Comic actors Jerry Stiller, Fred Willard


Jerry Stiller.Thom Wade
Art by Thom Wade c 2020. Used by permission.
When I read that Jerry Stiller, died at 92 recently, I didn’t first think of the 1990s. I went right away to Stiller and Meara. They were on The Ed Sullivan Show over 30 times between 1963 and 1971. I probably saw most of them.

Their schtick was that Jerry Stiller’s character was Jewish and the late Anne Meara’s character was Irish Catholic. You can see them from June 14th, 1964. Except that their characters mirrored their real-life status, though Anne converted to Judaism. In fact, they broke up the act in the early 1970s because they couldn’t always tell where their act ended and their lives began.

Yet their example was a very light-hearted way to talk about breaking down ethnic barriers. In a Theater Talk interview around 2010, Part 1 and Part 2, Jerry mentioned their biggest controversy in those days. They did a joke their son marrying one of the Supremes, a bit that didn’t go over well in certain parts of the country. Jerry told Sullivan that the couple was taking a bit of flak over the joke. Sullivan said not to worry about it, that he’d take care of it.

A couple more bits: The Carol Burnett Show and an ad for the National Safety Council.

Of course, a younger generation knew him better as George Costanza’s dad Frank in 26 episodes of Seinfeld. The character famously created A FESTIVUS for the rest of US!. I never watched The King of Queens, but here is The Best of Arthur Spooner. Stiller’s character eventually was matched up with a character played by Anne Meara.

Jerry Stiller had over 100 other credits, in comedy, dramas, game shows, and talk shows. He was 92 when he died, the father of an up-and-coming actor named Ben Stiller.

He was the Best in Show

Fred Willard.Thom Wade
Art by Thom Wade c 2020. Used by permission.
Fred Willard has over 300 credits in the IMBD, from guest appearances going back to 1966, to his breakthrough as Jerry Hubbard on over 100 episodes of Fernwood Tonight/America 2-Night. He’s had recurring roles on Roseanne, Mad About You, Everybody Loves Raymond, and Modern Family, as Phil Dunphy’s dad, Frank.

I best know him from that series of Christopher Guest mockumentaries, Waiting for Guffman (1996), Best in Show (2000) and A Mighty Wind (2003). Here’s a clip from the latter.

The New York Times called him, “The king of the deadpan cameo, the guy who makes a one-shot appearance as an office manager or furniture salesman and ends up stealing the scene.” Hollywood Reporter called him the Master of Comic Cluelessness. Watch The New WKRP in Cincinnati: Nancy’s Old Man episode.

Here’s the Fred Willard Collection on Letterman, 1982-2007. I saw this bit years ago, and I’m still going to post it: The Worst Video Will. His proudest achievement and biggest regret. He was 86.

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