Tuesday, 26 May 2015

The Late Great Anne Meara

Ben Stiller and Anne Meara
Anne Meara, who formed one half of the comedy team of  Stiller and Meara with her husband Jerry Stiller, and appeared as an actress in television, on film, and on stage, died May 23 2025 at the age of 85. She was the mother of writer Amy Stiller and actor Ben Stiller.

Anne Meara was born in Brooklyn on September 20 1929. She grew up in Rockville Centre on Long Island. Her mother committed suicide when Miss Meara was only eleven years old. She studied for a year at the  Dramatic Workshop at The New School in Manhattan before beginning her acting career in summer stock in 1948.

It was in 1953 that Anne Meara met Jerry Stiller. The two married not long after, but it would be some time before they would begin working together as a comedy team. In 1954 Anne Meara made her television debut on the short lived soap opera The Greatest Gift in 1954. That same year she appeared on an episode of The Philco Television Playhouse. Later in the Fifties she guest starred on the show The DuPont Show of the Month and a television production of Ninotchka. Anne Meara also appeared on Broadway in the Fifties. She made her debut on Broadway in a revival of A Month in the Country in 1956. She also appeared in The Good Woman of Setzuan and Miss Lonelyhearts.

While Anne Meara had not considered comedy, her husband Jerry Stiller persuaded her to become one half of a comedy team with him. She consented because work was hard to find at the time. The two of them joined The Compass Players, the legendary comedy troupe which over the years had boasted  Theodore J. Flicker, Nichols and May, and others as members. Eventually they left The Compass Players to strike out on their own as the comedy team of Stiller and Meara. Among their best known comedy routines was an entire series involving the relationship between Hershey Horowitz, a short Jewish man, and Mary Elizabeth Doyle, a tall Catholic woman, who met and fell in love. By 1961 Stiller and Meara were playing nightclubs in New York City. By 1962 they were one of the biggest comedy teams around.

Stiller and Meara appeared on most of the major variety shows and talk shows of the Sixties. Stiller and Meara made their debut as a comedy team on an edition of The Merv Griffin Show in 1962. Throughout the Sixties they appeared on such variety shows and talk shows as The Ed Sullivan Show, The Danny Kaye Show, Today, The Mike Douglas Show, The Skitch Henderson Show, and The Tonight Show. Stiller and Meara provided voices for episodes of the classic Saturday morning cartoon Linus the Lion Hearted. They guest starred on the TV show That's Life and appeared in the film. Anne Meara appeared without Ben Stiller on The Summer Brothers Smothers Show and The Engelbert Humperdinck Show, and the film The Out of Towners (1970).

In the Seventies Stiller and Meara appeared on such variety and talk shows as The Kraft Music Hall, Flip, The Tonight Show, The Carol Burnett Show, The Mike Douglas Show, and Tony Orlando and Dawn. They appeared on the game show Hollywood Squares. Stiller & Meara guest starred on the shows Love, American Style; The Courtship of Eddie's Father; The Paul Lynde ShowTime Express; and The Love Boat. They had recurring roles on Rhoda. They appeared in the film Nasty Habits (1977). Without Jerry Stiller, Anne Meara played the lead on the crime drama Kate McShane and was a regular on the TV shows The Corner Bar and Archie Bunker's Place. Without Jerry Stiller, Anne Meara guest starred on the shows Medical Centre and Temperatures Rising. Anne Meara appeared on her own in the films Irish Whiskey Rebellion (1972) The Boys from Brazil (1978), and Fame (1980).

In the Eighties Stiller and Meara appeared in the unsold pilot The Stiller and Meara Show. They guest starred on the shows The Love Boat, Breakaway, Saturday Night Live, and Monsters. Without her husband Anne Meara appeared in a regular role on Alf. She appeared in the films The Longshot (1986), The Perils of P.K. (1986), My Little Girl (1986), That's Adequate (1989),  and Awakenings (1990). She appeared on Broadway in Eastern Standard.

In the Nineties Stiller and Meara appeared in the films Highway to Hell (1991), Reality Bites (1994), Heavy Weights (1995), A Fish in the Bathtub (1999), The Independent (2000), and Chump Change (2000). They appeared on Late Night with Conan O'Brien. Anne Meara guest starred several times on her husband Jerry Stiller's TV show King of Queens. Without her husband she guest starred on Murder, She Wrote; In the Heat of the Night; Good Advice; Murphy Brown; Homicide: Life on the Street; and All My Children. She appeared on her own in the films Through an Open Window (1992), The Search for One-eye Jimmy (1994), Kiss of Death (1995), The Daytrippers (1996), Southie (1998), The Thin Pink Line (1998), Judy Berlin (1999), The Diary of the Hurdy-Gurdy Man (1999), and Brooklyn Thrill Killers (1999). She appeared on Broadway in Anna Christie.

In the Naughts Stiller and Meara appeared on the game show Hollywood Squares, on the show Sex and the City, and in the film Zoolander (2001), which starred their son Ben Stiller. From the Naugths through the Teens, without her husband,  Anne Meara appeared in the films Get Well Soon (2001), Like Mike (2002), The Yard Sale (2002), Crooked Lines (2003), Night at the Museum (2006), When the Evening Comes (2009), The Queen of Greenwich Village (2009), and Simpler Times (2014). She guest starred on such shows as Oz; Good Morning, Miami; Charlie Lawrence; Four Kings; Gravity; and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

Anne Meara was an incredibly talented actress. Stiller and Meara were considered one of the hottest comedy teams of the early Sixties, and with good reason. They were very, very funny. Their routines centred around the universal theme of male and female relationships, and the differences and similarities between the two sexes. Even without Jerry Stiller, Anne Meara could be very funny, as shown by her roles in various comedy TV shows and films over the years. At the same time, however, Anne Meara was also very talented when it came to playing drama. She was a woman who could guest star on both Murphy Brown  Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and do both well. Both as part of Stiller and Meara and as a actress on her own, then, Anne Meara will be remembered.

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