If you look at Anne Meara’s IMDB page, you will see that unlike other elderly actors (especially actresses), there is no “gap” in her career. There are no “off” years. She had steady reliable gigs, a couple a year, many recurring roles in successful television shows, interspersed with movie roles and theatre, starting in the mid-1950s up until last year (her last credit listed was 2014). When she showed up in something, you remembered. Like all great character actresses and comedians, she could do anything. She often played harried busybody mothers, but she could twist that type to be amusing or monstrous, depending on the material. I think the first thing I saw her in was Fame when I was a kid. She made an impression. She played Mary, Samantha’s mother-in-law in Sex and the City. The two characters did not have a cozy relationship, a good relationship, and the final arc for Mary in the final season was a descent into dementia. Two scenes stand out: Mary has come to live with Samantha and her son. It is not going well, but Samantha realizes that this is her family now, Mary is ill, family has to take care of one another. And the scene I remember is Mary, naked in the bathtub, eyes closed, enjoying the sensation of Samantha washing her back. Extremely vulnerable work from Meara. And then there was one scene when Mary gets lost in the streets and Samantha finds her eating a piece of pizza out of a trash can. “It tastes like garbage,” Mary says, confused, almost irritated, she doesn’t understand why a nice piece of pizza tastes like garbage. It was heartbreaking.
Mary was a small character part in a juggernaut of a show, but Meara brought a stature to that arc, a scope, as well as a fearlessness that helped the series as a whole. She always did that. Whatever she was in, she helped elevate. She was always part of an ensemble, she always fit herself in to whatever story was being told, and she did so brilliantly.
Married for 60 years to Jerry Stiller. I love that picture of the two of them above. Mother to Ben Stiller. You can read more about her career in the New York Times obituary.
She always worked. It is my favorite kind of career.
Rest in peace.