|Meara plays a big part in husband Jerry|
Van Patten, who died on June 23 at age 86, is best remembered as the father on Eight is Enough, a comedy-drama that ran on ABC from 1977 to 1981. However, those four years were just a short chapter in a remarkably busy career in theater, television, and film that spanned more than seven decades.
Meara, who died on May 23 at age 85, rose to fame in the early 1960s as partner to her husband Jerry Stiller in the comedy team Stiller and Meara. However, she always considered herself an actress, not a comedienne. Meara made numerous appearances in both comedic and dramatic acting roles mainly on television but also on film and stage from the early 1950s onward.
In his breezy autobiography, Eighty is Not Enough: One Actor's Journey Through American Entertainment (2009), the upbeat Van Patten shares happy memories of being one of Broadway's top juvenile actors of the 1930s and 1940s. Billed as Dickie Van Patten and sporting a great shock of blond hair, Van Patten made his Broadway debut at age seven in a play called Tapestry in Grey. While still a boy Van Patten appeared the original productions of the classics On Borrowed Time by Paul Osborn and Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth. As a teenager Van Patten spent three years on Broadway and on tour with the legendary acting couple Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne in Terence Rattigan's O Mistress Mine and became one of the many young actors over the years, including Montgomery Clift, who the Lunts took under their wing.
|Dick Van Patten (r.) with Alfred Lunt and Lynn|
Fontanne, c. 1946.
In the late 1960s, after some post-Mama lean years during which he sold real estate in his native Queens when acting jobs were scarce, Van Patten relocated to Los Angeles. By now middle aged and balding, he quickly became an ubiquitous presence on the small screen, making appearances in everyman-style roles on almost any show one may think of from the period (I Dream of Jeannie, That Girl, Medical Center, Adam-12, The Doris Day Show, to name just a few) and some one may not be able to think of (Sierra, Thicker Than Water, Chopper One). He was a regular cast member on a revised version of the flailing New Dick Van Dyke Show in 1973-74.
|Van Patten (left) with cast of the legendary flop|
When Things Were Rotten, 1975.
|Van Patten with cast of Eight is Enough, c. 1979|
In Eighty is Not Enough Van Patten writes that he was almost replaced as Tom Bradford early in the show's development because the producers wanted a fresh face "and that wasn't me." ABC chief Fred Silverman stepped in on Van Patten's behalf, saying Van Patten was a naturally funny performer who would keep the show from going too far to the serious side.
|Van Patten with Jason Bateman on|
Arrested Development, 2005.
|Meara onstage with Stiller, c. 1969.|
"'How can you do a scene ten times in a row the same way while I do it differently each time?" Stiller quotes himself asking Meara in Married to Laughter.
|Meara in the 1950s. Her son Ben Stiller posted|
this photo on Instagram after she died.
Meara wed Stiller, another struggling young New York actor, in 1953. Stiller had a bent toward variety entertainment (his idol was Eddie Cantor) and worked with an improvisational comedy group. In 1959, when the other members of the group moved on, Meara stepped in. She had no experience with or genuine interest in this type of performing but she proved to excel at it. "Her love was theater, the stage," Stiller writes rather wistfully of Meara in Married to Laughter. "Somehow I'd schlepped this beautiful young acting wunderkind into by dream world, and she'd married me into the bargain. She was living my dream."
|Meara in her failed starring vehicle Kate McShane,|
with co-stars Charles Haid (left) and Sean McClory, 1975.
|Meara with Valerie Harper in Rhoda, c. 1976.|
Some obituaries listed as Meara's chief claim to fame being the mother of actor/director Ben Stiller. However, to anyone who watched television in the 1960s and 1970s, Ben Stiller is, more than anything else, the son of Stiller and Meara.
|Meara on Alf, c. 1987.|
|With Carroll O'Connor on Archie Bunker's Place, c. 1980.|
|Meara with famous son, Ben Stiller, c 2010.|
According to IMDb, Meara's last professional credit was the voice of the character Winnie in the animated Disney film Planes: Fire and Rescue in 2014. Her final episodic television credit was a guest shot on Law and Order Special Victims Unit in 2012. According to Broadway World.com her final theater credit was a stint in the rotating celebrity cast of Nora Ephron's Off-Broadway hit comedy Love, Loss, and What I Wore in 2009.
|Van Patten with sort of famous son, actor and |
tennis pro Vincent Van Patten, 2007
Both Van Patten and Meara gave lengthy filmed interviews to the Archive of American Television's Legends of TV series. In his interview, which was filmed in 2011, octogenarian Van Patten shows the same cheerful attitude he displays in his autobiography. To question after question he smilingly responds along the lines of "oh, it was wonderful" and "I had a great time." His happy countenance does momentarily turn quizzical when he draws a blank when asked (for some reason) to recall his appearance on the short-lived 1970s series Kolchak, the Night Stalker.
Meara's interview was filmed in 2005. Perhaps because she did not have the kind of acting career she really wanted or perhaps because it was husband Jerry and not her who got to be part of the cultural phenomenon Seinfeld or maybe because she was just having a bad day back in 2005, Meara is cranky in the interview. She takes the interviewer to task for mispronouncing the name of fellow ubiquitous character actor Martin Balsam. She still seems genuinely angry, many decades later, at Medical Center's pretty-boy star Chad Everett for not bothering to show up on the day she was scheduled to film her big dramatic scene with him, forcing her to act opposite a piece of tape stuck to a pole. She lightens up when recalling her work with the highly professional Laurence Olivier on the movie The Boys from Brazil. Olivier told Meara that he was a great admirer of her work. "He didn't know who the hell I was," Meara says to the interviewer. "But such a gent."