Monday, April 30, 2007

Jerry Orbach (1935-2004)

If you happen to catch this week's 20th anniversary screenings of Dirty Dancing, keep in mind the fact that one of the cast members - legendary stage, screen and Emmy-nomimated TV actor Jerry Orbach - spent several years of his childhood in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania and Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Jerome Bernard Orbach was born in the Bronx in New York City on October 20, 1935. According to a Scranton Times article from 2003, Orbach's family moved frequently throughout his childhood, even settling for a time in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, where his grandfather worked as a coalminer, when he was six years old. The Orbach family also lived in Scranton, PA for a year and a half in the Hills section; furthermore, according to the Internet Movie Database, Orbach also lived for a time in Nanticoke, PA. Orbach's family eventually settled in Waukegan, Illinois.

Orbach studied drama at both University of Illinois and Northwestern University; upon moving back to New York, he studied with Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio.

Orbach's first major Broadway role was as a replacement for the character Smith in the original 1955 Broadway production of The Threepenny Opera (his co-star Bea Arthur would later reunite with Orbach in an episode of The Golden Girls). Orbach's extensive stage career includes starring in the original 1960 off-Broadway cast of The Fantasticks, his Tony Award-winning performance in the 1968 musical Promises, Promises and creating the role of lawyer Billy Flynn in the original 1975 Broadway production of Chicago. He also starred as Julian Marsh in the original 1980 Broadway production of 42nd Street.

Orbach has had a successful film career since the 1950s and has starred as Martin Landau's shady brother Jack in Woody Allen's Crimes & Misdemeanors (whose production designer was Wilkes-Barre native Santo Loquasto), tough corrupt cop Gus Levy in 1981's Prince of the City, the voice of candlestick Lumiere in Disney's Oscar-nominated Beauty and the Beast, and, of course, as Baby's father in the 1987 classic Dirty Dancing.

Orbach's most popular TV work is his role as Detective Lennie Briscoe on Homicide: Life on the Streets; the character was later spun off in the popular television drama Law and Order.

Sadly, Jerry Orbach passed away on December 28th, 2004 in Manhattan after a courageous battle with prostate cancer.

The 20th Anniversary edition of Dirty Dancing starring Jerry Orbach will be showing Tuesday, May 1st and Wednesday, May 2nd, at Cinemark in Moosic.

Several films and television series starring Jerry Orbach - including several seasons of Law and Order, the films Crimes and Misdemeanors, Disney's Beauty and the Beast, Dirty Dancing, the special Broadway's Lost Treasures II (featuring Orbach as Billy Flynn in Chicago) and CDs including the original soundtrack for Broadway's 42nd Street - are available to borrow on DVD from the Lackawanna County Library System. Furthermore, the Reference Department's collection includes a Local History Vertical File on the actor.

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