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Those little words changed my life forever. They were the fi rst ones Jerry Orbach ever said to me, backstage during a rehearsal for Chicago. It was the beginning of a twenty-five-year love story fi lled with adventure and laughter and fun. It ended too soon — but will always be a part of me.
One of the many delights of Jerry, a side of him that perhaps his fans didn't see, was his sense of romance. It was that, coupled with his brilliant wit, that led him to write me a little poem nearly every day, before he went off to work on Law & Order. The poems were a lot like the man who wrote them — fresh and simple, deviously witty, and deeply loving.
Over the years, without my realizing it, the poems piled up. I would read and enjoy each one, then toss it into the big soup tureen given to us by producer David Merrick, which still sits in my kitchen — until one day, I noticed that the top of the tureen was popping off ! The little poems, scribbled on the backs of pages from a page-a-day cat calendar, were overflowing their container. They had become a kind of history of Jerry's and my wonderful life together — the work, the friends, the family, and the fun, but mainly the love story we were in the process of creating each day.
It never dawned on me to gather these poems in a volume while Jerry was alive and writing them. Over time they were simply a part of our daily lives. I saved them because I couldn't just crumple them up and throw them away. I felt that they were my special poems, for my eyes only, and I never dreamed I'd be sharing them with the world. But at Jerry's memorial service, our friend Jane Alexander read a few of the poems to friends and strangers for the first time. I wanted to give people another insight to what their beloved friend was like in real life, because in the movies or on the television screen Jerry's true persona didn't come out.
After the service it was suggested that I gather some of the poems into a book. So, I reread them, reliving the feelings of when I first found them on my breakfast table. Because they were written almost daily, reading them today reminds me of the life we had together. Jerry was always giving me strength and happiness through the poems.
But before I get to the poems, I hope you'll excuse me for first telling you a bit more about my husband and best friend. Of course, you probably know him as Detective Lennie Briscoe on Law & Order. His character was a no-nonsense, tough but fair cop always ready with a quip. For twelve seasons he starred on that show — and he can still be seen nearly every day in reruns — but he was equally successful in films and the theater.
Here are some roles you might remember: Jerry appeared with Treat Williams in Prince of the City, in Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors, and, perhaps most memorably, for those of a certain generation, in Dirty Dancing. Our friend Richard Brown tells a story about that one.
Jerry and I took a trip to Greece with Richard and his wife, Zora. We were sitting in a taverna on a little Greek island when a smiling older man came over to us and said something to Jerry that we didn't understand. Nobody on the island spoke English, so we had the man write it down. As soon as we got to the island of Santorini, Richard found someone who spoke English to translate the words on the paper. He read it and looked up quizzically. "I don't know what it means," he said, "but it says, 'We love you Dirty Dancing Daddy.'" Jerry laughed. "It's Jake! He follows me all over the world."
Lovers of the Broadway theater know him from his many stage appearances. Jerry gave more performances as a leading actor in Broadway musicals than any other actor ever! He got his start off Broadway, in the legendary production of The Threepenny Opera and in the original cast of the longest-running show in American theater history, The Fantasticks. He soon graduated to starring roles on Broadway in Carnival! Promises, Promises, 6 Rms Riv Vu, Chicago, and 42nd Street. And it was his role in Chicago that would prove a turning point in both our lives.
When we met, I was the standby for Velma Kelly, Chita Rivera's character. (I'd taken the job rather grudgingly — never dreaming that my destiny was at stake.) After a career on Broadway (beginning at age nineteen) and in national tours, that was my last stage role — by choice. After that, I'd take on the part of Mrs. Jerry Orbach — to me, the plum role of all time. While I was in the wings watching Chita and absorbing Velma Kelly, I guess I was absorbing Jerry Orbach, too, and vice versa. Three years later we were married. On the evening of our twenty-fifth anniversary, he wrote me a poem, the last lines of which were, "We made it to the silver / let's go for the gold!" Unfortunately, that was not to be.
Jerry's life was never about fame, celebrity, or wealth. Rather, he chose to focus on compassion and kindness. Jerry was a regular guy — a working actor — never your typical star. He didn't have a publicist, no entourage, and he seldom took limos, preferring the subway. We never had a staff and we never bought an apartment — we always rented. We never had a summer house or a country getaway — but we had lots of love and laughter, and those were our priorities.
At first Jerry started writing the poems at 2 a.m. after coming home fresh from his poker games. He wasn't able to kiss me good night, and he'd be asleep when I'd wake up, so he wrote me a good-morning poem. But I suppose the poems really got going because of Jerry's punishingly early shooting schedule on Law & Order. In order to be on the set on time, he often got up before 5:30 a.m. He always gave himself forty-five minutes to shower, shave, make the coffee, have some yogurt, read the morning paper — and write me a poem, which he left next to my coffee cup. Oh, those little slips of paper started my days with such love and smiles! Now, looking over them, I feel as if I'm seeing a diary of our lives together.
These poems and this book keep our relationship alive for me in a special way. Not a day goes by that I don't think about Jerry. I'm not pining for him, or wishing that he were here, or mad that he left me. The sadness and grief you feel gets put in the back of your heart. I know he's still with me, and these poems tell me why he's still with me. I believe he's very happy that they're nurturing me again. Out of the hundreds and hundreds of silly, smart, moving, beautiful poems Jerry wrote, I've selected some I thought you'd enjoy. Some are about the weather, about what time he planned to be home, about what he read in the paper, or what he was shooting that day — but they were all about love. They're my love letters.
In this fast-paced, plugged-in world, the simple act of putting pen to paper and writing a note to someone you love is a surprisingly bold and romantic gesture. What's more, it's permanent — you can hold a love note in your hands, take it out, and read it over and over again. My love poems from Jerry are keepsakes that I will treasure forever. My wish is that this book will give you a glimpse into a loving relationship that was always growing and everlasting. But even more than that, I hope it inspires you to sit down and write something — a poem, a letter, even just a single line — as a memento to someone you care about.
I hope Jerry's words bring you a little of the joy they have given me. I hope they help you appreciate the love you have and value every day with family, friends, and partners. And if you were a fan of my husband, I hope they bring him alive for you just a little bit, as they do for me whenever I reread them. Enjoy.
As Jerry always said, "Onward and sideways."
— Elaine Orbach
Copyright © 2009 by Elaine Orbach and Ken Bloom
JERRY ORBACH WAS A MAN I knew for his talent and accomplishments before I ever met him. We were contemporaries, and even before Law & Order our paths rarely crossed professionally, I had him "in my sights" all along. He could do things I couldn't, like sing and dance, remember jokes, and tell them. There was plenty to envy and lots to admire: the extraordinary skills, the "touch" that made audiences love him, and the fi rst-class work he was always doing, usually for very long runs in big successes, usually on Broadway.
Meeting Jerry, though, he saw to it that envy was impossible. He was too engaging to envy — too much fun, too easy to be with, too even keeled and level headed. And he gave you to understand that, even if he was awesome, he didn't want you to be awestruck. He wanted you to join the club, take it easy, share a laugh, take a look at things as they are, and not get too excited about yourself, anything else, or him. The more I knew Jerry, the more my admiration for him grew.
Friendship came easily to him, so easily that you almost didn't notice, as if things had always been that way, and why ever would they not? With him leading, in the same natural way, my wife, Lynn, and I came to know and be friends with Jerry and his wife, Elaine — to discover her way with laughter, her courage to look things in the eye, that gathered energy of hers that dancers can come with. And we got to see the cleareyed optimism and hope they brought to everything, including especially his long fight with cancer.
And, through all that, we came to know a little about the love that they shared.
It was at Jerry's memorial, when some of the poems he had written to Elaine were read, that I found out Jerry was a poet. And, whether he wanted admiration or not, it was that fact that led me to an admiration I have never gotten over. Okay, he knew how to shoot pool better than I did, how to hit the high notes, and get airborne, and stay on the beat. But reading the poems reveals something extra. They're elegant miniatures from a tall poet. As you'd expect, coming from him, they're clever, they sound like him, they have nice felicities of expression, and they're full of wit, charm, and grace. They also reveal — so easily that you might not even see it happening — the size of his heart and the amount of love for Elaine there was in it.
— Sam Waterston, 2009
Copyright © 2009 by Elaine Orbach and Ken Bloom
Posted August 1, 2012
This is the sweetest book I've EVER read. It's truly a love story, as only the wise cracking, Jerry Orbach (Law & Order) could write! His life-long love affair with wife, broadway actress, Elanine Orbach, takes my breath away! We should all be as lucky as Mrs. Orbach! The book was written as a tribute to Jerry, after his passing, and is filled with little poems he left for his wife throughout the years. These are very Jerry poems, written with the one liner charm we all came to love his character for, on Law & Order. Perhaps the best part about this book is the rare glimpse into his life, love, and early career on Broadway. He was amazing as Lenny Briscoe, and as Doctor Houseman, on "Dirty Dancing", but those parts didn't showcase his true talent for singing and dancing! And perhaps more important, they didn't allow his fans the chance to see him play his most successful and important role, loving and devoted husband to Elaine Orbach.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 14, 2011
Posted December 29, 2009
When I started reading this book, I thought it might be too "corny" for my taste, but it didn't take long to see this was a remarkable marriage that was never taken for granted by either spouse. I thoroughly enjoyed the poems written by Jerry. They had a refreshing honesty that was delightful. To find out at the end that his wife had recently died I actually felt grief. What a gift they both left us. It is possible to truly appreciate and care for those we love in small but significant ways. Read this book and you will be gently reminded of this truth.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 25, 2009
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Posted January 28, 2010
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Posted December 16, 2009
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