I interviewed Jerry Stiller for the Jewish Scene radio program (along with Joan Micklin Silver and her husband, Ray Silver), after the debut opening night showing at the Cleveland International Film Festival in 1999 of the Silvers’ film, “The Fish in the Bathtub.” The film was not memorable, but Stiller’s welcoming my interruption of his post-show dinner was.
He was cheerful, warm, positive, talkative and not at all rushed. He answered all my questions, even though I was speechless when he asked how I liked the movie. He even shared with me, without my asking, that his wife, Anne Meara, who co-starred with him in this not-so-funny comedy about a bickering older couple, chose to convert to Judaism without any prompting from him.
After all, I had appreciated the turn of the 20th century Jewish flavors of two of the Silvers’ earlier films, “Hester Street” and “Crossing Delancey,” especially the fact that they were among the first movies to be directed by a woman, Joan, who also wrote “Hester Street.” And I was proud that they had lived in Cleveland for 10 years, contributing to the theater world here before moving to Manhattan. Of course, Ray Silver was a son of Virginia and Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver and wholeheartedly supported his wife, Joan, in her creative endeavors.
However entertaining Stiller and Meara were the many times I saw them on the “Ed Sullivan Show,” this, their first movie together, was a flop. But Jerry Stiller was never a flop. He will always be a star in my memory.
Fern R. Levy