By LAURA ABRUSCATO
After 69 years of marriage, Palisadians Emily and Jerry Mayer agree that lots of laughs is one of the secrets to their long happy relationship.
That humor is on display in Jerry’s musical “You Haven’t Changed a Bit, and Other Lies” now playing at Santa Monica Playhouse through June 26.
Co-written with son Steve, the musical comedy about three couples in their 60s renewing their vows includes songs about long marriage such as “The Role Reversal Tango” and “You’re Too Important to Me.”
The couple, who have lived in Paseo Miramar for 53 years, have other advice. “Don’t go to bed without a kiss,” says Jerry. “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” says Emily.
“Be a nice person,” says Jerry. “It’s so important you have to respect the person you’re married to.” Adds Emily, “We’re good friends. We feel very fortunate we’ve been able to travel, and we love our home.”
They met when a friend from Western Military School suggested Jerry, 18, attend a party 16-year-old Emily was hosting. They married at ages 21 and 19.
“It was the time if you lived [together] unmarried, your father-in-law would kill you,” says Jerry, who was working for his family’s construction company in St. Louis, Missouri, at the time.
Always the class clown, Jerry was a cartoonist and wrote humor pieces for his school newspaper. He wanted to try comedy writing for his career. After selling a spec script for the show “McHale’s Navy,” the couple and their three young children moved to Los Angeles, which Emily admits “was kind of crazy.”
“We came out here cold,” recalls Jerry who once followed Buddy Hackett into a Beverly Hills parking garage and showed him some of his jokes. Although he didn’t buy them, he suggested another comedian, Fat Jack Leonard, who bought the jokes for $100.
Jerry began selling his jokes to comedians such as Phyllis Diller and Jonathan Winters. He went on to write for “M*A*S*H,” “The Bob Newhart Show,” “All in the Family,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” and was the executive producer of “The Facts of Life.” While working on the latter show, an actress told him about a playwriting group where he wrote his first play, “Almost Perfect,” a comedy about marriage. It premiered in 1986 with Emily as producer.
He is currently working on his 11th play. All of his shows have run at the Santa Monica Playhouse, and most are published and are performed all over the U.S., including off-Broadway, as well as in Europe.
Son musician/composer Steven who is also the show’s musical director, lives with wife Julie and two children in West L.A.
Son Michael, an editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, lives with wife Mary in Berkeley and daughter Margie and husband Bob live in Henderson, Nevada, and are grandparents to the Mayers’ two great-grandchildren.
Their walls are taken up with family photos, pictures of famous friends from Jerry’s long TV career, and a variety of art including prints by longtime New York Times caricaturist Al Hirschfeld.
When Jerry turned 90 last September, Emily surprised him with a staged reading of his 20-year-old musical “You Haven’t Changed a Bit, and Other Lies” at Santa Monica Playhouse.
It went so well that Playhouse directors Chris De Carlo and Evelyn Rudie decided they’d like to put on the show and also be part of the cast. The Mayers have a long association with the Playhouse, which Emily calls “a wonderful asset to Santa Monica.”
“You Haven’t Changed a Bit…And Other Lies” is performed at Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 4th St., Santa Monica, Saturdays at 7 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. though June 26. For tickets, call: 310-394-9779, ext. 1, or go to SantaMonicaPlayhouse.com