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July 05, 1991 - Image 73

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1991-07-05

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Stiller and Meara continue a
professional and personal
association that spans
37 years.


Special to The Jewish News


e's Jewish; she's not.
But together, the
former Hershey Horo-
witz and Mary Elizabeth
Doyle (better known as the
comedy team of Jerry Stiller
and Anne Meara) formed a
professional and private life
that has lasted for 37 years.
However, as the couple ex-
plained from their Manhat-
tan home during an inter-
view, they decided to ter-
minate their on-stage part-
nership some 15 years ago so
that their children, Ben and
Amy, who had traveled the
country with them, could set-
tle down in one place and en-
joy a happier and more stable
home life.
"We didn't want the kids to
be on the road all the time,
studying with a tutor," Ms.
Meara says. "We wanted to
stay in one place and be with
But before that decision was
made, Stiller and Meara had
been riding the wacky and
wonderful wave of success for
more than a decade. After
working in improvisational
theater in St. Louis in 1959,
the couple decided to strike
out on their own.
"It was unusual to see a
husband and wife comedy
team in those days," Mr.
Stiller says. "But we knew we
had to give it a try. We were
so different, both in terms of
style and physical ap-
pearance, that we knew we
would be cast and sent away

to different places and
separated as a couple. So one
day we decided to try and put
our talents together and work
as a team."'
They started their act by
taking suggestions from the
audience and working them
into mini-scenes.
"People would call up dif-
ferent ideas, like telling us to
pretend we were in a mosque,
riding a camel and you run
into your father. My im-
mediate thoought was the
fact that here I was, a Jew
froth the Bronx, so what was
I doing in a mosque to begin
with? In that particular
scene, Anne would become
the hostess who met me at
the door. It was so much fun
to do that we eventually
decided to give ourselves sug-
gestions and create our own
act from those."
"Jerry is the one who came
up with the ideas," Ms. Meara
says. "We were, doing boy-girl
sketches and Jerry said, 'Why
don't we just use our own
background and exaggerate
it?' "
Their routines became a
hit. Ed Sullivan, who became
their mentor, booked them
regularly on his hit TV show.
They also began appearing
all over the country and in
But then came the time to
quit the road and . go their
separate ways — professional-
ly that is.
Mr. Stiller went on to do


Hurlyburly and a whole host

of other Broadway and off-
Broadway plays. He also did
films, including Pelham One,
Two, Three and Hairspray.
Ms. Meara became a
regular on TV sitcoms and
had roles in movies such as

Fame, The Boys from Brazil
and Lovers and Other

The couple also got involv-
ed in writing, producing and
acting in, commercials for
such notable clients as the J.
Walter Thompson advertising
agency, United Van Lines,
Blue Nun Wine and more.
And just recently, they join-
ed their considerable acting
talents to appear in a seg-
ment of the PBS American
Playhouse special, "The
Detective," the second tale in
a stand-alone trilogy of
"Sunset Gang" -stories.
"The story centered on an
elaborate hunt for disappear-
ing groceries," says Mr.
Stiller, "but I think more im-
portantly, it addressed the
topic of retirement. The man

in the story is a former school-
teacher, so the play revolved
around what it's like to
change from being active and
highly thought of in the com-
munity and academic world,
to a life where all people talk
about is their medical condi-
tion, their obsession with be-
ing thin, their visits and their
shopping. It was a great part
and really wonderful to be

They started their
act by taking
suggestions from
the audience and
working them into

working with Anne again in
a film."
Although the people in
"The Detective" have retired,
Stiller and Meara have no
such thoughts. In fact, now
that their children are grown
and on their own, they are
taking the first step toward

working the clubs together
"Maybe," says Mr. Stiller
"We never know for sure
what's next for us. We never
plan anything. Three or four
years ago we wrote a televi-
sion series, but the pilot
didn't make it. We still think
we're right for a TV situation
if that were to come along. Or
we could create one. Who
knows? It's not as if we need
all of these things to be hap-
py. They'd be nice, but we
already are happy. Together."
"We invested in each other,"
Ms. Meara says, "and that's
more important to us than
anything else."
As to why their marriage
has survived so long in a
business not noted for its
long-term unions, Ms. Meara
says, "Somewhere along the
line I learned to listen a lit-
tle better?'
"And," adds her husband,
"she still makes me believe
I'm Marcello Mastroianni.
But then, I'm willing to
believe almost anything." ❑



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