present. She was a Christian Scientist who didn't say or think a negative thing. I have been her friend for 43 years and in all those years never once heard her angry, say a swear word or anything negative about another human being. I saw her delicately and brilliantly bow out of conversations that were turning in a negative direction. She was just a walking, living angel.
TV Guide Magazine: Norman Lear (All in the Family's executive producer) told me that Jean had been in declining health for years. How was she during your visit?
Struthers: She was struggling physically, but I didn't mention it because she wouldn't have wanted me to. She didn't dwell on it. She didn't choose to accept it as her reality.
TV Guide Magazine: Norman said Edith shared the voice of Jesus. Even though Jean was very intelligent and Edith was a dingy, what did the two have in common?
Struthers: Edith was Jean and Jean was Edith, except for the high pitch of Edith's voice and Jean's much lower-registered speaking voice. And except for Edith not having had the chance to go beyond a high school education. Jean was world-y smart, book smart and I.Q. smart — things Edith never got to be. But Jean and Edith shared one huge heart that beat for all mankind and a joy of living. She was old enough to be my mother but always giggled like a schoolgirl. I loved that giggle.
TV Guide Magazine: Did she ever have any real-life Edith moments?
Struthers: On a rehearsal day about three years into the show we were on a coffee break and I looked over at Jean. She was reading The L.A. Times classified section and I thought, 'Why's she doing that? Is she trying to sell a car?' I saw her face go bright red and then she gasped to herself. I ran across the room and said, 'Jean, what is it?' And she said, 'Sally darling, look at this!' And she turned the paper around toward me. It was advertisements for jobs and she said, 'This carwash is advertising for Polish men!' And I said, 'Jean, it's 'polish'. It was her one Edith moment.