It is nearly impossible to talk about Anne Meara or Jerry Stiller without thinking of the other.
The comedy duo have shared a long, illustrious life as the team of “Stiller & Meara.” Yet, each has a shirtsleeve long list of accomplishments in their own right — on and off Broadway, television and movies.
Stiller and Meara will be in Sedona for the Sedona International Film Festival. Meara is announcing the movie “Another Harvest Moon” in which she stars as Ella with Ernest Borgnine, Piper Laurie, Doris Roberts, Richard Schiff and Cybill Shepherd. The movie is a drama about four elderly Americans coping with life in a nursing home. They offer each other support with bickering and strong opinions, mixed with a dose of humor.
“We were like kids doing this movie. There aren’t many parts when you’re over 70,” Meara said. At 80 Meara never plans to stop working.
“When I was young I loved everything about show business. We called it theater. I loved that it’s not a nine-to-five job.”
Stiller will appear in the documentary film about the Great Depression “When the World Breaks” along with many personalities who recall what life was like living during the times of bread lines and rationing after the stock market crashed in 1929.
Meara writes and has a couple of plays. One is “After-Play” and the other is “Down the Garden Path,” which is not published yet. She and Stiller starred in “After-Play” at several theaters. Meara received the Outer Critic’s Circle John Gassner Award for Playwriting. She also co-wrote with Lila Garrett “The Other Woman,” a CBS Movie of the Week. It won a Writer’s Guild Award.
The first acting Meara did was an apprenticeship in summer stock on Long Island.
“I got to play the lead in ‘The Voice of the Turtle.’ I did three plays that year. If you did that you got to join the union. Then I could consider myself a real actor; I had an actor’s card,” Meara said.
Meara continues to act on and off Broadway, and today adds television and films to her credits, including appearances with Stiller and with her son, Ben Stiller.
“It was nepotism,” she said and laughed.
Ben Stiller is the youngest of Stiller and Meara’s two children. He enjoys a thriving acting career. Their daughter, Amy, is also a successful actor and writer.
“She and Ben are very gifted. I also have a daughter-in-law, Christine, who’s
beautiful inside and out, and two fantastic grandchildren, Ella and Quinn,” Meara said.
It wasn’t until Meara met Stiller and married that they started working on a comedy act. When they appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” their career really took off.
“Then we could make the rent,” Meara said. A smile was almost audible over the telephone.
Stiller said his appearance in “When the World Breaks” is poignant because he remembers the time well. He was a child and the oldest of three children. His father was an unemployed cab driver in New York City.
“I remember the fights between my parents because there was no money coming in. My mom sent dad out to get work one day. He came back an hour later, dropped a quarter on the table and said, ‘Here, buy some milk,’ and he cried. I never forgot that,” Stiller said.
Stiller tells the rest of his story in the film, as does Mickey Rooney, Phyllis Diller, Buzz Aldrin and many others.
“It’s an incredibly beautiful film. It makes you think, ‘My God, did this really happen?’ This is ‘Grapes of Wrath’ in real terms,” Stiller said.
Before meeting Meara, Stiller bounced around the country looking for acting work. He acted half of the time and the other half did odd jobs — like selling hot dogs, Good Humor ice cream and mixing cement for an undertaker. It was about this time Stiller met Meara and asked her to go for coffee.
“We were married six months later. We did some improv, learned how to do shtick, and went off on our own,” he said.
Stiller is probably best known as a father in the television sitcoms “Seinfeld” [playing Frank Costanza] and “The King of Queens” [playing Arthur Spooner]. One led into the other, he said.
Stiller had the chance to be in the original and remake of the movie “Hairspray.” In 1988 he played Wilbur Turnblad. In the 2007 musical he played Mr. Pinky.
Stiller continues to perform in movies and television in addition to his one-man evening stage show.
“It’s nice standing up there,” Stiller said.
He likes to perform because he’s “desperate for applause” — not just clapping of hands, but the response Stiller gets for what he chose to do with his life, the joy and laughs he brings others.
“My life’s turned beautiful. I’ll keep working as long as I get parts,” Stiller said, echoing Meara’s statement. “Laughter is always the equalizer in my life. As long as I can perform I can live each day happy with myself.”
In February 2007, Stiller and Meara became one of only four married couples with their own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. They will appear together in Sedona at “A Conversation with Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara” at the Sedona Rouge Theatre, Thursday, Feb. 25, at 2:30 p.m.
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