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With Jerry Orbach in Northeastern Pennsylvania

Guest Blogger:
John Anthony Gilvey, author of Jerry Orbach, Prince of the City (Applause Books)


In our communal memory, Jerry Orbach and New York City are forever linked. Images instantly emerge of the actor who wowed Broadway as one of its great leading men and television as Law & Order’s wisecracking NYPD detective, Lennie Briscoe. Yet for all his Gotham grit, the Bronx-born actor was equally influenced by the three other places he lived as a boy—Waukegan, Illinois, Springfield, Massachusetts and the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area of northeastern Pennsylvania.

Some of his earliest and fondest recollections were of his maternal grandparents, Susanna and Alexander Olexy, and the house his grandfather built in the Wilkes-Barre suburb of Lynnwood across the Susquehanna River from Plymouth where the family first settled. For six-year-old Jerry, the basement was a captivating place. On one side was the root cellar where his Lithuanian grandmother stored her homemade kielbasa and vegetable and fruit preserves, and on the other, the workshop where his Polish grandfather taught him the fundamentals of carpentry. But one weekend shortly after he turned seven, Jerry learned an extraordinary life lesson from Alexander when the miner took him on a guided tour of his worksite at the Nottingham Colliery. “I believe it was the deepest coalmine in the United States,” recalled Jerry, “hard anthracite, about a mile deep. He took me down in the elevator and showed me how, if you dug one ton of coal and loaded it in the car, you got one dollar. ‘If you dig sixteen tons,’ he told me, ‘you get sixteen dollars.’ And he showed me how you’d put your initial on the car to show it’s yours. And he showed me the miners’ helmets with the lights on them, and the canaries they brought down to warn them of the poison gas. Then we came back up, and he turned to me and said, ‘Now you’ve seen it. And if you have to steal, if you have to beg, whatever you have to do, never go down there again!’ That was his legacy to me.[1]

A year later black lung disease claimed Alexander’s life and Jerry moved to Scranton with his mother, Emily, a Roman Catholic, and father, Leo, a German-Jewish immigrant who managed luncheonette counters for the Neisner Brothers national retail store chain. The Orbachs’ home sat atop one of the highest points of the city across from the Fire Department’s Engine #2 Company at 518 Mulberry Street. There the boy became an honorary member of the Company when the firemen put a helmet on his head and hoisted him onto the running board of the engine. Jerry also made his stage debut in Scranton when a neighborhood buddy coaxed him into joining the choir for the 1942 Christmas pageant at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. In May 1943, he made his First Communion and Confirmation during Mass at St. Peter’s Cathedral.

Ironically, Jerry’s connection with northeast Pennsylvania didn’t end when his family moved to Springfield, Massachusetts in 1943. Nearly fifty years later in the solitude of a friend’s Pocono retreat near the town of Jim Thorpe, I penned much of his biography, Jerry Orbach, Prince of the City (Applause Books, 2011), remembering so well how he had mesmerized me as a kid back in Philadelphia when I saw him in The Rose Tattoo. For these reasons, I am honored and delighted to be the next speaker in the Matthew F. Flynn Library Lecture Series of the Lackawanna County Library System. On Tuesday, August 7 at 7 p.m. in the Scranton Cultural Center, the presentation Remembering Jerry: A Lullaby of Broadway, Film and Television Legend Jerry Orbach will highlight the life and career of this celebrated performer. As his character Lumière from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast would say, “Be Our Guest!”

[1] Orbach, Jerry in Abrams, Carol and Margulies, Ferne, Grandparents & Grandchildren: Shared Memories, (General Publishing Group, Los Angeles, 1998) 18.

© John Anthony Gilvey, 2012. Used with permission.

Jerry Orbach, Prince of the City by John Anthony Gilvey

Today the late actor Jerry Orbach (1935-2004) is best remembered as the world-weary New York City Detective Lennie Briscoe from the Emmy Award-winning NBC television series Law and Order. But that work only accounts for 12 years of a 50-year career that spanned stage, screen, and television. From the moment he landed the role of the Street Singer in the 1955 off-Broadway revival of The Threepenny Opera, he distinguished himself as a major performer in popular musicals and plays, including The FantasticksCarnivalScuba DubaPromises, Promises6 RMS RIV VUChicago, and 42nd Street.

Jerry Orbach also appeared in over 40 films, with Crimes and MisdemeanorsPrince of the CityDirty Dancing; and the voice of the candlestick, Lumière, in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast topping the list. From the ’60s through the ’90s, he was a guest or featured actor on major TV hits like The DefendersLove American StyleMurder, She WroteThe Golden Girls; and FrasierJerry Orbach, Prince of the City is the story of this versatile performer – his triumphs and tragedies public and private. Most of all, it is a study of a gifted actor’s craft as told through the observations, insights, and reminiscences of those who knew him best.

Event: Marx Brothers Book Signing and Double Feature

Santa Monica, California

New Years Day 2012, the Aero Theater in Santa Monica (1328 Montana Ave.) will be screening a double feature of Animal Crackers and Horse Feathers at 5pm. However, if you come to the lobby at 4pm, you can get autographs from Robert S. Bader, the editor of Groucho Marx and Other Short Stories and Tall Tales AND Bill Marx (the son of Harpo Marx), author of Son of Harpo Speaks! Books on sale by Larry Edmunds Bookshop in the theater lobby.

Groucho Marx was a comic genius who starred on stage and in film, radio, and television. But he was also a gifted writer – the author of a play, two screenplays, seven books, and over 100 articles and essays. This newly expanded collection presents the best of Groucho’s short comic pieces, written over a period of more than fifty years between 1919 and 1973 for theNew York Times, the New Yorker, the Saturday Evening PostVariety, the Hollywood Reporter, and other newspapers and magazines.
Available from Applause Books and booksellers nationwide.

Bill Marx is the last living person to have worked professionally with the three Marx Brothers, his uncles Chico and Groucho and his father, Harpo Marx. Because Chico and Groucho had siblings that had written about them, Bill Marx wanted to complete the Marx Brothers’ literary trifecta by authoring a book about the personal and professional relationships that he had with his father. Available from Applause Books and booksellers nationwide.

Something’s Coming! West Side Story Historian To Visit Portland Center Stage

Seattle Times critic and acclaimed author Misha Berson in conversation with Chris Coleman

A critic is coming to Portland Center Stage! But we can breathe easy; this time we are interviewing the critic and the topic is her own work. Portland Center Stage and Chris Coleman will host theater critic Misha Berson on November 5, 2011 from 5-6 p.m. Berson will be discussing her new book, Something’s Coming, Something Good: West Side Story and the American Imagination. Berson brings a deep-rooted passion for theater and will discuss the rich history and development of this landmark  Broadway musical and subsequent film, now in its 50th anniversary. The event featuring Coleman and Berson is free and open to the public.

In addition to working as an award-winning theater critic for the Seattle Times, Berson contributes regularly to American Theater Magazine and Pacific Northwest Magazine. Berson is also a commentator on KUOW-FM, a National Public Radio affiliate in Seattle. She spent 12 years covering the San Francisco Bay area theater scene before joining the Seattle Times in 1991, and  has taught courses in drama and interdisciplinary arts at both San Francisco State University and the University of Washington. Her previous books include The San Francisco Stage and Between Worlds: Contemporary Asian-American Playwrights.

Something’s Coming, Something Good: West Side Story and the American Imagination

Something’s Coming, Something Good: West Side Story and the American Imagination takes a critical, comprehensive look at one of the most inventive, influential, and internationally beloved Broadway musicals of all time – from its inception by a brilliant quartet of creators to its smashing success on film, to its ongoing popularity on stages around the world and its potent impact on the Great American Musical.

Featuring intriguing chapters on West Side Story in relation to Romeo and Juliet; as a recording phenomenon; as a film rated the second-best movie musical of all time by the American Film Institute; as part of a wave of juvenile delinquency dramas; as the first great choreographer-auteur musical; and as the granddaddy of “youth musicals” such as Hair and Rent, Something’s Coming, Something Good is a revealing guide for those who have seen the show; for those who wish to study it for pleasure or inspiration; and for actors, designers, and directors planning on producing it. Available for purchase here.

Alan Parsons to Appear at Hal Leonard Booth at AES Convention

MILWAUKEE – Recording engineer, producer, composer, and artist Alan Parsons will appear at the Hal Leonard booth (#364) at the Audio Engineering Society Convention at the Javits Center in New York.  He will sign copies of his three-DVD boxed set Alan Parsons’ The Art & Science of Sound Recording on Friday, Oct. 21, at 2 p.m.

Parsons’s illustrious career acts as both backdrop and inspiration for this groundbreaking series.  He worked with The Beatles on the albums Abbey Road and Let It Be, engineered Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, and produced a string of multi-platinum hits for The Hollies, Pilot, Ambrosia, Al Stewart, and other artists, as well as for The Alan Parsons Project.

Filmed in HD, this is the most powerful instructional series ever created for music production.  The Art & Science of Sound Recording looks at everything from soundproofing to mixing, and from recording guitar, bass, keyboards, drums, and vocals to recording a choir. Fellow professional engineers and producers join Alan Parsons in this top-quality, practical, and cutting-edge guide, including Jack Joseph Puig, John Fields, Elliot Scheiner, Jack Douglas, Tony Brown, and Chuck Ainlay. Artists and musicians interviewed include Michael McDonald, Taylor Hawkins, Nathan East, Rami Jaffe, Carol Kaye, and Erykah Badu.

This invaluable instructional DVD set applies classic, old-school recording experience to the modern recording scene and is certain to be a standard work on the subject for years to come. Alongside its fully interactive website,, The Art & Science of Sound Recording is a complete course in modern recording.

Alan Parsons’ The Art & Science of Sound Recording
Publisher: KeyFax New Media Inc.
Artist : Alan Parsons

Nearly three years in the making, Alan Parsons’ monumental ten-hour video series, The Art & Science of Sound Recording, is now available in a three-DVD boxed set! Narrated by actor and musician Billy Bob Thornton, the DVDs are divided into 24 sections, starting with a brief history of recording.

Watch exclusive video excerpts here.
Buy the DVD here.

Event: Best American Short Plays (NYC)

Join us for…
The Annual Best American Short Plays Performances 

In celebration of the release of The Best American Short Plays 2009-2010 (Applause Theatre and Cinema Books), editor Barbara Parisi will be hosting the annual event at the Nuyorican Poets Café on October 10th. Guests include playwrights Daniel Gallant, Charlene A. Donaghy, Samuel Brett Williams, and more! Join us for readings and performances of excerpts from the plays in this new volume.

October 10th
Nuyorican Poets Cafe
236 E. 3rd Street
(between Ave. B & C)
New York City

 The Best American Short Plays identifies new, cutting-edge playwrights each year and collects the best of their plays into these anthologies. This series has been the standard of excellence for one-act plays in America, and many of the playwrights spotlighted have gone on to establish award winning careers, including Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee, David Mamet, and Horton Foote. This new volume includes plays from Murray Schisgal, Adam Kraar, Theodore Mann, Anthony Rapp, and many others.