Book Reviews

Remember How I Love You
Love Letters from an Extraordinary Marriage

By Jerry Orbach and Elaine Orbach with Ken Bloom
Foreword by Sam Waterston & Afterword by Richard Belzer

Book Review by Bob Gutowski

Remember How I Love YouThis holiday season, instead of holly and garland, how about some valentines?

These particular valentines are from Jerry, who adored Elaine. Not that Jerry and Elaine (did any of those supposed friends on "Seinfeld" even seem to like one another very much?). No, this Jerry was Jerry Orbach, the beloved and distinguished actor of stage, screen and television. Elaine was dancer Elaine Cancilla, his second wife. The two met while he was playing lawyer Billy Flynn and she was standing by for Chita Rivera (as that second banana who walks off with the show, Velma Kelly) in the original Broadway production of Chicago in 1975.

Cancilla became Orbach's second wife, and he was plainly crazy about her. As his career moved along to his long run on "Law & Order," he'd often be up hours before she was, and he'd use the back of the previous day's cat-a-day calendar page to write her a short poem. For example:

My honey's sleeping peacefully,
The sun has not yet risen.
The sailor standing watch at sea
Can't see beyond the mizzen.
Who else is waking up with me?
My crew, and guys in prison!

Elaine Orbach tells us she'd read the missives, each of them signed with some variation of "XXXXX, Jer," and then toss them in a bowl David Merrick had given the couple. Truth to tell, her passages bracketing the poems are merely serviceable. Even with the assistance of Ken Bloom, these sections mostly exist to neatly move us along chronologically as Jerry's career progressed—and also as he eventually became ill, which is a subject he addressed in his verses:

Along with fame and riches,
Life hands us little glitches.
But I love you
And we'll pull through,
And beat those sons of bitches!

But before the challenges and heartbreak of Jerry's final years (and Elaine would pass away unexpectedly just a few years after her husband, right after she'd delivered the manuscript for this book), there are poems that deal with the everyday mishegoss of married life. There's an apology in rhyme from a man who's insisted on sitting for hours in front of the television instead of, sensibly, doing his dozing in bed:

I'm sorry I was dumb last night
(What gets into my head?)
You shouldn't have to fuss and fight
To make me go to bed!
I will be better and have some sense
And listen from now on.
To sit there's really kind of dense
Not watching what isn't on!

Even if Jerry Orbach's verse is not the equal of, let's say, Frank Loesser's, it is full of his characteristic charm. For charming he was, and a chatterbox, too (I know this from a relative who works in the courthouse where "Law & Order" is regularly shot. She's told me Orbach often had to be pulled away from her, back to the set, as he tried to tell her yet "Oh, one more thing ...!")

What makes this book heartwarming and suitable for any season of the year is discovering how blissfully happy that splendid fellow Jerry Orbach was with his attractive, talented, supportive spouse. He really couldn't say enough about it to her, so he chose to sing it instead. We should all be so blessed!

Remember How I Love YouRemember How I Love You
Love Letters from an Extraordinary Marriage

By Jerry Orbach and Elaine Orbach with Ken Bloom
Touchstone Hardcover/Simon & Schuster, November 2009
208 pp
Hardcover $23.00
ISBN: 978-1439149881