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Edith Bunker . . . Jean Stapleton . . . Where does one begin, the other end? Go ahead, try to figure that one out. I have since news of her death -- at age 90 - broke Saturday (she died Friday, her son told the world).
As Edith, she was one of the three or four most famous female TV characters in history. Edith Bunker was Edith: No doubt about that. That voice . . . yes, that voice alone survives as something so unique in the history of television that it may well be the most famous voice in the medium's history. ("Awwwchee." That about sums it up.)
But upon her death, ambivalence, at least on my part. I hope she was happy with that remarkable role that she brought to life so completely for -- how many years, nine? -- but in hindsight, that is it. Nothing more. Stapleton was a fine Broadway actress (would love to find her singing "Ya Gotta Have Heart" from "Damn Yankees" -- which apparently inspired Norman Lear to cast her -- but that was back in the day when phones were still attached to walls). She had roles before this and after. I'm sure many of them were excellent. But Edith was so huge, so all-compassing, that they survive as asterisks.
Stapleton was a remarkable woman and fine actress - New York-born, Broadway-bred, she understood what dramatic theater was about which, in a word, is "intimacy." Driving home a moment that 500 (or so) paying customers would or should remember for the rest of their lives, or at least the rest of the night.
But as Edith, she was support -- support to the real core of the show, support to his whims, and vices and gas and nonsense and prejudices and avarice and stupidity and -- most of all -- his love. "All in the Family" could never completely decide what to do with Archie Bunker, and I don't think Edith, or Stapleton could either. The strange secret of "Family's" great success, or as has long been theorized, is that most viewers identified with Archie. In Archie they found someone who spoke what they felt, and if they missed the joke -- and many probably did -- no matter, because he would ultimately prevail, as the (ultimately) lovable average lunch pail Joe.
Bunker may have said foolish things, but the implication was always that he was a product of his time -- he and his cohorts were taught to hate, and taught very well, but nothing could change his fundamental decency. That was character. Everything else was the cultural dross of his generation . . . or such was Norman Lear's (and Bud Yorkin's) estimation.
You'll note here that a post about Edith Bunker turns automatically into a post about Archie Bunker and that was, and is to be, her fate. She was Carroll O'Connor's support . . . the one who was engineered to both sharpen his flaws as well as soften them. Stapleton's great accomplishment on the show was pretty simply: She made Archie worse, and also made him better. She punctured his bloviations, and she abetted his bloviations. Simply by staying with him -- and there were moments, famously, when she did not want to -- she affirmed him.
Stapleton and "All in the Family" were products of the early '70s -- a period of war, and terrible confusion in the country, and terrible anger, and a time of real agony, quaint as it may sound now, over gender politics, though it certainly wasn't called that at the time. Stapleton's Edith was a product of the moment, too: Would audiences have accepted a "liberated" Edith who pushed Archie out the door to the curb? Of course not: That'd be up to Maude . . . Maude -- Bea Arthur -- was of course Edith's cousin, and in one very obvious sense, Edith's revenge.
But as a supporting character on one of the most successful and popular sitcoms of all time, she would ultimately have to make Archie appealing because if Edith turned against Archie, America would turn against “All in the Family.”
It was as simple as that.
Edith's impact on TV? That's hard to gauge because in many ways, she was the end of the line. No spouse like her ever followed. Maude was Norman Lear's overcorrection, but in the 40 years since, TV actresses who play spouses have almost repudiated her. Only Marge Simpson and Lois Griffin come close, and they're cartoon characters.
It's clear even Stapleton tried to expunge the taint, sweet and gentle though it may have been, of Edith -- unsuccessfully. (She played Eleanor Roosevelt, which about as far from Edith as you could get.)
Below, I've grabbed some clips, and have posted a full episode -- the second part of Edith's 50th birthday. It was one of the most famous episodes in sitcom history -- she was nearly raped -- and deals with her conflicts over reporting the crime. Stapleton's excellent here, amid the slapstick that derails the power and horror of her ordeal. But that was the fault of the show, not hers.
Also: Check out the old appearance on "Dennis the Menace," where intimations of Edith can be heard.
And . . . her Archive of American Television interview. It's been very well-edited to contain her thoughts on the show and the character; discussion about Edith begins three minutes in.
And so farewell to a genuine classic of American TV and American culture.
(Of course, I close with one final clip. Guess which one . . .)
"Princesses: Long Island" got its "Today" show close-up Thursday morning on the program's third hour. The clip is below.
Not much new out of this, but Chanel Omari had this interesting comment, probably an indication that they are now aware that the show has a bit of notoriety beyond the usual confines of a typical Bravo reality series:
"We're not responsible for representing a subculture or religion -- we're only responsible for representing ourselves."
The series' launch is Sunday at 9 p.m.
Oh the holes we dig, and Adam Levine dug a doozy for himself on Tuesday night's "The Voice" when he muttered, sotto voce, "I hate my country," following the ouster of proteges Judith Hill and Sarah Simmon.
Those are fightin' words on a nationally televised program — and Levine instantly tried to extricate himself from the brawl that ensued on Twitter. He said he was just making a joke, etc. though that apparently mollified no one, because a statement has now been released to the press:
"I obviously love my country very much and my comments last night were made purely out of frustration," Levine said in a statement. "Being a part of The Voice, I am passionately invested in my team and want to see my artists succeed. Last night's elimination of Judith and Sarah was confusing and downright emotional for me and my comments were made based on my personal dissatisfaction with the results. I am very connected to my artists and know they have long careers ahead, regardless of their outcome on the show."
In this week of the dearly departed coming back to life -- "Arrested Development" -- it's probably appropriate that AMC's "The Killing" is about to be reborn as well. It was a fate not foretold: AMC canceled the show last summer, no one in the critical community (or of greater importance needless to say, the viewing one) seemed to complain too loudly and that was that. Except...Read more »
And now this: The National Geographic Channel earlier today announced Rob Lowe will play John F. Kennedy in the adaptation of the Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard book, "Killing Kennedy." Other actors who have played JFK over the years? Have to jump to the end of this post to find out!
The Nat Geo statement:
“We are thrilled to be working with Rob Lowe, Ginnifer...Read more »
Billy Joel turns up on "American Restoration" tonight in a bid to get Rick Dale to re-furbish a rare 1967 BSA Royal Star -- sort of like the one he grew up riding as a young hell-raising lad on Long Island. Here's a review if you care to read a bit more about that. But...did you know he's gone to the reality well before to get his cycles re-cycled, so to speak? Where else would he go for that? Ah yes, "American Chopper." Check out the Joel starring role on the series back in the day -- that day being in 2006. ...
After 19 years -- 19! -- "Inside the Actors Studio" and its redoubtable ringmaster James Lipton will celebrate 250 episodes Wednesday night with a two-hour special that'll feature the reclusive Dave Chappelle -- a Lipton pal -- and others not so reclusive.
"Studio," if you are not aware, but almost certainly are, is an iconic cable series that reaches back to the very earliest days of Bravo -- long before "Real Housewives" and Tabitha and so on. Lipton, a trained actor and dean emeritus of Pace's Actors Studio Drama School, got to this benchmark by running a smart show, being extremely well-informed, non-judgmental and always always curious. The result was at times more of a shrink's couch than an interview show because Lipton asked the right questions and secured responses that weren't the usual spin or balderdash.
It's been quite a run indeed, and a mere lad of 86, Lipton has had an interesting run too.
Here's a clip (below) but per Bravo, the 7 p.m. series will feature "new interviews with former guests including Actors Studio alumnus Bradley Cooper, Robert DeNiro, Jennifer Lopez, Christopher Walken, Barbara Walters, Dave Chappelle, Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien, Ellen Burstyn and Spike Lee..."
"Arrested Development," a beloved series by a very few number of people, last aired on Fox, Feb. 10, 2006, closing with the words — entirely facetious — by producer and narrator Ron Howard that "maybe there should be a movie."
No movie (yet) but the long-aborning series reprisal began this morning on Netflix — all 15 4th-season episodes were available for download at 3...Read more »
Maybe you've heard of the forthcoming CBS reality series, "Brooklyn DA:' It's got some notoreity in the midst of a campaign for DA, with some charging that it's an infomercial. Here's my take, in next week's Newsday:
THE SHOW "Brooklyn DA" WHEN | WHERE Tuesday night at 10 on CBS/2 WHAT IT'S ABOUT This six-part series goes inside the nation's largest urban District...Read more »
NBC just announced that Blake Shelton of "The Voice" has organized a telethon to benefit the victims of the Monday tornado that devastated Moore, Okla., and killed at least 24 people. Details: "Healing in the Heartland: Relief Benefit Concert" on May 29, to take place at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City.; Miranda Lambert, Reba McEntire and Vince Gill will perform, more guests to come. Also: Live telecast at 9, and simulcast on Style, G4, Bravo, E! and CMT "on either a live or delayed basis."
Per Shelton: "Everyone has their way to help, and mine as an entertainer is to perform to help raise money and awareness for this tragedy. This is why I want to do this special and especially hold it in Oklahoma City, which is near ground zero."