Broadway and TV Star Jean Stapleton Passes Away
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 Normal 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.