Anne Jackson, Tony nominee who often performed with husband, Eli Wallach, dead at 90


NEW YORK >> Anne Jackson, a Tony Award-nominated theater actress who often appeared onstage with her husband, Eli Wallach, in comedies and classics, died early Tuesday of natural causes at her home in Manhattan, said her son, Peter Wallach. She was 90.

Jackson and Eli Wallach were a formidable acting duo, starring in a series of plays, including George Bernard Shaw's "Major Barbara" in 1956 and a hugely successful run of "Luv," directed by Mike Nichols, in the mid-1960s. A bench in New York City's Riverside Park is dedicated to them.

"A lot of people say, 'Sorry for your loss,'" said Peter Wallach. "Actually, the part I don't accept is the loss part because it was a gift. My parents gave this tremendous gift, which they gave to the world and they gave to their children."

Jackson and Wallach played a married couple together as recently as 2003 on the NBC medical drama "ER." At the 2010 American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Governors Award honoring Wallach, Jackson introduced her husband: "Can I be honest about something?" she asked. "I taught him everything he knows."

Jackson had a Berkshires connection. She starred in Berkshire Theatre Festival's 1967 production of John Lewis Carlino's "The Exercise." In 1971, she and her husband performed together at BTF in David V. Robinson's "Promenade All!" directed by Arthur Penn. Jackson and Wallach returned to BTF often after that for special events and readings.

"It was always great fun when Anne and Eli were with us," Kate Maguire, CEO and artistic director of Berkshire Theatre Group, said by email

"They were a truly amazing theatrical couple. She was warm and fun and a wonderful actress."

Maguire came to Berkshire Theatre Festival in 1995 as managing director. She became BTF's artistic director in 1998, a position she held until she was named CEO and artistic director when BTF and The Colonial Theatre merged in 2010 to become Berkshire Theatre Group.

"I remember times with them in Stockbridge where I sat in awe listening to them reminiscing about amazing Hollywood and New York talent."

Maguire said what she remembers most was feeling "always moved by (Jackson's) care for Eli, her never ending wonder of the magic of theater and her great abilities in performance."

Jackson, who played a psychiatrist in the classic horror movie "The Shining," earned a best featured actress Tony nomination in Paddy Chayefsky's "Middle of the Night" in 1956. She also returned to Broadway in the mid-1990s in "The Flowering Peach" and played Grandma Kurnitz in "Lost in Yonkers."

She and the Tony-winning Wallach acted together onstage in such plays as "Cafe Crown," "Harlequinade," "The Typist and the Tiger," "Twice Around the Park" and "Down the Garden Paths" in 2000, among others.

The couple met when Wallach appeared in the 1946 Equity Library Theater's "This Property is Condemned" by Tennessee Williams. The only other performer in the show happened to be Jackson. They married in 1948. He died in 2014.

Peter Wallach, a film animator, recalled growing up in a happy home in which the children never really knew if their parents were actually arguing or if they were just rehearsing.

"Even sometimes when they'd fight, they would kind of step back from the fight and go, 'Wow, that was a really good Tennessee Williams performance I just gave!'" he said. "They always forgave each other so quickly because they were both actors."

Jackson and Wallach loved New York and were friends with everyone from Harry Belafonte to Igor Stravinsky to Groucho Marx. Wallach rode the subway everywhere except for a time in 1997, while performing in "Visiting Mr. Green" off-Broadway. His wife stepped in and ordered producers to provide a Rolls-Royce to ferry Wallach to and from the show. "She was a tough negotiator — out of love," Peter Wallach said.

Though the couple also acted independently, Jackson told The Associated Press in 1989: "We do have a lot of fun working together. We're both quite good character actors. The characterizations that we come up with make it seem like it's a different person we're relating to."

When he acted without her, Wallach said he asked her advice. "I just finished playing a judge in 'Law and Order.' I said, 'How do I play a judge?' She said, 'Bang the gavel hard and just say, "Overruled!'"

The two wrote and performed a show about their lives that opened in 1993 at the off-Broadway Kaufman Theater. It gracefully weaved scenes from plays in which they acted together or separately with glimpses into their marriage and family life.

"They worked in theater, they worked in television, they worked in movies. They could move eloquently back and forth," said Peter Wallach, who noted his mother's comic chops. "Her timing was just so magnificent. She was the queen of the one-liners."

Jackson wrote a memoir, "Early Stages," which traced her childhood and ended with the birth of Peter.

She also is survived by their two daughters, Roberta and Katherine, both of whom followed their parents into acting.

Berkshire Eagle arts and entertainment editor and theater writer/critic Jeffrey Borak added material to this story.


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