Column: A Senior Moment with Barry ZeVan: Jean Stapleton and Aaron Hicks

Updated: 02/18/2014 9:26 AM KSTP.com By: Barry ZeVan



Jean Stapleton

Truth is definitely stranger than fiction, sometimes. I experienced that reality beginning this past May 24th, when I was invited to participate in the unveiling of a new U.S. postage stamp honoring the 50th anniversary of the release of the film, 'Carousel.'

On the stamp are pictured Shirley Jones and her co-star, Gordon MacRae. The event took place in Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle's office.

I was invited because Shirley and I acted together in her first play, entitled WONDERFUL GOOD at The Pittsburgh Playhouse, just after she'd won the title of Miss Pittsburgh.

It was written and musically-directed by a great couple of writers and musicians named Ken and Mitzi Welch. They later went on to become Carol Burnett's musical directors and sketch writers.

After the event, Shirley and I conversed about our mutual relationship with Jean Stapleton and her husband, Bill Putch, who was Shirley's and my first drama teacher, and a  fellow actor. Because Jean died only a week later, I thought it was ironic Jean (and Bill) had been one of the stronger topics of our conversation, thus decided to share the following back-and-current chronology:

Shirley's hometown was/is Charleroi, Pennsylvania. Her father owned Stoney's Brewery in Smithton, not far from Charleroi. (I think she's still Chairperson of the Board of the brewery. Forgot to ask her when we were together a couple weeks ago.)

As previously stated, Shirley's and my first drama teacher (and also fellow actor) was a man named Bill Putch, from 1948 through 1951. Bill and I also acted together in Summer Stock during those years in a couple plays at The White Barn Theater, near Irwin, Pennsylvania, about an hour's drive east of Pittsburgh.

The theater was owned by two actors and producers named Clay Flagg and Carl Low. The latter became a giant presence for 15 years as the character, Dr. Bob Rogers, on the television soap opera, SEARCH FOR TOMORROW. (Ironically, in the early 1980's , I also had a one-time part on that show, and which can be seen on one of Tom Oszman's TCMedia site clips. I played a policeman whose wife had just given birth and I was looking for the delivery room. At our first rehearsal, actress Marie Cheatham, a longtime regular on the series, almost fell on the floor laughing at my opening line, which was, "Where do they keep the babies?" I was very appreciative for her reaction, to say the least.)

Regardless, apologies for the digression, but the memories cascade.

In later years I learned Bill had married Jean Stapleton, long before her iconic performances as Edith Bunker on ALL IN THE FAMILY.

Bill and Jean created and owned a summer stock theater in Jennerstown, Pennsylvania, called the Totem Pole Playhouse. They also had a son named John. During my D.C. TV days in the mid-1970s, we visited them in Jennerstown (not far from D.C.) for a great reunion (with Bill) and meeting with Jean and John.

My older daughter was with us, and she and John got along very well. He focused on showing her his motorcycle and it was innocent fun. Yesterday she reminded me of that aspect of the visit.  (John has become a successful actor and director, and currently directs COUGAR TOWN, seen now on TBS, and on which Shirley has an occasional recurring role.)

My daughter also reminded me we shared the same thoughts about Jean, i.e., she was the antithesis of Edith Bunker. In person, Jean was very serious, a super-pro and very no-nonsense.

A strong lady, to say the least, who knew her craft well enough to portray the disparate characters she did, not only on ALL IN THE FAMILY, but in other television shows and feature films. (Bill died of a heart attack many years ago while walking down the street in Syracuse, New York, where Jean was performing in a play.)

She will be missed, but will always be a major part of millions of people's fond memories, deservedly so. It was an honor to spend the personal time with her, and I'm glad she and Bill had the years they did as husband and wife.

Aaron Hicks

I love baseball. When my hometown Pittsburgh Pirates were always in last place during my grade school years (1940s), Pirates fans still filled Forbes Field to capacity.

The only Pirates player I ever met was the late Ralph Kiner. Ralph had hit 54 home runs that year. This year, watching Twins baseball, the addition of Aaron Hicks to the roster has made watching each game a very anticipated event at our house.

It's such a joy to hear Bert Blyleven and Dick Bremer verbally exude the genuine excitement they feel (and which is happily infectious to us viewers...well, at least to this viewer) when Aaron makes the sensational catches he does and his performance at the plate, even with a lower batting average.

A friend and I were discussing comparisons between Mr. Hicks and Kirby Puckett. He's a baseball "expert" and told me he feels if Aaron Hicks continues his outstanding ability to play his heart out...and there's no reason to think he won't...he'll become a part of the Pantheon of Twins greats, but especially reminiscent of the late, great Kirby Puckett. Bravo to Aaron Hicks. He's truly revitalized the joy and anticipation to watch those Twins in action.

Thanks for taking the time read my geezer thoughts, as always. Here’s to more sunshine soon! BZ

Barry ZeVan is a columnist for KSTP.com.