we did two performances and we had an audience.
It was similar to theatre; we went from beginning to end, and it was very pleasing.
- Jean Stapleton
Her early work on television included roles in Starlight Theatre, Robert Montgomery Presents, Lux Video Theater, Woman with a Past, The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse, Dr. Kildare, The Patty Duke Show, Car 54 Where Are You?, Dennis the Menace, and Naked City. On an episode of The Defenders broadcast on 1 December 1962, Jean Stapleton guest-starred with future television husband Carroll O'Connor.
Produced by Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin, All in the Family revolved around the life of a working class bigot and his family. It is based on the British television comedy series Till Death Us Do Part. Despite being considerably softer in its approach than its BBC predecessor, the show broke ground in its depiction of issues previously considered unsuitable for U.S. network television comedy, such as racism, homosexuality, women's liberation, rape, miscarriage, abortion, breast cancer, the Vietnam War, menopause, and impotence. Through depicting these controversial issues, the series became arguably one of television's most influential comedic programs, as it injected the sitcom format with real-life conflicts.
The show ranked number-one in the yearly Nielsen ratings from 1971 to 1976. It became the first television series to reach the milestone of having topped the Nielsen ratings for five consecutive years.
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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 develops phlebitis in the show's final episode in season nine ("Too Good Edith"). The first episode of the second season of Archie Bunker's Place ("Archie Alone") reveals that Edith died of a stroke.
Jean Stapleton had wished to leave her role (in interviews, Stapleton has stated the role of Edith had reached its potential). Her appearances on the prior season sharply declined, having 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.
Her awards for All in the Family include three Emmys and two Golden Globes. She was offered a role in the feature film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory as Mrs. Teevee, but she declined because it coincided with the production of the All in the Family pilot (the role went to Nora Denney).
Stapleton appeared in made-for-TV movies and feature films such as Klute, the comedy Cold Turkey and the Faerie Tale Theatre episode "Cinderella" as the fairy godmother and as the Giant's Wife in "Jack and the Beanstalk". She also had a recurring role on television's Scarecrow and Mrs. King as a British spy. She appeared in the educational series Beakman's World as Beakman's mother, "Beakmom".
In 1996, she played opposite John Travolta, portraying the eccentric rooming house owner, Pansy Milbank in Nora Ephron's hit Michael. Stapleton also appeared in the 1998 feature You've Got Mail as a close co-worker in whom Meg Ryan's character confides. Stapleton appeared on the CBS television series Touched by an Angel as an angel named Emma. On May 14, 2000 in the "Mother's Day" episode of the TV series Touched by an Angel she played one of the angels named Emma who came to help Celine who was taking care of her late best friend's mother.
In the 1990s Stapleton played the role of Mrs. Piggle Wiggle in a children's series of the same name based on the books by Betty MacDonald. The show was created by Shelley Duvall and lasted only one season. 
In 1996, she appeared in the Everybody Loves Raymond episode "I Wish I Were Gus" playing Ray's Aunt Alda. That same year, she also appeared in the Murphy Brown episode "All in the Family" playing Miles's grandmother, Nana Silverberg. Making a debut in the world of video games, Stapleton was the voice of Grandma Ollie on KinderActive, Turner Pictures, and New Line Cinema's venture "Grandma Ollie's Morphabet Soup." The game won a Teacher's Choice Award from Learning Magazine. In 1998, Stapleton guest-starred in the Jean Smart sitcom, Style & Substance, playing a former television chef who has since "lost her marbles".
Stapleton voiced John Rolfe's maid, Mrs. Jenkins, in Disney's 1998 direct-to-video animated film Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World.
She reunited on-camera with O'Connor on Donny and Marie Osmond's talk show on April 24, 2000, a little over a year before O'Connor's death. When the show's hosts asked her to perform in Edith Bunker's voice, she jokingly told them that she only does so "for pay". Stapleton later told the Archive of American Television that she does not like to replicate in casual settings the voices and mannerisms of characters whom she has created, as she feels that it trivializes and detracts from the characters as originally created.
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