Gerald Isaac Stiller (June 8, 1927 – May 11, 2020) was an American comedian, actor, and author. He spent many years as part of the comedy duo Stiller and Meara with his wife, Anne Meara, to whom he was married for over 60 years until her death in 2015. Stiller saw a late-career resurgence starting in 1993, playing George Costanza's father Frank on the sitcom Seinfeld, a part which earned him an Emmy nomination. The year Seinfeld went off the air, Stiller began his role as the eccentric Arthur Spooner on the CBS comedy series The King of Queens, another role which garnered him widespread acclaim.
Stiller in 2005
Gerald Isaac Stiller
June 8, 1927
|Died||May 11, 2020 (aged 92)|
|Alma mater||Syracuse University|
|Occupation||Actor, comedian, author|
(m. 1954; died 2015)
Stiller was the father of actor Ben Stiller, and the father and son appeared together in films such as Zoolander, Heavyweights, Hot Pursuit, The Heartbreak Kid, and Zoolander 2. He also performed voice-over work for television and films including The Lion King 1½ and Planes: Fire and Rescue. In his later career, Stiller became known for playing grumpy and eccentric characters who were nevertheless beloved.
The eldest of four children, Stiller was born at Unity Hospital in Brooklyn, New York, to Bella (née Citron; 1902–1954) and William Stiller (1896–1999), a taxi and bus driver. His family was Jewish. His paternal grandparents immigrated from Galicia (southeast Poland and western Ukraine), and his mother was born in Frampol, Poland. He lived in the Williamsburg and East New York neighborhoods before his family moved to the Lower East Side, where he attended Seward Park High School, where he played Adolf Hitler in a school production.
Upon his return from service in the U.S. Army during World War II, Stiller attended Syracuse University, earning a bachelor's degree in Speech and Drama in 1950. He also studied drama at HB Studio in Greenwich Village. In the 1953 Phoenix Theater production of Coriolanus (produced by John Houseman), Stiller, along with Gene Saks and Jack Klugman, formed (as told by Houseman in the 1980 memoir Front and Center) "the best trio of Shakespearian clowns that I have ever seen on any stage".
Also in 1953, Stiller met actress-comedienne Anne Meara, and they married in 1954. Until Stiller suggested it, Meara had never thought of doing comedy. "Jerry started us being a comedy team," she said. "He always thought I would be a great comedy partner." They joined the Chicago improvisational company The Compass Players (which later became The Second City) and, after leaving, began performing together. In 1961 they were performing in nightclubs in New York City and by the following year were considered a "national phenomenon", said the New York Times.
Stiller and MearaEdit
The comedy team Stiller and Meara, composed of Stiller and his wife, Anne Meara, was successful throughout the 1960s, with numerous appearances on television variety programs, primarily on The Ed Sullivan Show. In 1970, they broke up the live act before it broke up their marriage. They subsequently forged a career in radio commercials, notably the campaign for Blue Nun wine. They also starred in their own syndicated five-minute sketch comedy show on radio, Take Five with Stiller and Meara, from 1977 to 1978.
From 1979 to 1982, Stiller and Meara hosted HBO Sneak Previews, a half-hour show produced monthly on which they described the movies and programs to be featured in the coming month. They also did some comedy sketches between show discussions. The duo had their own 1986 TV sitcom, The Stiller and Meara Show, in which Stiller played the deputy mayor of New York City and Meara portrayed his wife, a TV commercial actress.
Late in his career, Stiller earned the part of the short-tempered Frank Costanza, father of George Costanza, on the sitcom Seinfeld, a role which Stiller played from 1993 until 1998. Stiller's character as initially envisioned was a "meek" and "Thurberesque" character that required him to wear a bald cap. After a couple of days of rehearsal Stiller realized the character wasn't working and asked Seinfeld co-creator Larry David if he could perform the character in a different way, which was more in line with his final characterization on the show. For his portrayal of Frank, Stiller gained widespread critical and popular acclaim, including being nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series in 1997 and winning an American Comedy Award for Funniest Male Guest Appearance in a TV Series in 1998.
The King of QueensEdit
After Seinfeld ended, Stiller had planned on retiring. However, Kevin James asked him to join the cast of The King of Queens. James, who played the leading role of Doug Heffernan, had told Stiller that he needed him to have a successful show. Stiller agreed and played the role of Arthur Spooner, the father of Carrie Heffernan, from 1998 until 2007. Stiller said that this role tested his acting ability more than any other had, and that, before being a part of The King of Queens, he only saw himself as a "decent actor."
Stiller played himself in filmed skits opening and closing Canadian rock band Rush's 30th Anniversary Tour concerts in 2004. These appearances are seen on the band's DVD R30: 30th Anniversary World Tour, released in 2005. Stiller later appeared in cameos for in-concert films for the band's 2007–08 Snakes & Arrows Tour. Stiller appeared on Dick Clark's $20,000 Pyramid show in the 1970s, and footage of the appearance was edited into an episode of The King of Queens to assist the storyline about his character being a contestant on the show, and, after losing, being bitter about the experience, as he never received his parting gift, a lifetime supply of Rice-a-Roni. He also made several appearances on the game show, Tattletales, with his wife, Anne Meara.
In the late 1990s, Stiller appeared in a series of Nike television commercials as the ghost of deceased Green Bay Packers head coach Vince Lombardi. He also appeared in various motion pictures, most notably Zoolander (2001) and Secret of the Andes (1999). On February 9, 2007, Stiller and Meara were honored with a joint star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. On October 28, 2010, the couple appeared on an episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Stiller voiced the announcer on the children's educational show Crashbox. Starting in October 2010, Stiller and Meara began starring in Stiller & Meara, a Yahoo web series from Red Hour Digital in which they discussed current topics. Each episode was about two minutes long. Stiller also worked as a spokesman for Xfinity.
Stiller wrote the foreword to the 2005 book Festivus: The Holiday for the Rest of Us (ISBN 0-446-69674-9) by Allen Salkin. The book discussed Festivus, the fictional holiday promulgated by Stiller's Seinfeld character Frank Costanza.
Stiller was married to Anne Meara for over 60 years, from 1954 until her death on May 23, 2015. The two met in an agent's office. Meara was upset about an interaction with the casting agent, so Stiller took her out for coffee—all he could afford—and they remained together ever since. Meara was Irish Catholic and converted to Judaism before the couple's two children were born. Their son is actor-comedian Ben Stiller (born 1965) and their daughter is actress Amy Stiller (born 1961). He has two grandchildren through Ben.
Stiller died from natural causes at his home on the Upper West Side of Manhattan on May 11, 2020, less than a month before his 93rd birthday. His death was announced by his son, Ben Stiller. Many actors Stiller worked with, including Seinfeld castmates Jerry Seinfeld, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jason Alexander, Michael Richards and King of Queens castmates Kevin James and Leah Remini, paid tributes to him on social media.
|1970||Lovers and Other Strangers||Jim||Uncredited|||
|1974||The Taking of Pelham One Two Three||Lt. Rico Patrone|||
|1976||The Ritz||Carmine Vespucci|||
|1977||Nasty Habits||P.R. Priest|||
|1980||Those Lips, Those Eyes||Mr. Shoemaker|||
|1986||Seize the Day||Dr. Tamkin|||
|1987||Hot Pursuit||Victor Honeywell|||
|1989||That's Adequate||Sid Lane|||
|1992||Highway to Hell||The Desk Cop|||
|1993||The Pickle||Phil Hirsch|||
|1997||Die Story von Monty Spinnerratz||Prof. Plumpingham|||
|The Deli||Petey Cheesecake|||
|1999||A Fish in the Bathtub||Sam Kaplan|||
|Secret of the Andes||Dr. Golfisch|||
|The Suburbans||Speedo Silverburg|||
|2000||The Independent||Monty Fineman|||
|My 5 Wives||Don Giovani|||
|Chump Change||The Colonel|||
|On the Line||Nathan|||
|2002||Serving Sara||Milton the Cop|||
|2004||Teacher's Pet||Pretty Boy||Voice|||
|The Lion King 1½||Uncle Max||Voice; Direct-to-DVD|||
|Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy||Man in Bar||Uncredited|||
|2005||R30: 30th Anniversary World Tour||Himself|||
|The Heartbreak Kid||Doc|||
|2008||Snakes & Arrows Live||Heidi|||
|2011||Swinging with the Finkels||Mr. Winters|||
|Excuse Me for Living||Morty|||
|2014||Planes: Fire & Rescue||Harvey||Voice|||
|2016||Zoolander 2||Maury Ballstein|||
|1956–1957||Studio One in Hollywood||Sergeant Joe Capriotti / Hugh||2 episodes|||
|1957||The Big Story||Tyler||Episode: "The Hoax"|
|1959||Armstrong Circle Theatre||Pfc. Elwood Johnson||Episode: "Thunder Over Berlin"|
|1962||The Defenders||Sergeant Wysenski||Episode: "The Empty Chute"|
|General Electric Theater||Harold||Episode: "Acres and Pains"|
|1964||Brenner||Chris Zelco||Episode: "The Plain Truth"|
|1964–1965||Linus the Lionhearted||3 episodes|||
|1969||That's Life||Himself||Episode: "Our First Fight"|
|1971–1972||The Courtship of Eddie's Father||Mr. Landon / Paul Sterling||2 episodes|||
|1971–1973||Love, American Style||Leonard Ferguson / Harry||2 episodes|||
|1972||The Carol Burnett Show||Himself||Episode: "#6.8"|
|1972–1973||The Paul Lynde Show||Barney Dickerson||4 episodes|||
|1975–1976||Joe and Sons||Gus Duzik||14 episodes|||
|1976||Phyllis||Burt Hillman||Episode: "Phyllis and the Jumper"|||
|Rhoda||Lloyd Zimmer||Episode: "A Touch of Classy"|||
|1979||Time Express||Edward Chernoff||Episode: "Garbage Man/Doctor's Wife"|
|1979–1983||The Love Boat||Harlan Weatherly
|1980–1982||Archie Bunker's Place||Carmine||2 episodes|||
|1981||Madame X||Burt Orland||Television film|
|Hart to Hart||Myron Finkle||Episode: "Murder Takes a Bow"|||
|Private Benjamin||Sgt. Muldoon||Episode: "So Long, Sergeant Ross"|
|1982||Simon & Simon||Harold Traxler||Episode: "The Uncivil Servant"|||
|Alice||Gordy||Episode: "Do You Take This Waitress"|||
|1983||Reading Rainbow||Dinosaur Comic||Episode: "Digging Up Dinosaurs"|||
|Amanda's||Sal||Episode: "You Were Meant for Me"|
|The Other Woman||Mel Binns||Television film|
|1984||Trapper John, M.D.||Artie Merrow||Episode: "Where There's a Will"|||
|1985||The Equalizer||Brahms||Episode: "Pilot"|
|Tales from the Darkside||Luther Mandrake||Episode: "The Devil's Advocate"|
|1986||Screen Two||Marty de Reske||Episode: "The McGuffin"|||
|1987||Saturday Night Live||Stu||Episode: "Charlton Heston/Wynton Marsalis"|
|1988–1989||Tattingers||Sid Wilbur||14 episodes|||
|1989||Murder, She Wrote||SFPD Lt. Birnbaum||Episode: "When The Fat Lady Sings"|||
|1990||Monsters||Victor||Episode: "One Wolf's Family"|||
|Sweet 15||Waterman||Television film|||
|1991||American Playhouse||Sam / Seymour Shapir||2 episodes|||
|Women & Men 2||Irving||Television film|
|1992–1996||Law & Order||Michael Tobis / Sam Pokras||2 episodes|||
|1993–1998||Seinfeld||Frank Costanza||26 episodes|||
|1993||L.A. Law||Nat Pincus||Episode: "Rhyme and Punishment"|||
|1994||In the Heat of the Night||Rabbi Feldman||Episode: "The Rabbi"|||
|1995||Homicide: Life on the Street||McGonnigal||Episode: "In Search of Crimes Past"|||
|1996||Deadly Games||Phil Cullen||Episode: "Dr. Kramer"|
|1997||Subway Stories||Old Man||Television film|||
|1998||Touched by an Angel||Maury Salt||Episode: "Cry and You Cry Alone"|||
|The Larry Sanders Show||Himself||Episode: "I Buried Sid"|||
|Hercules||Eagle||Voice; Episode: "Hercules and the Promethus Affair"|
|1998–2007||The King of Queens||Arthur Spooner||195 episodes|||
|2000–2002||Teacher's Pet||Pretty Boy||Voice; 11 episodes|||
|2003||Odd Job Jack||Jim McDonald||Episode: "A Candidacy of Dunces"|||
|Sex and the City||Mr. Brady||Episode: "One"|||
|2009||Wonder Pets!||Old White Mouse||Voice; 2 episodes|||
|Mercy||Joe Thalberg||Episode: "The Last Thing I Said Was"|||
|2010||Ice Dreams||Skipper||Television film|||
|2010–2011||Fish Hooks||Principal Stickler||Voice; 21 episodes|||
|2011||The Good Wife||Judge Felix Afterman||Episode: "Silver Bullet"|||
|2014||How Murray Saved Christmas||Murray Weiner||Voice; Television film|||
|2016||Zoolander: Super Model||Maury Ballstein||Voice; Television film (final film role)|
|1954||The Golden Apple||Alvin Theatre||Mayor Juniper|||
|1955||The Carefree Tree||Phoenix Theatre, Broadway||The Propertyman|||
|1956||Diary of a Scoundrel||Styopka|||
|The Good Woman of Setzuan||Policeman|||
|1957||Measure for Measure||Barnadine|||
|The Taming of the Shrew||Biondello|||
|1958||The Power and the Glory||Mestizo|||
|1975||The Ritz||Longacre Theatre, Broadway||Carmen Vespucci|||
|1977||The Unexpected Guest||Little Theatre, Broadway||Harry Mullin|||
|1980||Passione||Morosco Theatre, Broadway||Berto|||
|1984||Hurlyburly||Ethel Barrymore Theatre, Broadway||Artie|||
|1993||Three Men on a Horse||Lyceum Theatre, Broadway||Charlie|||
|1994||What's Wrong with This Picture?||Brooks Atkinson Theatre, Broadway||Sid|||
|1997||The Three Sisters||Criterion Center Stage Right, Broadway||Chebutykin|||
Awards and nominationsEdit
|1997||Primetime Emmy Awards||Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series||Seinfeld||Nominated|
|2001||Grammy Awards||Best Spoken Word Album||Married to Laughter: A Love Story||Nominated|
|2007||Screen Actors Guild Awards||Outstanding Cast in a Motion Picture||Hairspray||Nominated|
- Dennis Bjorklund (September 2017). Seinfeld Reference: The Complete Encyclopedia with Biographies, Character Profiles & Episode Summaries. Praetorian Publishing. pp. 36–. ISBN 978-0-9679852-4-4.
Best remembered for his five-year stint on "Seinfeld" in a recurring regular role, Jerry Stiller ... is a veteran actor with a long history of stage performances. His notoriety first came when he revamped the role of George's father, but he was best known for...
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- Jeffrey Ross (September 15, 2009). I Only Roast the Ones I Love: Busting Balls Without Burning Bridges. Gallery Books. pp. 163–. ISBN 978-1-4391-6420-4.
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