Springfield was a little sadder when Marcia Wallace passed away on October 25, 2013 at the age of 70. Wallace was beloved for her role as fourth grade Springfield Elementary School teacher, Edna Krabappel. First appearing in “Bart the Genius”* way back in the second episode of The Simpsons, Mrs. Krabappel would evolve into one of the more sympathetic characters in The Simpsons universe over the show’s twenty-five years.
Sure, we loved her trademark: “HA!” (for the nostalgic, check out this great montage on YouTube). And it would have been easy enough for the writers to have Mrs. Krabappel play the part of a one-gag heavy-smoking, solitary-drinking, unlucky in love middle-aged school teacher stereotype. But what endeared the character in the hearts of fans was a decidedly more human side – in the award-winning flashback episode “The Seemingly Never Ending Story,” a younger and more idealistic Edna Krabappel breaks off her relationship with Moe for the sake of helping a lost cause student to succeed: Bart Simpson.
And it was the Bart-related plot-lines that showed Edna Krabappel at her most touching. In “Bart Gets an F,” Bart has to pass a history test and studies — even on an Act of God snow day — only to get a 59, still failing by a single point. When we talk about the “Golden Age of The Simpsons,”we usually aren’t just talking about the quality of the jokes. Our favorite Simpsons moments had an undergirding of genuine heart that was rarely, if ever, seen in an animated sitcom:
“I tried. I really tried. … This is as good as I could get! And I still failed! Oh, who am I kidding? I really am a failure. [sobs] Oh, now I know how George Washington felt when he surrendered Fort Necessity to the French in 1754!”
In our first glimpse of a more complex character, Edna takes pity on Bart and awards him an extra point through showing applied learning and letting him pass (even if he does end up staying in fourth grade for another two decades or so).
Although her long relationship history became something of a running gag in the later seasons, Edna Krabappel’s finest hour may well have been the 1992 Emmy award-winning “Bart the Lover.” What starts out as another mean-spirited Bart prank by answering a personals ad posing as Gordie Howe, ends up being one of the most touching of all of The Simpsons episodes with an emotionally poignant farewell for the ages:
“Dearest Edna, I must leave you. Why, I cannot say. Where, you cannot know. How I will get there, I haven’t decided yet. But one thing I can tell you, any time I hear the wind blow it will whisper the name Edna. And so let us part with a love that will echo through the ages. —Woodrow”
Unrequited love may be the stuff of classical comedy, but a teacher that genuinely loved her students, and was in turn loved by them, was more heart-warming than early Simpsons fans may have expected.
In an animated universe that always famously eschewed continuity, the development of Edna Krabappel into a more complex character was a welcome change. Perhaps the biggest swing in her character arc was the on-and-off relationship with Principal Skinner, which really was perfectly cromulent in its own way at the beginning (“Mrs. Krabappel and Principal Skinner were in the closet making babies and I saw one of the babies and the baby looked at me!”). And in proof that fans had indeed grown a soft spot for Edna Krabappel, in The Ned-Liest Catch, viewers voted for a happy ending after all, to keep “Nedna” intact.
According to show runner Al Jean, Edna Krabappel is “irreplaceable” (as of this writing she had appeared in 178 episodes) and will be retired as a character later this season similar to the loss of Phil Hartman and his characters, Troy McClure and Lionel Hutz in 1998. Worth noting, is that while rumors from the 25th Season have involved a major Simpsons character being killed off, Mrs. Krabappel was not the character in question despite previously being the Vegas favorite (because people will literally gamble on absolutely anything). Mrs. Krabappel’s last appearance before the character is retired is scheduled to air later in Season 25.
Purple monkey dishwasher.
*fun obscure Simpsons trivia: Marcia Wallace also voiced Ms. Mellon, the gifted school teacher in the same episode; her only other character.