You may know Jerry Stiller best as George Costanza’s wacky dad on “Seinfeld” or as the real-life dad of actor Ben Stiller, but the legendary comedian was making strides in show business long before his role on “the show about nothing.”
The elder Stiller first rose to fame performing on variety shows in the 1960s and 1970s. He didn’t go it alone, though. Along with his wife, Anne Meara, they formed a comedic duo called “Stiller & Meara,” portraying an oddball married couple, Hershey Horowitz and Mary Elizabeth Doyle, based on their own real-life marriage. (Meara was of Irish Catholic descent, and Stiller is Jewish. Meara converted to Judaism six years after they were married.)
The couple appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” an impressive 36 times. You can get a sense of their chemistry in the clip below.
In real life, Stiller and Meara—both originally from Brooklyn—first met outside a theatrical agent’s office in New York City in 1953. They went out for coffee, and according to Meara, it was practically love at first sight.
“I really knew this was the man I would marry,” Meara told People in 2000. “I knew he would never leave me.”
After the variety show era came to a close, Stiller and Meara went on to have successful solo careers. Meara was nominated for an Emmy for her recurring role on “Rhoda” and for a Tony for her role in the play “Anna Christie.”
Stiller became a regular on hit sitcoms, including “Seinfeld” and “King of Queens.” The couple were able to star opposite each other again throughout the years on shows and movies including “Archie Bunker’s Place,” “King of Queens” and “Heavyweights.”
They passed on their penchant for comedy to their two children, Ben and Amy.
Ben has written, directed, and acted in comedy classics like “Zoolander” and “Reality Bites,” while Amy is an accomplished actress and comedian in her own right, with roles in films including “The Cable Guy” and alongside her brother in “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.”
“It wasn’t the typical family setup,” Ben said of their childhood. “We got to stay up late and go to TV studios. It was like this fun fantasyland. But we had no idea how hard they worked.”
Stiller and Meara were married for 61 years until Meara’s death in 2015.
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Stiller credits their lasting professional and romantic partnership with an intense bond the two shared. “I miss her,” he said after his wife’s death. “There were no walls between us in any way. We both knew what the other was thinking even when we weren’t listening.”
[h/t Woman’s Day]