Judy Gold: Anne Meara was a versatile and talented actress -- but as part of TV comedy duo with Jerry Stiller, Stiller and Meara, she killed
She says Meara was writer and sensitive performer on stage and screen; nominated for 4 Emmy's and a Tony -- and was an adoring mom
Cross Platform Link: Judy Gold is a stand-up comic, actress, writer and winner of two Emmy Awards. She is currently co-starring in Clinton The Musical off-Broadwayand is the host of the podcast Kill Me Now . Follow her on Twitter @JewdyGold. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
I wondered if Anne Meara joked about this with her son after he had his first big break: “Over 60 years in show business, and I can just see my obituary, ‘Mother of Ben Stiller dies!’ ”
Meara, who died Saturday in New York, was hilarious, classy, and so very gifted. The comedy team of (Jerry) Stiller and Meara was in my life practically as long as my own parents. I worshiped them.
Here was this gorgeous Irish redhead, taller than her Jewish husband performing hilarious skits – she was Mary Elizabeth Doyle and he was Hershey Horowitz in one of them – on talk and variety shows like Ed Sullivan or Johnny Carson or Mike Douglas.
They were fearless, angry and they killed. And without fail, every single time they would pop up on TV, my Jewish mother would wait until the perfect close-up of Anne to blurt out, “Converted!”
Anne Meara had indeed converted when she met and married Jerry Stiller in the early 1950s. She was a young actress then, and it would be some years before she teamed up with her husband for comedy. But much of her professional life’s work was about her acting chops.
In fact the first time I truly fell in love with Anne Meara was in the movie “Fame.” It was 1980, I was a senior in high school, and that movie – with a bunch of talented kids my age full of angst, uncertainty, hopes and dreams – affected me like no other. Anne’s performance spoke to me the most.
It was the scene when her character, Mrs. Sherwood, is visiting her dying husband. Her student Leroy Johnson comes to the hospital to beg her to pass him. Meara’s character, awash in heartache, grief and agony turns to him and says, “Don’t you kids ever think of anyone but yourselves?!” It broke my heart.
I met Anne for the first time when I was the warmup comic on a show in the late ‘80s that she was a guest on. I was in awe, and when I finally got her ear, I told her how much I loved her in “Fame” and how much I respected her acting. She deflected the praise and replied with compassion: “Oh, yes. That poor boy, he died of AIDS. … What a talent he was.”
A few years later I met her daughter Amy in Los Angeles, and we bonded on a ride home from The Comedy Store. Whenever I saw Anne or Jerry afterwards, and I would mention Amy, their adoration for their daughter poured out of them. They were a true pair and their love for each other and their family was palpable. They actually stopped working together as a team to save their marriage, and it obviously worked: They had 61 magnificent years together.
Anne was a trailblazer for women comics. She more than held her own when she was performing with Jerry. She wasn’t the ditzy girl who made the guy look funny. She was her own person – always ready with a biting retort.
But she had range. She was a Shakespearean actress with a thick Brooklyn accent. She acted on stage, in radio, TV and film. She was a writer and a playwright. She was nominated for four Emmy Awards and a Tony Award, and won a Writer’s Guild Award for the telepic “The Other Woman.” She taught young performers up until the end. And she loved to laugh.
There were so many facets to Anne Meara. Her contribution to the world of entertainment is unparalleled. She exuded class and she valued all that is truly important. She did it all, and then some.
Oh, and she also happened to be Ben Stiller’s mom.