Anne Meara: Surprises Await
Tenn, in Conversation
Court of Two Sisters
You wonder about your life if you had turned a different corner, met a different set of friends, worked with a different director, attended the party that was suggested. I have been blessed by friendship--amatory, spiritual, talented, generous--but I continue to wonder what might have been: There must have been arteries I could have navigated, and one wonders what I might have found.
It was suggested to me that I see an off-Broadway production of Ulysses in Nighttown, and I went, and that must have been when I first became aware of Anne Meara. Now I have loved her as a comedic performer, but I watch her, brilliant as she can be, and I am recalling her clarity, her concentration, and her unwavering honesty as an actress. When you watch her--alone or with her husband--you need to recall that she is in character, she has crafted a character, and she is acting brilliantly.
She is one of those I feel got away from me. I told you that Slapstick Tragedy needed both the force of good dramatic actresses, along with the ebullience and sharpness of comediennes: I can see Miss Meara doing this, even now. There is a sharp, almost vaudevillian quality to the relationship between Tom and Amanda, and those exchanges between mother and son never had the comedy that was true in my life and should have been on the stage: Actresses tend to play Amanda as a damp sack of flour out of Faith Baldwin's barn. Amanda is a tough, funny, seductive woman, and her tragic outcome--suggested throughout and brought forth at the play's conclusion--is all the more shattering if we have seen her seducing, dancing her particular quadrille, carrying on right up until the lights are shuttered. I would like to see Miss Meara take on that part. Big Mama--what a Southern riot of words and rent manners that would be.
She had a TV series--I think she was a lawyer. [This was Kate McShane, which premiered in the fall of 1975.] She was terribly good. I recall a scene where she lost her temper and struck a refrigerator, and it popped out at me from the otherwise maudlin happenings on the set, which I had next to my typewriter, waiting for a character.
I laughed out loud when she called Harry Guardino a shit, in their bed, in something I can no longer recall. But I recall her, and her marvelous timing, and her mordant slant on things. [The film is Lovers and Other Strangers, from 1970.]
She's so focused and so pitch-perfect in Fame. I forget which friend I forced to sit with me during that one day--several times. I watched for her and for dear Tresa Hughes and for those sweet, sad children dancing in the streets. She has a way with anger--it's true, it's real. There is no acting. She gets to the point.
Carroll O'Connor, Anne Meara, and Lucille Patton in Ulysses in Nighttown, off-Broadway, in 1958.