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  • Writer's pictureJoe Russell

Anne Jackson and Eli Wallach

When I decided to move to New York in 2002, I was lucky enough to been accepted into Anne Jacksons master class at the HB Actors Studio. On my last day of class she wrote her personal phone number and mailing address on a slip of paper and said “I want you to keep in touch kiddo.” I could have never guessed how close Anne, Eli and I would become in the years ahead.

It started out in letter form. Anne and I became pen-pals. My letters to her were filled with stories of auditions, plays I went to and reflections on films I watched. Her letters back to me were filled with support, reviews of shows she attended in NY, films Eli was doing... and dating advice.

When her and Eli were honored on Broadway I would fly to NY to be in attendance. When I did a play (that I considered worthwhile for them to see) they came out to see it. I feel like I could go on for hours recanting stories that Eli and Anne would tell me. Hilarious and impressive stories of all of their old friends, Alan Arkin used to make Anne break character and bust out laughing during their performance of LUV on Broadway which made Eli yell to her backstage after the show “Amateur!” Marlon Brando had a key to their apt and would occasionally wander in during the middle of the night to fall asleep on their couch. The latest story was told to me as I was eating lunch with them a few days ago at their home in NY. As I was eating my sandwich and drinking diet tonic water Eli looked over at me and said: “Ya know who used to always sit in your chair there when he came over? Laurence Olivier.”

In a long show and tell session Eli showed me pictures of Nazi soldiers that he took from their camps when he liberated the concentration camps. He let me hold his lifetime achievement Oscar, showed me pictures of his grandkids, gave a back story to every photograph on the wall and told me that he and Clint Eastwood want to do another movie together.

With my smart phone handy, I was able to show Anne clips of herself on youtube. She was just 30 years old when she, Eli and Arkin went on “What’s my line.” She absolutely lit up while watching it. “Oh my God look at us!” she said. “Eli, come here and watch us on What’s My Line!” Eli replied: “Why would I need to watch it? I was there!!!”

As I was leaving I noticed Eli take his wallet out and consult with Anne. He stretched out his hand with $15.00 toward my direction. “Here, this is for a cab, take it.” I said “No, I don’t want that.” To which Anne quickly replied “Take it, he’s rich!”

I will never forget the greatest piece of advice I got from Anne regarding acting. After I was finished doing a scene for the first time in her class she asked me how I think I did. I said “I am not sure.” She then asked me if everything that was supposed to be happening to me in the scene felt ‘real.’ I said “No... not everything.” Her next words were: “Kid, if it doesn't all feel real... it can be better.”

Eli is 95 and Anne is 85. They have been married for 63 years. They still go on walks together every day. Here they are walking back home after we all strolled around the block. We are lucky to have them in this world.

Anne Jackson and Eli Wallach

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