IN REMEMBRANCE: 5-24-2015

ANNE MEARA, COMEDIAN AND ACTRESS

Anne Meara in her West Side apartment in 1995. Credit Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

Her death was confirmed by her husband and longtime comedy partner, Jerry Stiller, and her son, the actor and director Ben Stiller. They did not provide the cause.

Ms. Meara was an experienced but relatively unknown stage actress when she joined forces with Jerry Stiller, as members of the Compass Players, an improvisational theater troupe that evolved into Second City (where another male-female team, Mike Nichols and Elaine May, had gotten their start), and later on their own as Stiller and Meara. The duo began performing in New York nightclubs in 1961 and within a year had become a national phenomenon.

But even during the heyday of Stiller and Meara, Ms. Meara also pursued a separate career as an actress. She had already amassed an impressive list of stage credits before beginning her comedy career, including an Obie Award-winning performance in “Mädchen in Uniform” in 1955 and roles in several Shakespeare in the Park productions. (She was a witch in “Macbeth” in 1957.)

Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara on the set of “The King of Queens” in 2003. 

Credit Stefano Paltera/Associated Press

She later appeared both on and off Broadway, in films, and especially on television, where she was seen on a wide range of series, from “Rhoda” and “Archie Bunker’s Place” on CBS to “Sex and the City” and “Oz” on HBO.

A tall redhead with a brassy voice and a self-confident demeanor, Ms. Meara was a natural for comedy but frequently played dramatic parts as well. “Comedy, drama, it’s the same deal,” she said in an interview for the Archive of American Television in 2008. “You don’t really act differently; you just make adjustments.”

Anne Meara was born in Brooklyn on Sept. 20, 1929, and raised in Rockville Centre on Long Island. An only child, she was the daughter of Edward Meara, a lawyer, and the former Mary Dempsey, who committed suicide when her daughter was 11. After studying for a year at the Dramatic Workshop at the New School in Manhattan, Anne began her career in summer stock in 1948.

She met Mr. Stiller in 1953 and married him soon after, but it would be some time before they began working as a team. The idea, they both agreed, was his; she did not think of herself as a comedian, but because work was scarce she reluctantly agreed.

“Jerry started us being a comedy team,” she said in 2008. “He always thought I would be a great comedy partner. At that time in my life, I disdained comedians.”

In the 1960s Stiller and Meara were regular guests on the variety and talk shows of Ed Sullivan and many others, and performed in nightclubs all over the country. In the 1970s their voices were heard on radio commercials for Blue Nun wine and other products.

Ms. Meara and Mr. Stiller’s relationship was the basis for their best-known comedy routines, which told the continuing story of Hershey Horowitz and Mary Elizabeth Doyle, a short Jewish man and a tall Catholic woman who had virtually nothing in common except their love for each other.

On their first date, arranged by a computer, Hershey and Mary Elizabeth were surprised to learn that they lived on the same block but knew none of the same people. (There was one significant difference between the real-life couple and the comedy version: Ms. Meara, though born and raised Roman Catholic, converted to Judaism in 1961.)

By the end of the decade, Mr. Stiller and Ms. Meara were both concentrating on their individual careers, but they continued to perform together from time to time. She made several guest appearances on the sitcom “The King of Queens,” on which Mr. Stiller (who had also memorably played Frank Costanza on “Seinfeld”) was a regular; her character married his in the series finale in 2007.

In 2010 they began appearing in a series of web videos produced by their son in which they sat on a couch and talked, to the camera and occasionally to each other, about a variety of topics.

In 1975 Ms. Meara starred in “Kate McShane,” an hourlong drama about a lawyer that, despite generally good reviews, was canceled after two months. “They never really made her a full-blooded woman,” she said of her character in 2008. “She had no love life; she was really a nun.”

That was her only starring role on television, but she kept busy in a range of supporting roles on the small screen well into the 21st century. In addition to her prodigious prime-time work, she appeared occasionally on the soap opera “All My Children” in the 1990s. During her career, she was nominated for four Emmy Awards and won a Writers Guild Award as a co-writer for “The Other Woman,” a 1983 TV movie.

She had memorable character parts in movies as well, including a teacher in “Fame” (1980) and a personnel manager in “Reality Bites” (1994), Ben Stiller’s feature-film directorial debut. Onstage, she was in the original Off Broadway production of John Guare’s dark comedy “The House of Blue Leaves” in 1971 — her son had a small role in the 1986 Broadway revival and the lead role in a second revival, in 2011 — and she was nominated for a Tony for “Anna Christie” in 1993.

In addition to her husband and her son, Ms. Meara is survived by a daughter, the actress and comedian Amy Stiller, and two grandchildren.

Ms. Meara branched out into writing in 1995, when her comedy “After-Play” was presented Off Broadway. Her “Down the Garden Paths” had a brief Off Broadway run in 2000, with a cast headed by Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson.

“After-Play” has been produced by a number of regional theaters, sometimes with both Ms. Meara and Mr. Stiller in the cast. But neither of them was in the original cast, and she did not conceive it as a Stiller and Meara vehicle.

“I wanted to do something on my own,” she told The New York Times in 1995. “It’s the same way he feels good about doing ‘Seinfeld.’ The irony is, I feel we’re closer personally than when we were out going to nightclubs.”

SOURCE

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JOHN NASH, ‘A BEAUTIFUL MIND’ SUBJECT AND NOBEL WINNER

John F. Nash Jr. receiving an honorary doctorate in Hong Kong in 2011. Credit Aaron Tam/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Dr. Nash and his wife, Alicia, 82, were in a taxi on the New Jersey Turnpike in Monroe Township around 4:30 p.m. when the driver lost control while trying to pass another car and hit a guard rail and another vehicle, said Sgt. Gregory Williams of the New Jersey State Police.

The couple were ejected from the cab and pronounced dead at the scene. The State Police said it was likely that they were not wearing seat belts. The taxi driver and the driver of the other car were treated for non-life threatening injuries. No criminal charges have been filed.

The Nashes were returning from Norway, where Dr. Nash and Louis Nirenberg, a mathematician from New York University, had received the Abel Prize from The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters.

John F. Nash Jr. at his graduation from Princeton in 1950. Credit Courtesy of Martha Nash Legg

Dr. Nash was widely regarded as one of the great mathematicians of the 20th century, known for the originality of his thinking and for his fearlessness in wrestling down problems so difficult few others dared tackle them. A one-sentence letter written in support of his application to Princeton’s doctoral program in math said simply, “This man is a genius.”

“John’s remarkable achievements inspired generations of mathematicians, economists and scientists,’’ the president of Princeton, Christopher L. Eisgruber, said on Sunday, “and the story of his life with Alicia moved millions of readers and moviegoers who marveled at their courage in the face of daunting challenges.”

Russell Crowe, who portrayed Dr. Nash in “A Beautiful Mind,” tweeted that he was “stunned,” by his death. “An amazing partnership,” he wrote. “Beautiful minds, beautiful hearts.”

Dr. Nash’s theory of noncooperative games, published in 1950 and known as Nash equilibrium, provided a conceptually simple but powerful mathematical tool for analyzing a wide range of competitive situations, from corporate rivalries to legislative decision making. Dr. Nash’s approach is now pervasive in economics and throughout the social sciences and is applied routinely in other fields, like evolutionary biology.

Harold W. Kuhn, an emeritus professor of mathematics at Princeton and a longtime friend and colleague of Dr. Nash’s who died in 2014, said, “I think honestly that there have been really not that many great ideas in the 20th century in economics and maybe, among the top 10, his equilibrium would be among them.” A University of Chicago economist, Roger Myerson, went further, comparing the impact of Nash equilibrium on economics “to that of the discovery of the DNA double helix in the biological sciences.”

Dr. Nash also made contributions to pure mathematics that many mathematicians view as more significant than his Nobel-winning work on game theory, including solving an intractable problem in differential geometry derived from the work of the 19th century mathematician G.F.B. Riemann.

“Jane Austen wrote six novels,’’ said Barry Mazur, a professor of mathematics at Harvard who was a freshman at M.I.T. when Dr. Nash taught there. “I think Nash’s pure mathematical contributions are on that level. Very, very few papers he wrote on different subjects, but the ones that had impact had incredible impact.”

Yet to a wider audience, Dr. Nash was probably best known for his life story, a tale of dazzling achievement, devastating loss and almost miraculous redemption. The narrative of Dr. Nash’s brilliant rise, the lost years when his world dissolved in schizophrenia, his return to rationality and the awarding of the Nobel, retold in a biography by Sylvia Nasar and in the Oscar-winning film, starring Mr. Crowe and Jennifer Connelly as John and Alicia Nash, captured the public mind and became a symbol of the destructive force of mental illness and the stigma that often hounds those who suffer from it.

John Forbes Nash was born on June 13, 1928, in Bluefield, W. Va. His father, John Sr., was an electrical engineer. His mother, Margaret, was a schoolteacher.

As a child, John Nash may have been a prodigy but he was not a sterling student, Ms. Nasar noted in a 1994 article in The New York Times. “He read constantly. He played chess. He whistled entire Bach melodies,” she wrote.

Russell Crowe as John F. Nash Jr. in the 2001 film “A Beautiful Mind.” Credit Eli Reed/Universal Studios

In high school, he stumbled across E.T. Bell’s book, “Men of Mathematics,” and soon demonstrated his own mathematical skill by independently proving a classic Fermat theorem, an accomplishment he recalled in an autobiographical essay written for the Nobel committee.

Intending to become an engineer like his father, he entered Carnegie Mellon (then called Carnegie Institute of Technology). But he chafed at the regimented courses, and encouraged by professors who recognized his mathematical genius, he switched to mathematics.

Receiving his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Carnegie, he arrived at Princeton in 1948, a time of great expectations, when American children still dreamed of growing up to be physicists like Einstein or mathematicians like the brilliant, Hungarian-born polymath John von Neumann, both of whom attended the afternoon teas at Fine Hall, the home of the math department.

John Nash, tall and good-looking, quickly became known for his intellectual arrogance, his odd habits — he paced the halls, walked off in the middle of conversations, whistled incessantly — and his fierce ambition, his colleagues have recalled.

He invented a game, known as Nash, that became an obsession in the Fine Hall common room. (The same game, invented independently in Denmark, was later sold by Parker Brothers as Hex.) He also took on a problem left unsolved by Dr. von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern, the pioneers of game theory, in their now classic book, “Theory of Games and Economic Behavior.”

Dr. von Neumann and Dr. Morgenstern, an economist at Princeton, addressed only so-called zero-sum games, in which one player’s gain is another’s loss. But most real world interactions are more complicated, where players’ interests are not directly opposed, and there are opportunities for mutual gain. Dr. Nash’s solution, contained in a 27-page doctoral thesis he wrote when he was 21, provided a way of analyzing how each player could maximize his benefits, assuming that the other players would also act to maximize their self-interest.

This deceptively simple extension of game theory paved the way for economic theory to be applied to a wide variety of other situations besides the marketplace.

“It was a very natural discovery,” Dr. Kuhn said. “A variety of people would have come to the same results at the same time, but John did it and he did it on his own.”

After receiving his doctorate at Princeton, Dr. Nash served as a consultant for the RAND Corporation and as an instructor at M.I.T. and still had a penchant for attacking problems that no one else could solve. On a dare, he developed an entirely original approach to a longstanding problem in differential geometry, showing that abstract geometric spaces called Riemannian manifolds could be squished into arbitrarily small pieces of Euclidean space.

As his career flourished and his reputation grew, however, Dr. Nash’s personal life became increasingly complex. A turbulent romance with a nurse in Boston, Eleanor Stier, resulted in the birth of a son, John David Stier, in 1953. Dr. Nash also had a series of relationships with men, and while at RAND in the summer of 1954, he was arrested in a men’s bathroom for indecent exposure, according to Ms. Nasar’s biography. And doubts about his accomplishments gnawed at him: two of mathematics’ highest honors, the Putnam Competition and the Fields medal, had eluded him.

In 1957, after two years of on-and-off courtship, he married Alicia Larde, an M.I.T. physics major from an aristocratic Central American family and one of only 16 women in the class of 1955.

“He was very, very good looking, very intelligent,” Mrs. Nash told Ms. Nasar. “It was a little bit of a hero worship thing.”

But early in 1959, with Alicia pregnant with their son, John, Dr. Nash began to unravel. His brilliance turned malignant, leading him into a landscape of paranoia and delusion, and in April, he was hospitalized at McLean Hospital, outside Boston, sharing the psychiatric ward with, among others, the poet Robert Lowell.

It was the first step of a steep decline. There were more hospitalizations. He underwent electroshock therapy and fled for a while to Europe, sending cryptic postcards to colleagues and family members. For many years he roamed the Princeton campus, a lonely figure scribbling unintelligible formulas on the same blackboards in Fine Hall where he had once demonstrated startling mathematical feats.

Though game theory was gaining in prominence, and his work cited ever more frequently and taught widely in economics courses around the world, Dr. Nash had vanished from the professional world.

“He hadn’t published a scientific paper since 1958,” Ms. Nasar wrote in the 1994 Times article. “He hadn’t held an academic post since 1959. Many people had heard, incorrectly, that he had had a lobotomy. Others, mainly those outside of Princeton, simply assumed that he was dead.”

Indeed, Dr. Myerson recalled in a telephone interview that one scholar who wrote to Dr. Nash in the 1980s to ask permission to reprint an article received the letter back with one sentence scrawled across it: “You may use my article as if I were dead.”

Still, Dr. Nash was fortunate in having family members, colleagues and friends, in Princeton and elsewhere, who protected him, got him work, and in general helped him survive. Alicia Nash divorced him in 1963, but continued to stand by him, taking him into her house to live in 1970. (The couple married a second time in 2001.)

Mrs. Nash supported her ex-husband and her son by working as a computer programmer, with some financial help from family, friends and colleagues

By the early 1990s, when the Nobel committee began investigating the possibility of awarding Dr. Nash its memorial prize in economics, his illness had quieted. He later said that he simply decided that he was going to return to rationality. “I emerged from irrational thinking, ultimately, without medicine other than the natural hormonal changes of aging,” he wrote in an email to Dr. Kuhn in 1996.

Colleagues, including Dr. Kuhn, helped persuade the Nobel committee that Dr. Nash was well enough to accept the prize — he shared it with two economists, John C. Harsanyi of the University of California at Berkeley, and Reinhard Selten of the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms University in Bonn, Germany — and they defended him when some questioned giving the prize to a man who had suffered from a serious mental disorder.

The Nobel, the publicity that attended it, and the making of the film were “a watershed in his life,” Dr. Kuhn said of Dr. Nash. “It changed him from a homeless unknown person who was wandering around Princeton to a celebrity, and financially, it put him on a much better basis.”

Dr. Nash is survived by two sons, John David Stier and John Charles Martin Nash, and a sister, Martha Nash Legg.

Dr. Nash continued to work, traveling and speaking at conferences and attempting, among other things, to formulate a new theory of cooperative games. Friends described him as charming and diffident, a bit socially awkward, a little quiet, with scant trace of the arrogance of his youth.

“You don’t find many mathematicians approaching things this way now, bare-handedly attacking a problem,” the way Dr. Nash did, said Dr. Mazur.

Correction: May 24, 2015
An earlier version of this obituary misstated the title of a book by E.T. Bell. It is “Men of Mathematics,” not “Men and Mathematics.” It also misstated the poet with whom Dr. Nash spent time in the psychiatric ward at McLean Hospital. It was Robert Lowell, not Ezra Pound.

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