While the late actress Jean Stapleton was playing Edith Bunker on the hit TV series “All in the Family,” a couple of people surprised her, she once said in an interview, by telling her she should play Eleanor Roosevelt. So the curious native New Yorker went upstate to visit the Roosevelt Library at Hyde Park where she watched tapes and listened to recordings of First Lady Eleanor. When it came time for Stapleton to fulfill the part of her contract with CBS that stipulated that she make a TV movie, she, with writer Rhoda Lerman, produced “Eleanor: First Lady of the World.” She won an Emmy for her performance, and went on to star in the stage production of “Eleanor: Her Secret Journey.”
Hindsight (and Stapleton’s great performances) make it easy now to see similarities between the two women – from their physical appearances to their activism. Stapleton was a commissioner at the 1977 National Women’s Conference and served as chair of Women’s Research & Education Institute. Eleanor Roosevelt’s activism made a giant mark on civil rights and education. Stapleton later stepped in to save Val-Kill (the cottage in Hyde Park where Eleanor lived for 17 years after FDR’s death) from being sold to private interests. Val-Kill (Dutch for valley stream) was originally a furniture factory opened by Mrs. Roosevelt to teach local young men a trade during the depression. Today Val-Kill is the only national historic site dedicated to a first lady. Ms. Stapleton will be missed.