Anne Meara, an actress and renowned comedian nominated for Emmys, Golden Globes and Tonys who started performing comedy with The Second City’s parent troupe, The Compass Players, and enjoyed a six-decade run as comedy and life partner with Jerry Stiller as Stiller and Meara, has died. Meara was 85.
Meara was born in Brooklyn on Sept. 20, 1929, and raised Irish Catholic on Long Island. By 18, she was studying acting at The New School in Manhattan. In 1953, she met Stiller in an agent’s office. A year later, they were married.
She started off dramatically as an actress, doing early Shakespeare in the Park productions, and making her Broadway debut in 1956. By the end of the 1950s, they had moved to the Midwest and joined the improvisational troupe, The Compass Players.
As opposed to Nichols and May — the other famous duo from The Compass Players — Stiller and Meara’s act derived much of its comedy from their real-life marriage and the dynamic of short Jewish husband and taller Irish Catholic wife (although by the time they’d become famous, she had converted to Judaism). They enjoyed multiple appearances on TV throughout the 1960s on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Tonight Show and other variety programs that could find room for a few minutes with Stiller and Meara. Their first bit for Sullivan took a newsy approach to the Biblical tale of “Jonah and the Whale.”
A running bit found the couple playing up their heritages even more for laughs, as “the uber-Jewish guy and the uber-Catholic girl,” Hershey Horowitz and Mary Elizabeth Doyle. This is an album recording of them imagined as “The Last Two People on Earth.”
Here they are as the mystery guests on the classic game show, What’s My Line?, in 1968.
Outside of the duo, Meara would go on to perform in five Broadway shows, earning a Tony nomination in 1992 for playing “Marthy Owen” in Anna Christie. She received four Emmy nominations — beginning in 1976 for starring in the short-lived CBS sitcom, Kate McShane, twice more later for supporting on Archie’s Bunker Place, and once in the 1990s for guest-starring in Homicide: Life on the Street. She also received a Golden Globe nomination for her supporting role on Rhoda.
Meara’s more regular TV appearances spanned decades, including not just Rhoda and Archie Bunker’s Place, but also ALF, All My Children, Sex and the City, The King of Queens. On film, Meara performed smaller roles in Fame and The Boys from Brazil. She also won a Writers Guild Award for co-writing the 1983 TV movie, The Other Woman.
Viewers also enjoyed seeing Meara fall in and out of love on TV in Love, American Style and The Love Boat.
But she always came back to Stiller. Or never left. Jerry Stiller’s own memoir, published in 2001, was titled “Married to Laughter: A Love Story Featuring Anne Meara.”
Earlier this decade, her son’s company, Red Hour Digital, brought Stiller and Meara into webseries and social media.
And both of Meara’s children, Ben and Amy Stiller, returned the favor by joining the family business of show business, writing, acting and making funny shows.
“Anne’s memory lives on in the hearts of daughter Amy, son Ben, her grandchildren, her extended family and friends, and the millions she entertained as an actress, writer and comedienne,” the family said in a statement following Meara’s death on Saturday.
From 2011’s “Theater Talk” on WNET-Thirteen: