I can't remember where I first read about Remember How I Love You: Love Letters From An Extraordinary Marriage by Jerry Orbach and Elaine Orbach - but I suspect I saw it in one of Simon & Schuster's catalogs. I filed it away in the back of my mind, and when I noticed one of my colleagues ordered it for work, I put my name on the waiting list expecting to browse through it. I'm a massive Law & Order fan, and I adore Jerry Orbach (who passed away in 2004), and that was enough for me to give it a whirl.
Imagine my surprise when I was able to plow through the whole book on my lunch break.
This is a slim (182 pages) gift-sized hard cover that was put together by Orbach's widow, Elaine. They met during the original production of Chicago on Broadway. Orbach was cast as Billy Flynn, while Elaine was the understudy for Chita Rivera, who was playing Velma Kelly. Being an understudy was actually a step down for Elaine's career at the time, but she said it was fate, because that's how she and Jerry ultimately met and fell in love.
During the course of their 25 year marriage, Jerry would scribble Elaine poems every morning. Because of his shooting schedule on Law & Order, he was often out the door before she got out of bed. So she'd wake up, to find these poems scribbled on the backs of page-a-day calender sheets. Sometimes heartfelt, often times funny and silly, Elaine kept all these notes in a large soup tureen they had. Interspersed between a selection of a few of those poems is a biography of their life together.
As far as a biography goes, this one is pretty slim. I didn't learn too much here that I hadn't already picked up by watching A&E's Biography. What does shine through is how funny, charming and incredibly likable Orbach was. The one aspect of this story that did surprise me was how long he had actually been sick with prostate cancer. This was not an overnight illness. He lived with it for 10 years. About 5 years longer than the doctors initially gave him. Everybody "at work" knew about his cancer treatments. They all knew about his regiment of treatment(s) and medication(s) and yet? Nobody breathed a word of it. Jerry Orbach lived with cancer for 10 years and outside of his inner circle, nobody was the wiser. No sensationalized stories in the Enquirer. No Internet rumors. Not a single peep.
It was also wonderfully refreshing to read about a couple of actors who were about as far away from the limelight as you can get. Law & Order propelled Orbach into career security, and he was beloved around New York City - but this is a guy who did the laundry when Elaine threw her back out and helped with the vacuuming. They never hired a staff. They rented their apartment. He didn't even have a publicist. He loved to golf and play poker at his club. Just a normal, average Joe who had a pretty awesome day job.
The writing in this book is very straight-forward. Again, it's meant as a love letter to their marriage, so any sort of deep digging into Orbach's life isn't going to be found here. The best parts of the story are when some of Orbach's colleagues make appearances in the book. Benjamin Bratt's recollections are particularly touching, as is the forward by Sam Waterston and afterward by Richard Belzer. But ultimately this book is a heartfelt winner thanks to candid pages where Elaine recounts Jerry's final days. As I said, I read this on my lunch break at work, and I was a weeping, sobbing mess by the end of it all. Ultimately that's what makes this book work. As is Elaine's message behind compiling some of Jerry's poems: to bring the old fashioned love letter back into vogue. As she says herself, once Jerry was gone, those notes brought her a great deal of comfort. E-mail and Twitter just don't have the same sort of punch.
Final Grade = B+