The first time Stiller saw Meara, he ditched his appointment with his agent to help out the crying "angel-faced" young woman.
Jerry Stiller and his wife of 61 years, Anne Meara, were a team in more ways than one. First, they became a team as a married couple and then, they became a team as a comedy duo, who went on to gain national fame. Their story began in a very Hollywood-esque manner where they ran into each other one fine day when Stiller had to come to Meara's rescue in a way.
Stiller, who passed away on May 11, 2020, was born in Brooklyn in June 1927 to Jewish parents of Polish and Western Ukrainian heritage. He attended high school in Manhattan's Lower East Side and then served in the Army towards the end of World War II. He went on to attend Syracuse University on the G.I. Bill, a program to assist veterans. He graduated with a degree in speech and drama in 1950, before returning to New York City to find work in Hollywood, as per CountryLiving.
Meara, who died in 2015, was also born in Brooklyn but in September 1929, to Irish Catholics, attorney Edward Joseph Meara and his wife, Mary Dempsey Meara. She was raised in Great Neck, N.Y., and then Rockville Centre, where she graduated from St. Agnes High School. Wanting to become an actress in the drama genre, she studied with renowned teacher Uta Hagen, as per Los Angeles Times.
It was in the Big Apple that the duo met and fell in love. They met on a spring day in 1953 when Meara burst out of a theatrical agent's office upset and in tears. The agent had made her intensely uncomfortable chasing her around his desk trying to accost her. Stiller had been waiting outside the office for his appointment and saw her when she flew out of the office. He passed up on his appointment to invite the "angel-faced" woman for coffee instead, according to Daily Mail. She complained about how she hated the men of New York because they were lecherous, Stiller wrote in his 2000 autobiography Married to Laughter: A Love Story.
They had a brief courtship before tying the knot in 1954. "I really knew this was the man I would marry," Meara told PEOPLE in 2000. "I knew he would never leave me."
They kept their acting careers separate before joining forces and becoming one of the most famous variety acts on The Ed Sullivan Show as Stiller and Meara. "People would say to Anne, 'Heh, you're married to him?' I thought we could use it," Stiller said about developing their comedy routine, as per CountryLiving. "I didn’t even know for sure that she was funny," he admitted in 2000 to PEOPLE. But, funny she was, even though she didn't see herself a comic actress. "The last thing I wanted was to be a comedienne," Meara told the Los Angeles Times.
Their show was similar to their real-life because they based the characters on themselves - a Brooklyn Jew and an Irish Catholic girl from the Long Island suburb. Unlike the constantly sparring on-screen couple, they were deeply in love in real life. They went on to have a daughter in 1961 called Amy who is also an actor. The year Amy was born, Meara converted to Judaism. "I wanted my children to know who they were," she said, according to Country Living.
By 1966, they were financially stable and bought a home in the upper west side of Manhattan, where they continued to live until they died. Their second child, Ben Stiller, of Zoolander fame, was born to the same year.
"It wasn't the typical family setup," Ben would later recall. "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."
Eventually, they decided to break up their comedy act to protect their marriage. "I love Anne, but if I had depended on her in my professional life, I would have lost her as a wife," Jerry said. "I didn't know where the act ended and our marriage began," said Meara.
Both of them went on to gain accolades in their separate careers and eventually, Stiller got intense fame playing Frank Constanza on Seinfeld. However, unlike his on-screen character, he was "actually very soft-spoken," Meara said. "But maybe inside, there’s a Frank Costanza screaming to get out."
After she passed away in 2015, Stiller said, "I miss her. There were no walls between us in any way. We both knew what the other was thinking even when we weren't listening."
His son, Ben, confirmed on May 11, 2020, that Stiller had passed away at the age of 92 and acknowledged how good of a husband he had been to his mom. "I’m sad to say that my father, Jerry Stiller, passed away from natural causes. He was a great dad and grandfather, and the most dedicated husband to Anne for about 62 years. He will be greatly missed. Love you Dad."