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Actress, Comedian, Beloved Wife And Mother, Anne Meara, Passes Away

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CBS Television (e-bay item, public domain)
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Wikimedia Commons

LOS ANGELES/ NEW YORK — Anne Meara, the loopy, lovable comedian who launched a standup career with husband Jerry Stiller in the 1950s and found success as an actress in films, on TV and the stage, has died.

Jerry Stiller and son Ben Stiller say Meara died Saturday. No other details were provided. The Stiller family released a statement to The Associated Press on Sunday describing Jerry Stiller as Meara’s “husband and partner in life.”

“The two were married for 61 years and worked together almost as long,” the statement said.

Born in Brooklyn on Sept. 20, 1929, she was a red-haired, Irish-Catholic girl who struck a vivid contrast to Stiller, a Jewish guy from Manhattan's Lower East Side who was two years older and four inches shorter.

As Stiller and Meara, they appeared in comedy routines that joked about married life and their respective ethnic backgrounds. They logged 36 appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show and were a successful team in Las Vegas, major nightclubs, on records and in commercials (scoring big for Blue Nun wine with their sketches on radio).

They were beloved New Yorkers, well known to their Upper West Side neighbors. The marriage lasted, but the act was dissolved in the 1970s as Meara resumed the acting career she had originally sought. She appeared in such films as The Out-of-Towners, Fame, Awakenings, and, directed by her son, Reality Bites.

Meara was twice nominated for an Emmy Award for her supporting role on Archie Bunker's Place, along with two other Emmy nods, most recently in 1997 for her guest-starring role on Homicide. She won a Writers Guild Award for co-writing the 1983 TV movie The Other Woman.

Meara was an aspiring 23-year-old actress in 1953 when she responded to a “cattle call” by a New York agent casting for summer stock. After the agent chased her around his office, she burst into the waiting room, crying and out of breath, where she found Stiller, a fellow out-of-work actor then 25.

“I took her out for coffee,” Stiller recalled decades later for The Associated Press. “She seemed to sense I had no money, so she just ordered coffee. Then she took all the silverware. I picked up her check for 10 cents and thought, ‘This is a girl I’d like to hang out with.’”

Within a few months, they were wed.

But this was a mixed marriage — referring to their respective families, Meara said, “Nobody was thrilled when we got married, absolutely nobody.” But they accepted it, she added with perfect comic timing: “Nobody sat shiva.”

Despite her theater background, Meara, with her bright eyes and cheeky smile, was a quick study as a comedian when she and Stiller performed in improv groups. Her ability to adapt was all the more remarkable since, back then, “I was down on comedians. Growing up, I loved drama and fantasies. I hated the Marx Brothers. I took all that confusion seriously.”

The couple had an old-fashioned appeal not unlike that of Burns and Allen, but Stiller and Meara were thick into the 1950s Beat Generation, an edgy, innovative arts scene based in New York’s Greenwich Village, where they had an apartment.

Besides her husband and son, Meara is survived by her daughter, Amy, and several grandchildren. The family statement said: “Anne’s memory lives on in the hearts of daughter Amy, son Ben, her grandchildren, her extended family and friends, and the millions she entertained as an actress, writer and comedienne.”