anne meara by the Forward

Anne Meara, Ben Stiller’s Chutzpahdic Mom, Dies at 85

Image by Karen Leon

Anne Meara, acerbic, no khokmes (no BS) comedian wife of Jerry Stiller and mother of actor Ben Stiller who died at 85 on May 23, 2015, has, over the decades, been a frequent visitor in this column.

When Anne and Jerry were honored with the Alan King American Jewish Humor Award at the November 25, 2002 National Foundation for Jewish Culture Gala, the roster of guests included Judy Gold, Robert Klein, Eli Wallach, Alan King and award presenter Anne Jackson who said to Meara: “You were strong enough to convert. I did not convert, but I have a strong affection for your people.”

Among Anne’s appearances in this column was the iconic December 6, 2007 Overseers and Board of Governors dinner held at the Center for Jewish History. Often dubbed as the modern incarnation of the century’s early “Abie’s Irish Rose” across-the-religious aisle couple, Anne and Jerry were always good for a belly laugh sparing neither themselves nor the audience.

Standing at the mic in the Center’s atrium, Jerry began: ‘My father was a Litvak, my mother a Galitz — one Sunni, the other Shi’ite.“ Before the audience’s laughter subsided, from the audience O’Meara bellowed: “Jerry! I can’t see you! Can you stand up straight?” Jerry meekly obliged.

“Have any of you ever been heckled?” Jerry asked the crowd. “Anne and I were in a small club doing our [Jewish] Heshey and [Irish] Mary Elizabeth Doyle skit when a guy next to me began taunting me ‘Jew! Jew! Jew! ‘I ignored him.” From the audience Anne called out “You should have said to him; ‘Where!? Where!? Where!?”

Looking out at Anne — as if asking for approval — Jerry continued: “Here’s a sampling of this [modern] ‘Abie’s Irish Rose’ couple’s first meeting: Heshy: ‘We go to the Catskills.’ Mary Elizabeth replied ‘So do we!’ Heshy: ‘We go to Hymie’s kochalayn [literally cook-yourself bungalows]”. I was watching Meara mouth the lines as Jerry spoke. “Mary Elizabeth said: ‘We go to Hennesy’s Haven near the Shamrock Chalet’.”

During my post-dinner chat with Meara about how often she and Jerry had been in this column, Meara gave me a rib-crushing hug and joshed “‘don’t f—k around with me!’” I responded with Litvak umbrage: “I never use language like that!” With her hand on my shoulder Meara said “Well, I do!’”

Then, in what can best be described as one-upsmanship vis-à-vis her familiarity with Yiddish theater, she looked me straight in the eyes and, with a smile and an invisible wagging finger informed: “I want you to know, I knew them all [the Yiddish actors]. You name them—Luba Kadison …all of them!”


Anne Meara, Ben Stiller’s Chutzpahdic Mom, Dies at 85

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Anne Meara, Ben Stiller’s Chutzpahdic Mom, Dies at 85

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