Anne Meara first found fame with her husband Jerry Stiller performing as the comedy duo Stiller and Meara in the 1960s. She went on to earn Emmy Award nominations for her work on the legal drama Kate McShane and the sitcom Archie Bunker’s Place in the 1970s and 1980s. Her later projects included her son Ben Stiller’s 1994 film Reality Bites and such TV series as Sex and the City and The King of Queens. Meara also wrote several plays, including After-Play, and received a Tony Award nomination for her work in a revival of Anna Christie in 1993.
Actress Anne Meara was born Anne Dempsey on September 20, 1929, in Brooklyn, New York. An only child in an Irish-American family, she was raised Roman Catholic on Long Island. Meara suffered a terrible loss at the age of 11 when her mother committed suicide. She later told the New York Post that her mother had suffered from depression after undergoing a hysterectomy.
After graduating from St. Agnes High School in Rockville Centre, New York, Meara wanted to be a dramatic actress. She studied her craft with famed instructor Uta Hagen. "I was a dedicated, boring student," she said, according to the Los Angeles Times. "The last thing I wanted was to be a comedienne." She started her professional career, working in summer stock productions.
Stiller and Meara
Anne Meara met Jerry Stiller in an agent’s office in New York City in 1953. The pair became a daring duo right after their first encounter. They went out for coffee together after leaving the agent's office and at the restaurant, Meara insisted that Stiller help her swipe some silverware. She told Stiller that she needed the utensils to furnish her apartment. According to his memoir, Married to Laughter, Stiller remembered Meara telling him, "Just grab a knife and a fork. I'll take some spoons. I live down in the Village with two roommates, and they lose the silverware."
Meara and Stiller married in 1954, and she soon converted to Judaism. They later welcomed two children, daughter Amy and son Ben. In 1961, Meara and her husband debuted their nightclub act. They mined their own relationship for their fictional couple, Elizabeth Doyle, a tall Irish Catholic, and Hershey Horowitz, her short, Jewish counterpart. This comedy duo frequently performed on TV, including numerous appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Tonight Show and The Merv Griffin Show. The pair also recorded many radio ads for Blue Nun wines in the 1970s.
Venturing out on her own, Meara continued to work steadily in television. She showed her dramatic skills playing a lawyer on Kate McShane in 1975. Meara received her first Emmy nomination for her work on the show, which only lasted for a season. She then had a recurring role on the sitcom Rhoda featuring Valerie Harper. Perhaps one of her best known parts from this era, however, was her portrayal of Veronica Rooney on Archie Bunker’s Place, a spin-off of the sitcom All in the Family. She played the cook in the bar owned by the title character and who was played by the legendary Carroll O’Connor. Meara picked up two Emmy Award nominations for her work on the series.
On the big screen, Meara had a supporting role in the 1978 thriller The Boys from Brazil with Gregory Peck and Laurence Olivier. She later won over movie audiences with Fame (1980) by playing the teacher Mrs. Sherwood in the film about a New York performing arts high school. In 1990, Meara appeared in the drama Awakenings with Robert De Niro and Robin Williams. She also had a chance to work with her son Ben Stiller in his 1994 dramatic comedy Reality Bites. On Broadway, Meara earned a Tony Award nomination for her work in a revival of Eugene O'Neill's Anna Christie in 1993.
Around this time, Meara also landed a recurring role on the daytime drama All My Children. She made a number of guest appearances on other TV series, including an episode of Homicide: Life on the Street for which she earned an Emmy nomination. Meara also reteamed with her husband Jerry Stiller on the sitcom The King of Queens for several episodes. Her turn as Mary Brady on Sex in the City was another memorable part of her later career.
In addition to acting, Meara branched into playwriting in the 1990s. She penned After-Play, a comedy that was staged off Broadway. In 2000, another play she wrote, Down the Garden Paths, had a run off Broadway as well.
Anne Meara died on May 23, 2015, at the age of 85. At the time of her death, she was survived by her husband, Jerry Stiller, daughter Amy, son Ben and two grandchildren.
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