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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 410

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This is the grave of Jerry and Elaine Orbach.

Born in 1935 in The Bronx to parents on the edges of the entertainment industry (dad was in vaudeville but also managed a restaurant, mom sang on the radio but also made greeting cards), Orbach moved around all over the place during his child, throughout New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Illinois. He graduated from high school in Waukegan, Illinois in 1952, started acting, and enrolled at the University of Illinois. He then transferred to Northwestern, but he caught the acting bug for real and never graduated, instead going to New York to work with Lee Strasberg.

Orbach became a reasonably successful Broadway performer by the early 1960s. A good singing voice helped. He became a minor celebrity, appearing on game shows and the like during the great heyday of minor stars being on game shows in the 70s, and was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Tony Award for his work in Guys and Dolls. But he was never a big time actor until he made the switch to TV in the 1980s, as well as some high profile movies. I think I first ran into Orbach with his great work in Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors, which is a fantastic film, whatever it says about the low character of the director. He was also in Sidney Lumet’s Prince of the City, which I have not seen. He was also a regular on Murder She Wrote for awhile. In 1991, he got a big voice role in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.

But let’s cut to the chase–everyone knows Jerry Orbach because he played Lennie Briscoe on Law & Order. That show eventually got so ridiculous with its ripped from the headlines (and cheaply!) stories and then all the spinoffs, but the early years really were solid television. Maybe not groundbreaking, but certainly memorable, entertaining, and well-acted. Orbach was a huge part of that. He started on the show in 1992 and stayed for 12 seasons. Soon after he started the show, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He fought it for a very long time but it finally got him in 2004, at age 69.

Orbach is buried with his second wife Elaine Cancilla Orbach. She was a relatively minor but consistently working theatre actor in her own right, both on and off Broadway. They met in 1979 while working together on the original Broadway production of Chicago. After his death, she spent her last years fighting to get a bit of 53rd Street near 8th Avenue, which is close to where they lived, renamed Jerry Orbach Way, which did happen in 2007. She died in 2009, also at age 69.

Jerry and Elaine Orbach are buried at Trinity Church Cemetery, Manhattan, New York. This is the one in the northern part of Manhattan, around 153rd and Riverside Drive, not the old one near the World Trade Center.

If you are interested in this series visiting other people Orbach worked with, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Sidney Lumet is in Elmont, New York and Lee Strasberg is in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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