Married to Laughter: A Love Story Featuring Anne Meara

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Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara began performing together in coffeehouses in Greenwich Village in the 1960s, and then as frequent guests on The Ed Sullivan Show. They based their standup characters on exagerated versions of themselves, especially in their irrepressible commercials for Blue Nun wine. Offstage, they raised two children, Amy and Ben.

After years of memorable work on stage and in radio, television, and films, Jerry Stiller found himself wondering what had happened to ...

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Overview

Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara began performing together in coffeehouses in Greenwich Village in the 1960s, and then as frequent guests on The Ed Sullivan Show. They based their standup characters on exagerated versions of themselves, especially in their irrepressible commercials for Blue Nun wine. Offstage, they raised two children, Amy and Ben.

After years of memorable work on stage and in radio, television, and films, Jerry Stiller found himself wondering what had happened to his once-flourishing career. Then a call came from Seinfeld, a television show he'd never watched. On Seinfeld he created the unforgettable character of Frank Costanza, which won him an Emmy nomination and an American Comedy Award. Meanwhile, Anne Meara became an acclaimed Off-Broadway playwright.

Married to Laughter is a love story about two showbiz-minded people who fell in love, discovered that they were their own greatest roles, enjoyed thriving careers that diverged and converged many times, and who take complete satisfaction from their individual accomplishments while maintaining a dedicated marriage. With a wealth of anecdotes about other famous actors and comedians, this is a funny and tender narrative, told as only Jerry Stiller could.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Bookseller Reviews

Long before he first erupted as George Constanza's short-fused father Frank, Jerry Stiller was famous. Once part of the legendary improvisational group The Compass, Stiller performed for decades in coffeehouses, on radio, in television ads, on The Ed Sullivan Show (where he appeared more than 35 times), and in every major nightclub in the country. Fortunately for Stiller, he shared most of his suitcase show biz life with one special person, his wife and comedy partner Anne Meara. This memoir recaptures a varied and contented life. One might say, a festivus for the rest of us.

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Seinfeld fans who pick up this audio expecting inside dish on the show will be disappointed. This is not Stiller comedy, but the real stuff about his real life and his longtime love and comedy partner, Anne Meara, as well as a personal history of Stiller's long career, including details of nearly every production he performed in, from local community theaters to Broadway to film to Stiller and Meara's frequent spot on The Ed Sullivan Show. Stiller's familiar, gritty, New York voice is fun to listen to as he offers colorful anecdotes: co-starring with a mangy, flea-bitten dog in Two Gentleman of Verona (the dog ended up making headlines and appearing on TV talk shows); playing opposite Divine in the cult film Hairspray; and creating the abrasive, louder-than-life character of Frank Costanza (Stiller was originally directed to play the role in a subdued monotone, but when the scene didn't gel in rehearsal, Stiller asked if he could try something different and proceeded to scream his way through the scene, reducing everyone to hysterics). Frank Costanza notwithstanding, Stiller turns noticeably tender as he speaks of his 40-year relationship with his wife, the supportive letters of his late acting teacher and mentor and a poignant visit with his dying father. Simultaneous release with the Random House hardcover (Forecasts, July 24). (Sept.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Stiller's long career has brought laughter to two generations of Americans. Known most recently for his role as Frank Costanza in the long-running comedy Seinfeld, in the 1960s he and his wife, Anne Meara, were noted stand-up comedians who performed on the Ed Sullivan Show three dozen times. This memoir begins at the beginning: Stiller's childhood on the Lower East Side of Manhattan during the Depression. He vividly remembers seeing Eddie Cantor's vaudeville performances, which inspired him to become an actor. After army service in World War II, Stiller went to Syracuse University where he majored in theater. The young actor returned to New York City and met aspiring actress Meara. Though theirs was an unlikely match he was a Polish Jew from the city, she was an Irish Catholic from Long Island they not only fell in love but have stayed in love for more than 40 years. The author reads his own work, which will be popular in public library collections. Nann Blaine Hilyard, Lake Villa Dist. Lib., IL Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Michael Sauter
...the strength of this loosely organized memoir is the author's natural talent as a raconteur—whether he's relating how the stray dog he recruitedas his onstage foil in Two Gentlemen of Verona also became a fixture in the Stiller's bed, or recalling that same dog was one of his cross-country companions (along with two cats and a very pregnant Meara) when the brakes of his rickety Rambler failed on a high, steep hill.
Biography Magazine
Kirkus Reviews
More than a biography, this is an account of the whole gamut of emotions and experiences that populate and define a life.
From the Publisher
Tony Peyser Los Angeles Times Stiller's gifts as a storyteller are abundantly clear...Married to Laughter is a...reminder that behind every successful Hollywood story is a lot of rejection...and tough luck...He emerges as someone you'd love to have as a dinner guest. Jerry Stiller has earned his serenity now.

Donald Margulies Married to Laughter captures the sweet essence of Jerry Stiller — and, in its rough-hewn eloquence, demonstrates why he has been a beloved show business fixture for forty years.

Kirkus Reviews More than a biography, this is an account of the whole gamut of emotions and experiences that populate and define a life.

Carl Reiner A wonderfully honest and humorous autobiography: The moment I finished it, I called somebody who knew Stiller's number and told him how great a book he had written. Now I tell you!

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553527599
  • Publisher: Random House Audio Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/8/2000
  • Format: Other
  • Edition description: Abridged, 4 cassettes, 6 hrs.
  • Product dimensions: 4.44 (w) x 7.09 (h) x 1.24 (d)

Meet the Author

Jerry Stiller earned an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series and an American Comedy Award for his role as Frank Costanza on Seinfeld. He currently appears on The King of Queens on CBS and has graced the Broadway stage and the silver screen. He lives in New York City.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Anne

In 1953, I was in New York City looking for work. I was making rounds with Bea Mortensen, a tall, lovely, redheaded actress. I thought we'd be terrific doing an act together. That wasn't all I wanted to do with Bea. She sensed that my hanging out with her was not solely in hope of theatrical employment, but I never made an overt pass and did everything to disguise my biological feelings.

We'd walk down Broadway holding hands, she in two-inch heels and me in my Keds, sending out a message: "See, we're just two crazy show-business people." Bea's making rounds with me must have hinged on some bizarre expectation of hers that we'd actually strike it rich one day.

On this spring afternoon we arrived at a casting cattle call in an agent's office. The place was full of chattering hopefuls seeking employment in a summer-stock company. As we waited our turn, Bea recognized a friend of hers, a tall girl, though not quite Bea's height, with auburn hair and an angelic face. They got talking just as the receptionist announced that the agent would start seeing people. I was sandwiched between them. The conversation proceeded as if I weren't there.

"By the way, this is Jerry," Bea said.

"Hi," I said, extending my hand in a kind of manly way. The angel-faced girl shook it. She looked sort of puritanical and smelled nice. She was wearing Mary Chess perfume, I later learned.

"Anne Meara," the secretary called.

"That's me," the girl said. "I already know I'm too tall to play the ingenue and too young to be a character woman."

She's very self-demeaning, I thought.

"Okay, wish me luck," she said, disappearing into the inner office.

Bea looked at me soulfully and said, "That's a nice girl." I knew instantly that this was the kiss-off. "You'll like her," Bea said. "She's a very sweet girl." I felt like a baseball card being traded.

Before I could fully comprehend that Bea's and my relationship had ended, the agent's door flew open and Anne Meara, in tears, burst back into the room.

"What happened?" everyone asked.

"He chased me. He chased me all around the desk," she said. Her face was flushed. "I think I'm going back to Rockville Centre. My father told me New York was a tough place."

"Who's next?" the secretary said. "Who's Jerry Stiller?"

"I'm next," I said.

I'd seen this agent on many occasions, and he'd always paid me the courtesy of saying hello. His walls were full of pictures of stars he claimed he handled. He wore a houndstooth sports jacket and always seemed to be on vacation.

He was basically harmless, but he also loved to play practical jokes on me, Once he asked me to light his cigar. I hesitated, "Light it," he snapped. When I struck the match, it flared brightly. He went into hysterical laughter.

Today he asked, "What have you been up to these days?"

Suddenly, acting heroic, I asked, "Why did you chase that girl around the desk?"

"Because I liked her," he replied with great aplomb. "And I like you too. Now it's your turn." He started chasing me around the room, laughing uproariously as I ran for the door. "Nothing for you this time," he said, as I exited into the waiting room, where Anne was still recovering.

Bea indicated none too subtly that she herself had an appointment and suggested that perhaps I'd like to take Anne for a cup of coffee to help her recover her faculties. I looked at Bea sheepishly, still trying to fathom why I was being ditched.

"See you again sometime," Bea said.

I asked Anne if she would like a cup of coffee, and she said yes.

We walked to Longley's Cafeteria. I had barely enough money on me to pay for anything more than coffee and cake.

"I could bring him up on charges," Anne said as I maneuvered her past the hot-food counter and toward the coffee machine.

"Are you going to have coffee?" I asked.

"Yes."

"Nothing else?" I said prayerfully.

"Nothing else."

We sat down. I really didn't know why I was with her, except that it was the way the afternoon was unfolding.

"Have you ever been bothered like that before?" I asked.

"Once," she said. "A guy started following me down Broadway. He must've known I was an actress. I had a portfolio and was wearing makeup. When he got real close, he started saying dirty words, I started to limp, hoping it would turn him off. 'Keep it up, sweetheart,' he said. 'I love women with afflictions."

I laughed. She seemed so unshowbusinessy. She's probably untalented, I thought. She isn't trying to prove anything because there's nothing to prove.

"How long have you known Bea?" I asked.

"She was in love with an actor I worked with at Smithtown. How do you know her?" Anne asked.

"Oh, I was thinking of doing a comedy act, and she was very tall and I thought it would be kind of funny, the two of us."

"Are you a comedian?" she asked, as if she were talking about plumbing.

"Yes," I said, "I guess you can call it that."

"I hate comedians," she said. "They do such awful things."

"Like what?"

"Oh, I went out with one once. He played the Cops. He took me home and tried to attack me when I wouldn't kiss him good-night. He had terrible teeth. Then he started to cry. I felt sorry for him. He was a grown man."

"Well, I'm working on an act," I said. "I did it in college, up at Syracuse."

I felt like an athlete flexing his muscles. "Maybe you can come and see me sometime."

"Where?" she asked.

I admitted I wasn't performing anyplace just then.

"Well, I've got to go," she said.

"Let me take your check," I said like John D. Rockefeller.

"No," she said. "I only had coffee. I'll take care of it, but I could use some silverware."

"What?" I asked.

"Just grab a knife and a fork. I'll take some spoons. I live down in the Village with two roommates, and they lose silverware."

I quickly slipped a fork into my jacket pocket. I've just become her accomplice in crime, I told myself. What am I getting myself into, hanging out with New York actresses? They're all crazy, I'm a normal guy. Is this what I have to do to go to bed with someone? She's committing a crime. I wanted to escape, and yet I wanted to prove I wasn't afraid.

"Well, listen," I told her as we hit the street. "I hope we meet again sometime. Here's your fork."

"Thanks," she said, and she disappeared into the Sixth Avenue subway.

Copyright © 2000 by Jerry Stiller

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First Chapter

Chapter 1

Anne

In 1953, I was in New York City looking for work. I was making rounds with Bea Mortensen, a tall, lovely, redheaded actress. I thought we'd be terrific doing an act together. That wasn't all I wanted to do with Bea. She sensed that my hanging out with her was not solely in hope of theatrical employment, but I never made an overt pass and did everything to disguise my biological feelings.

We'd walk down Broadway holding hands, she in two-inch heels and me in my Keds, sending out a message: "See, we're just two crazy show-business people." Bea's making rounds with me must have hinged on some bizarre expectation of hers that we'd actually strike it rich one day.

On this spring afternoon we arrived at a casting cattle call in an agent's office. The place was full of chattering hopefuls seeking employment in a summer-stock company. As we waited our turn, Bea recognized a friend of hers, a tall girl, though not quite Bea's height, with auburn hair and an angelic face. They got talking just as the receptionist announced that the agent would start seeing people. I was sandwiched between them. The conversation proceeded as if I weren't there.

"By the way, this is Jerry," Bea said.

"Hi," I said, extending my hand in a kind of manly way. The angel-faced girl shook it. She looked sort of puritanical and smelled nice. She was wearing Mary Chess perfume, I later learned.

"Anne Meara," the secretary called.

"That's me," the girl said. "I already know I'm too tall to play the ingenue and too young to be a character woman."

She's very self-demeaning, I thought.

"Okay, wish me luck," she said, disappearing into the inner office.

Bea looked at me soulfully and said, "That's a nice girl." I knew instantly that this was the kiss-off. "You'll like her," Bea said. "She's a very sweet girl." I felt like a baseball card being traded.

Before I could fully comprehend that Bea's and my relationship had ended, the agent's door flew open and Anne Meara, in tears, burst back into the room.

"What happened?" everyone asked.

"He chased me. He chased me all around the desk," she said. Her face was flushed. "I think I'm going back to Rockville Centre. My father told me New York was a tough place."

"Who's next?" the secretary said. "Who's Jerry Stiller?"

"I'm next," I said.

I'd seen this agent on many occasions, and he'd always paid me the courtesy of saying hello. His walls were full of pictures of stars he claimed he handled. He wore a houndstooth sports jacket and always seemed to be on vacation.

He was basically harmless, but he also loved to play practical jokes on me, Once he asked me to light his cigar. I hesitated, "Light it," he snapped. When I struck the match, it flared brightly. He went into hysterical laughter.

Today he asked, "What have you been up to these days?"

Suddenly, acting heroic, I asked, "Why did you chase that girl around the desk?"

"Because I liked her," he replied with great aplomb. "And I like you too. Now it's your turn." He started chasing me around the room, laughing uproariously as I ran for the door. "Nothing for you this time," he said, as I exited into the waiting room, where Anne was still recovering.

Bea indicated none too subtly that she herself had an appointment and suggested that perhaps I'd like to take Anne for a cup of coffee to help her recover her faculties. I looked at Bea sheepishly, still trying to fathom why I was being ditched.

"See you again sometime," Bea said.

I asked Anne if she would like a cup of coffee, and she said yes.

We walked to Longley's Cafeteria. I had barely enough money on me to pay for anything more than coffee and cake.

"I could bring him up on charges," Anne said as I maneuvered her past the hot-food counter and toward the coffee machine.

"Are you going to have coffee?" I asked.

"Yes."

"Nothing else?" I said prayerfully.

"Nothing else."

We sat down. I really didn't know why I was with her, except that it was the way the afternoon was unfolding.

"Have you ever been bothered like that before?" I asked.

"Once," she said. "A guy started following me down Broadway. He must've known I was an actress. I had a portfolio and was wearing makeup. When he got real close, he started saying dirty words, I started to limp, hoping it would turn him off. 'Keep it up, sweetheart,' he said. 'I love women with afflictions."

I laughed. She seemed so unshowbusinessy. She's probably untalented, I thought. She isn't trying to prove anything because there's nothing to prove.

"How long have you known Bea?" I asked.

"She was in love with an actor I worked with at Smithtown. How do you know her?" Anne asked.

"Oh, I was thinking of doing a comedy act, and she was very tall and I thought it would be kind of funny, the two of us."

"Are you a comedian?" she asked, as if she were talking about plumbing.

"Yes," I said, "I guess you can call it that."

"I hate comedians," she said. "They do such awful things."

"Like what?"

"Oh, I went out with one once. He played the Cops. He took me home and tried to attack me when I wouldn't kiss him good-night. He had terrible teeth. Then he started to cry. I felt sorry for him. He was a grown man."

"Well, I'm working on an act," I said. "I did it in college, up at Syracuse."

I felt like an athlete flexing his muscles. "Maybe you can come and see me sometime."

"Where?" she asked.

I admitted I wasn't performing anyplace just then.

"Well, I've got to go," she said.

"Let me take your check," I said like John D. Rockefeller.

"No," she said. "I only had coffee. I'll take care of it, but I could use some silverware."

"What?" I asked.

"Just grab a knife and a fork. I'll take some spoons. I live down in the Village with two roommates, and they lose silverware."

I quickly slipped a fork into my jacket pocket. I've just become her accomplice in crime, I told myself. What am I getting myself into, hanging out with New York actresses? They're all crazy, I'm a normal guy. Is this what I have to do to go to bed with someone? She's committing a crime. I wanted to escape, and yet I wanted to prove I wasn't afraid.

"Well, listen," I told her as we hit the street. "I hope we meet again sometime. Here's your fork."

"Thanks," she said, and she disappeared into the Sixth Avenue subway.

Copyright © 2000 by Jerry Stiller

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2000

    A very funny love story

    I have always been a big fan of Stiller and Meara. Now to hear their young beginings as young, struggling actors trying to make their way in New York. From the early on, you read how Jerry Stiller adventures through the Depression, his stint in the Army, finding his true passion in life and a mentor at Syracuse University then finally balancing love with a girl that was outside of this religion. Jerry Stiller is truly an actor who can be loved by all generations. This book is 'Serenity Now'.

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