The husband-and-wife comedy duo of Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara translated domestic bliss into professional success, mining the subject of marriage to create some of the warmest, most identifiable routines of improv's golden age. Born in New York City on June 8, 1927, Stiller majored in drama at Syracuse University, making his stage debut in 1951 opposite Burgess Meredith in The Silver Whistle before joining the improvisational comedy troupe the Compass Players, a precursor to the legendary Second City. Fellow N.Y.C. native Meara was born September 20, 1929, beginning her career in summer stock and in 1954 joining the cast of the short-lived NBC soap opera The Greatest Gift. The couple married that same year after meeting at an audition, but divergent career paths delayed their professional collaboration until 1959, when they toured in the comedic revue "The Happy Medium." Following the birth of daughter Amy, Stiller and Meara began playing the Greenwich Village club circuit as a duo, in 1962 taking over for Vaughn Meader as headliner of the famed nightspot Phase II. That same year they guested on The Ed Sullivan Show. Sullivan was such a big fan that he welcomed back the couple every two months, and in all they made some three dozen appearances on the program.
Stiller and Meara's comedy drew extensively on their opposites-attract relationship. Four inches taller than her husband, Meara also hailed from an Irish Catholic upbringing, and her marriage to the Jewish Stiller caused her family much consternation. (She later converted to Judaism as well.) Though inspired by their friends Mike Nichols and Elaine May, Stiller and Meara quickly developed their own distinctive style, eschewing the caustic wit of their counterparts in favor of a surprisingly poignant approach that made affectionate fun of their contrasting backgrounds. Their "Hershey Horowitz/Mary Elizabeth Doyle" sketches best exemplify their dynamic, casting Stiller as the endlessly puzzled mensch and Meara as the vivacious Irish woman who loves him anyway. In 1963 they signed to Verve to cut their debut LP, Presenting America's New Comedy Sensation: Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara Live at the Hungry I, and as the decade wore on, the couple emerged as a fixture of the talk-show couch, regularly appearing on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, The Merv Griffin Show, and The Mike Douglas Show. In 1972, Stiller and Meara co-starred as husband and wife on the short-lived sitcom The Paul Lynde Show. They also headlined an episode of Love, American Style.
After releasing the 1972 Atlantic album Laugh When You Like, Stiller and Meara spent much of the decade to follow pursuing separate careers. While the former co-starred in the big-screen hit The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, the latter headlined the CBS legal drama Kate McShane, winning an Emmy nomination. Meara later co-starred on the CBS sitcom Archie Bunker's Place, but she and Stiller nevertheless remained inseparable in the public consciousness thanks to their joint appearances on game shows like Tattletales and anthologies including The Love Boat. After networks rejected their 1986 sitcom pilot The Stiller and Meara Show, the couple returned to small character roles and guest appearances, and in 1994 Meara made a cameo appearance in Reality Bites, the directorial debut of their son, actor/comedian Ben Stiller. But in the mid-'90s Jerry Stiller experienced a career renaissance when he was cast as the blustery Frank Costanza on the landmark NBC sitcom Seinfeld. As the father of co-star Jason Alexander's character George, he appeared on several of the series' most memorable episodes, most notably as the creator of the fictional holiday Festivus. After Seinfeld concluded its run in 1998, Stiller was cast in the long-running CBS sitcom The King of Queens, and in 2001 published his memoirs Married to Laughter: A Love Story Featuring Anne Meara. ~ Jason Ankeny