Mary-Ann Tirone Smith Remembers Jerry Stiller & Cameroon


With the passing of the most wonderful actor and comedian, Jerry Stiller, I’m reminded of a day back in 1994. I’m hustling down Broadway to get to the West Side Barnes & Noble, where I am one of three contributors to Going Up Country: Travel Essays by Peace Corps Writers to read that night at the bookstore. I looked up and spotted Jerry Stiller coming toward me and as a great fan, I immediately stopped and asked him for his autograph. I was already late, but so what.

Jerry was happy to do it, but neither of us had any paper available. So I held out my copy of Going Up Country and told him about the signing. He was full of congratulations. He said that he’d wished he’d joined the Peace Corps and then signed the front endpaper, ‘To Mary Ann. Good thoughts. Love, Jerry Stiller.’

Then he said he was hurrying somewhere or he’d come to the reading. But he promised he’d go to B & N the next day and buy a copy.

Later, at my reading, my daughter had a laugh attack, but she did get the rest of the audience to laugh too. I’d wished Jerry Stiller could have come. Then maybe I could say he laughed at me just the way I laughed at him.


Years later, my daughter told me that the part that made her laugh had something to do with Dan Rather. What a memory! The scene that made Jene laugh was from my travel story “Piquing the Spirits:

When I was in Cameroon, I met a film location scout from LA. named Warren who wanted to climb Mt. Cameroon. I told him I’d take him but he’d have to pay for the guide. He agreed.

Warren has just arrived at my house in Buea, the town where the trail begins. The mountain is an active volcano, rising 13,000 feet above the equatorial sea. Buea is situated on a ledge 9,000 feet below the cauldron.)

I wrote:

A Jeep rumbled into the yard. Warren emerged from the backseat wearing some sort of safari suit, the kind Dan Rather wears when he does the news from a third-world war zone. (Dan doesn’t know that the third-world are all wondering if his suits and ties were lost in transit. It is racist to come to Africa dressed like a great, white hunter, but I don’t really object to Dan doing it since I so enjoy the sight of his chest hair sticking up from the top of his shirt with the first three buttons left undone.) Warren also had on one of those cowboy hats with one side stapled up. Unlike the movie man, Dan Rather knows where to draw the line.

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  • I remember the reading at Barnes and Nobel . It was a Sunday evening in July. Mary-Ann, Ron Arias, Leonard Levitt and I read from our stories. I got some good advice that night. John Coyne, who organized the event, suggested that a reader should not resolve the issue in the story. Leave the listener wanting to find out what happens and buy the book!

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