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In Memoriam: Jerry Stiller, Actor and Comedian, 92

Stage Directions • Theatre Buzz • May 11, 2020

Jerry Stiller, a classically trained actor who went on to become a comedian with his wife, Anne Meara, has died of natural causes at 92. His son, Ben Stiller announced the elder Stiller’s passing in a Tweet: “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.”

Early in his career in theater, Stiller worked as a prop master. In this video from Proptologist Jay Duckworth, Stiller and Meara made a video for Jay on the importance of props and prop masters, in their own way:

After serving in the Army after World War II, he studied theater at Syracuse University under the G.I. Bill. Stiller earned a drama degree at Syracuse University after serving in the Army during and after World War II. He began working in summer stock almost immediately after graduating in 1950 and then headed to New York City to launch his career; he would be appearing Off-Broadway a few years later.

In 1953, Off-Broadway’s Phoenix Theatre presented a production of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, produced by John Houseman. The production was made memorable by three young comics making their Off-Broadway debuts as three Volscian servants. They were Jack Klugman, Gene Saks, and Jerry Stiller. In Houseman’s 1980 memoir, Front and Center, he stated that the three actors were, “the best trio of Shakespearean clowns that I have ever seen on any stage”.

Also in 1953, Stiller met Anne Meara while they were both struggling actors. After they married, they worked with the Compass Players, an improvisational theater group that later evolved into the Second City. They began performing as a duo in New York nightclubs in 1961 and took off from there.

Stiller’s appeared in a number of theatrical productions as an actor. He appeared on Broadway in Terrence McNally’s The Ritz in 1975 and David Rabe’s Hurlyburly in 1984. Off Broadway, he was in The Threepenny Opera; and in Central Park, he played Shakespearean clowns for Joe Papp.

 

 

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