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Anne Jackson and Eli Wallach

Anne Jackson and Eli Wallach with
daughters Roberta (left) and Katherine

Broadway Pays Tribute To
Anne Jackson, Eli Wallach

Story and Photos by Tim Boxer

ITTY CARLISLE HART sang "I’ll be loving you always," and the enthralled audience at Symphony Space in Upper Manhattan sang along, as Anne Jackson and Eli Wallach beamed.

It was a thrilling lovefest for Jackson and Wallach orchestrated by Tony Vellela, executive producer of Character Studies Education Project. The tribute for the veteran Broadway and Hollywood stars helped support the project, which includes a PBS documentary series (with Eli as one of three hosts), plus a curriculum program that brings characters from plays into the schools.

Marian Seldes read a letter by Tennessee Williams who noted that "Eli has discovered the secret of pissing everybody off. He is happy."

Among the friends who paid tribute to the star couple were Rita Gardner (the original girl in The Fantasticks), Tovah Feldshuh (who triumphed onstage as Golda Meir ands this summer was acclaimed for her starring role in Hello Dolly), Marsha Mason, Austin Pendleton, Andrea Martin, Estelle Parsons, James Naughton who served marvelously as emcee, playwright Murray Schisgal and many more.

Tovah was glad to be there: "As Golda Meir said, there are some friends who love you, and there are some friends who love you and show up."

In 1953 Eli turned down his first film offer to perform as Kilroy in Tennessee WiliamsCamino Real, directed by Elia Kazan. Three years later he debuted on the screen in Baby Doll, also directed by Kazan.

The line from Camino Real – "Make voyages, attempt them, there’s nothing else" – so affected Anne and Eli, that it became their motto in life.

In fact, Eli ends his autobiography with that powerful line. With The Good, the Bad, and Me (Harcourt, 320 pages, $14), Eli proves to be a superb storyteller of an actor’s life. He kept me turning those pages from front to back. I was thoroughly entertained by anecdotes involving the likes of Marlon Brando, Marilyn Monroe, Tennessee Williams, Katharine Cornell, Henry Fonda, Maureen Stapleton and so many more luminaries of the 20th century stage.

In the beginning, Eli had to fight family pressure to become an actor. His brother and sisters became school teachers and that was supposed to be Eli’s fate, too. "I can’t go up against the will of the family," he writes. So he studied and studied, and took the teacher’s exam – and flunked.

After that episode he went to the Neighborhood Playhouse to learn the acting business, to the everlasting refrain of his dad: "From this you make a living?"

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