OFFICIAL FAMILY OBITUARY
Iconic Television and Broadway Actress Jean Stapleton passed away peacefully of natural causes on May 31st 2013 at her home in New York City. She was surrounded by friends and her immediate family.
Born in Manhattan on Jan 19th, 1923 to opera singer Marie Stapleton Murray and business man Joseph Murray. Jean and her family lived on 141st St. and Broadway following a family move from Rockville Center in Long Island. Her parents were unhappy about the transition, but Jean was excited to move into the vibrant city. She attended Wadleigh High School and was inspired by her older brother Jack Murray to study acting. Jack died young, but upon graduating, Jean was "seized" as she would say, with the desire to act, and took her mother’s maiden name of Stapleton as her stage name.
During WWII she worked as a typist for the British War Ministry Office in New York City. Stapleton began her performing career as a member of the Robert Shaw Chorale. She made her professional stage debut in 1941, then went on to fruitful work-study associations with the American Apprentice Theater, the American Actors Company, the American Theater Wing, and director-acting coach Harold Clurman. Her first Broadway appearance was in the 1953 production “In the Summer House”; the following year, she made her TV bow as a semi-regular on the daytime drama “Woman With a Past.” She endeared herself to Broadway audiences with her wistfully funny characterizations in “Rhinoceros” with Zero Mostel, and the SRO musicals “Damn Yankees”, “Bells Are Ringing”, and “Funny Girl”, roles that she would carry over into the film versions of both “Damn Yankees” and “Bells Are Ringing.”
Although many internet bios claim that Jean attended Hunter College, she never attended any but instead supported her parents with secretarial jobs during and after high school. She and fellow thespian Maureen Stapleton (no-relation) were often confused in the press as well.
In the summer of 1952, she was invited by mutual friends to visit William Putch who was stage managing at the Olney Theater in Maryland. Stapleton and Putch met and were married 5 years later when he proposed to her in the box office of his summer theater, the Totem Pole Playhouse in South Central Pennsylvania. After a 30 year successful collaboration at the theater, Putch passed away at age 59 in 1983. She never remarried.
In 1971 Jean’s television career jumped to new heights when she was cast as Edith Bunker in Norman Lear’s historic sitcom, All In The Family. 3 Emmy and Golden Globe and 2 comedy awards followed along with countless nominations for Television movies and guest appearances.
But her love was always working in the theater, and she continued to tour the country in her one-woman show “Eleanor Her Secret Journey”, perform at Totem Pole Playhouse, and in 1987 the Broadway revival of “Arsenic and Old Lace.” In 1990, she received an Obie Award for her performance in Harold Pinter’s “Mountain Language” and “The Birthday Party.” In her own words she was an ‘actress’, not a celebrity. The play always came first. A philosophy that separated her from many other performers past and present.
She loved attending and performing in the theater, and then dining out afterward with friends and family. Even though a great portion of her career was spent in Los Angeles, Stapleton was a tried and true New Yorker and thrived when she returned to live there permanently in 2002. Her final stage appearance, Horton Foote’s “The Carpetbagger’s Children” was just a few blocks from her home at Lincoln Center, a fact that delighted her.
She is survived by her children, television producer Pamela Putch and film and television director John Putch.
OFFICIAL STATEMENT FROM THE FAMILY OF JEAN STAPLETON
Being the children of a beloved Mother on Television means sharing the spirit of who JEAN STAPLETON was with her friends and fans. It is with great love and heavy hearts that we say farewell to our collective Mother, with a capital M. Her devotion to her craft and her family taught us all great life lessons.
Thank you for the outpouring of love and respect. We appreciate it deeply. Our favorite newspaper article is by DENISE BONURA from the Record Herald in Waynsboro, PA. We have included it on this page below.
John Putch & Pamela Putch
By Denise Bonura/The Record Herald
June 03, 2013 10:45AM
Actress Jean Stapleton is remembered for her love of theater
'All in the Family' actress died Friday in New York City at age 90. Actress Jean Stapleton is seen with her late husband, William 'Bill' Putch, in this submitted photo. Stapleton died in New York City Friday at age 90.
The family at Totem Pole Playhouse is mourning the loss of a versatile actress whose love of the theater and Franklin County brought her back to the woods of Caledonia State Park many summers to perform on stage.
Jean Stapleton, who was married to Totem Pole's artistic director, the late William "Bill" Putch, died Friday in New York City surrounded by her immediate family and friends. She was 90.
An 'actress,' not a celebrity
Stapleton was made famous for her portrayal of the lovable "dingbat" Edith Bunker on the popular 1970s sitcom "All in the Family," but those close to her are remembering an actress who enjoyed being challenged.
"In her own words she was an 'actress,' not a celebrity. The play always came first. A philosophy that separated her from many other performers past and present," her obituary reads.
"Being the children of a beloved mother on television means sharing the spirit of who Jean Stapleton was with her friends and fans. It is with great love and heavy hearts that we say farewell to our collective Mother, with a capital M. Her devotion to her craft and her family taught us all great life lessons. Thank you for the outpouring of love and respect. We appreciate it deeply," Stapleton's children, John and Pamela Putch, wrote in an official statement.
John Putch, a Hollywood director/writer/producer, said Sunday he and Pam have received calls from people around globe who were "raising a glass in her honor."
"That really meant a lot to us," he said. "We also had a dinner in her honor at the iconic Joe Allen Broadway restaurant. It was her request that there be no services. However, she was a lifelong member and supporter of the Actors Fund of America. People can send a donation to the fund in her name."
Numerous local residents remember Stapleton and her family as she raised her children in the Fayetteville, Chambersburg and Caledonia areas. On The Record Herald's Facebook page, several readers remember how she used to shop at the former Sherman's on Waynesboro's West Main Street and how they waited for her autograph after shows.
Her strong ties to the area also led to the honor of receiving an honorary degree from Wilson College in 1997. The college also has a scholarship in her name.
John Putch said Stapleton was just a "sweet, sweet," mother and person.
"She had a great personality," he added. "She was always positive. She never said anything bad about anyone. She did nothing but encourage and support us kids in whatever we were doing in life, in our careers, in anything."
"We laughed all the time," Pam Putch said. "We laughed all through our lives with her. It was such a gift to be around somebody who had such spirit and joy."
Stapleton was born in Manhattan on Jan. 19, 1923, to opera singer Marie Stapleton Murray and businessman Joseph Murray. The family, including older brother Jack, lived on Long Island until she was about 12 or 13. They then moved to 141st Street and Broadway, a move her parents were unhappy about.
"But Jean was excited to move into the vibrant city," her obituary reads. "She attended Wadleigh High School and was inspired by her older brother Jack to study acting. Jack died young, but upon graduating, Jean was 'seized' as she would say, with the desire to act, and took her mother's maiden name as her stage name."
She began her performing career as a member of the Robert Shaw Chorale, and made her professional stage debut in 1941. She appeared on Broadway in the 1953 production of "In the Summer House," and the following year made her television debut as a semi-regular on the daytime drama "Woman With a Past."
She met Bill Putch in the summer of 1952 when she was invited by mutual friends to visit him while he was stage manager at the Olney Theater in Maryland. Bill proposed to Stapleton in the Totem Pole box office, and the couple married five years after they met.
Stapleton appeared on the Totem Pole stage many times, often alongside her husband and children.
John Putch said she became a star overnight when she was cast as Edith Bunker on "All in the Family." "It was odd. Everyone around us started treating us differently, which is something I don't understand. It was like we were different from the rest of the world, like we were on display in a zoo. That's how children see it. We didn't want to be treated differently."
Pam said it was like that, but their mother "always separated the public person from the private person."
Stapleton won three Emmys during her eight-year tenure with the show that also starred Carroll O'Connor, Sally Struthers and Rob Reiner. The show's viewers will never forget her high-pitched calls for husband Archie and singing the show's theme, "Those Were The Days."
Struthers, who played Stapleton's on-screen daughter Gloria, told The Record Herald in April that Stapleton was the "resident angel" of the show. "She was a great laugher. And kind. Always kind," she said.
Stapleton was married to Bill Putch for 26 years when he suddenly died of a heart attack at age 59 in 1983. The couple was touring with a play Putch was directing.
"Stapleton went on stage in Syracuse, N.Y., that night and continued on with the tour," an Associated Press article reads. "That's what he would have wanted,' she told People magazine in 1984. 'I realized it was a refuge to have that play, rather than to sit and wallow. And it was his show.'"
Stapleton continued to act on stage through her run with "All in the Family," and after she left the show's spinoff, "Archie's Place," in 1979. She appeared in numerous television shows and movies over the years, but her love of theater came first.
"Being an actor was her entire life," Pam Putch said. "It wasn't a 9-to-5 job for her. It was a 24/7 job for her. She lived it and breathed it. It was what made her go. And when she wasn't rehearsing lines or performing on stage, she loved to talk about who was going to be in this production at Totem Pole, and where she was going to be next. It was really her essence."
Pam Putch said she feels so "incredibly fortunate" because she got to see "some of the most memorable things she ever did in that 400-seat theater in the middle of Pennsylvania."
"One of my most favorite roles she was played was in 'The Glass Menagerie.' I have never seen anybody do anything like what she did. She performed roles that were hilarious, and incredibly touching and moving. I don't know how she did it. It was amazing," Pam recalled.
John Putch said his favorite role his mother ever portrayed was in "Come Back, Little Sheba" at Totem Pole. "Her performance was so moving, I wept. I was a young boy. That one sticks with me more than anything really." John Putch noted his mother's favorite role to play was Eleanor Roosevelt.
At Totem Pole
The Totem Pole family has dedicated the remainder of the theater's 63rd season in Stapleton's honor. Carl Schurr, former artistic director and veteran Totem Pole actor, recalls directing Stapleton and her family in "Papa is All" in 1979. Schurr appeared in several productions with Stapleton and even went on tour with her.
"She was the ultimate professional," Schurr said. "She loved work and loved the stage. She paid attention to detail and loved other actors. She looked for roles to show her versatility, and she loved to be challenged. What was unique about Jean was she was so very much in the moment, which is the making of a great actor."
Paul Holmes, Totem Pole's production stage manager who has worked there since 1971, said Stapleton was a great model for younger actors "to watch her work ethic and how she attacked a role."
"She couldn't have been nicer," he added. "She was easy going, down-to-earth, and never pulled any 'star stuff.' She worked hard, and it was great to watch her. She always had a little twinkle in her eye."