Anne Meara

Active - 1968 - 2015  |   Born - Sep 20, 1929 in Brooklyn, New York, United States  |   Died - May 23, 2015   |   Genres - Comedy, Drama

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Biography by Hal Erickson

Anne Meara started out and ended up a distinguished dramatic actress--and in between, scored high marks as a comedienne, playwright and screenwriter. Launching her career in summer stock in 1950, Meara won an Obie Award for her intensely dramatic performance in the 1955 off-Broadway production Maedchen in Uniform; during this period, she was also a semi-regular on the NBC TV daytime soaper The Greatest Gift. Auditioning for an opera in 1954, she met another struggling actor, Jerry Stiller; they were married the following year. Forming the comedy team of Stiller & Meara, The team skyrocketed to stardom via their many appearances on such 1960s variety series as The Ed Sullivan Show and The Steve Allen Show. One of their richest sources of material was the difference in their ethnic backgrounds, especially in their famous "Hershey Horowitz/Mary Elizabeth Doyle" routines (an Irish Catholic, Meara converted to Judaism upon her marriage to Stiller). They also appeared together on Broadway, in the supporting cast of the 1971 sitcom The Paul Lynde Show, and in an obscure 1975 syndicated TV comedy "filler" series Take Five With Stiller and Meara. On her own, Meara has provided comic and noncomic support to several films, including Lovers and Other Strangers (1970), The Out-of-Towners (1970) and Fame (1980). She starred in the 1975 TV lawyer series Kate McShane, and co-starred as tavern owner Mae on The Corner Bar (1973), divorced airline stewardess Sally Gallagher on the 1976-77 season of Rhoda, acid-tongued cook Veronica Rooney on Archie Bunker's Place (1979-83), and mother-in-law Dorothy Halligan on Alf (1987). In 1983, Meara won the Writers Guild "outstanding achievement" award for her script for the made-for-TV feature Another Woman, and ten years later was nominated for a Tony Award for her portrayal of Marthy in the Broadway revival of Eugene O'Neill's Anna Christie. Anne Meara is the mother of comic actor Ben Stiller and worked with her son in his directorial feature debut, Reality Bites (1994), Zoolander (2001) and Night at the Museum (2006). She recurred on Sex and the City, playing Miranda's mother-in-law, Mary, and later reprised the role in the feature film. Meara died in 2015, at age 85.

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  • Shared a house in Flatbush with her father and her father's sister after her mother's suicide in 1940.
  • Studied acting under Uta Hagan and at the New School's Dramatic Workshop before beginning her career in summer stock in 1948.
  • Met comedy partner and husband Jerry Stiller in 1953, after both were turned down by the same theatrical agent. They got married 2 months after meeting and stayed married for 61 years.
  • Born Catholic but converted to Judaism after the birth of her daughter Amy.
  • Jerry Stiller had to convince her to move away from dramatic acting in favor of comedy. Their duo Stiller & Meara developed while at Chicago's The Compass Players, a cabaret that preceded The Second City improv troupe.
  • Much of the humor in Stiller & Meara's act came from the difference in their ethnic backgrounds and heights (Meara was taller).
  • Performed with Jerry Stiller on The Ed Sullivan Show 36 times, even though Ed Sullivan terrified her.
  • Appeared in cameos in many of son Ben Stiller's films.
  • After developing stage fright later in life, she became a playwright and garnered positive reviews for her Off-Broadway plays After-Play and Down The Garden Paths.