We just got news of the sad passing of Jerry Stiller (1927-2020). He now joins his wife and comedy partner Anne Meara (1929-2015), who passed away 5 years ago.
Stiller and Meara were part of the first generation of Second City alumni to make it big in show business, and in the 60s and 70s, this real life “Abie’s Irish Rose” couple (he was Jewish and small, she was Irish and large) were ubiquitous on variety, talk and game shows, like The Ed Sullivan Show and Hollywood Squares. Both were from Brooklyn, and their shtick consisted essentially of bickering, a form in which they could improvise endlessly for hours.
The famous team usually worked together but they also took roles apart from one another. People of my age will remember Meara from her affecting role as the English teacher in Fame (1980), and from recurring parts on Rhoda, Archie Bunker’s Place, Alf, and Sex and the City. She was also in a short film made by my friend Derek Davidson! Stiller of course played George Costanza’s father on Seinfeld, and was in movies like the original The Taking of Pelham 1,2,3 (1974). I also once saw him perform live — as Dogberry in the Public’s production of Much Ado About Nothing!
The pair also briefly had their own sit com in 1986 (The Stiller and Meara Show) and appeared as regulars as a team on The King of Queens. They also produced two majorly talented children, in order of their birth: Amy Stiller (whom I appeared on a comedy bill with once at Caroline’s comedy club) and the most famous member of the family Ben Stiller (who got a mention in my second book).
I found two awesome clips this morning. The first is of recent vintage and has Stiller and Meara talking about how they cooked up an act for the Ed Sullivan Show, unavoidably slipping into their personae (which seem to be identical to themselves) as they do so:
This second clip, from What’s My Line shows them in their hey day. Here, we also hear a little bit about how they get started (in an interview at the end) as well as an anecdote about their baby son “Benjy”. And it’s amazing how like “Benjy” his dad looked 40 years ago …but I guess it’s the other way around.