Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Jill Clayburgh, 1944-2010. R.I.P.
I was saddened to hear of the passing of actress Jill Clayburgh, who succumbed to chronic lymphocytic leukemia eleven days ago. She had struggled with the disease for over twenty years.
While her film career spanned four decades, I remember her most for several notable roles in the late 1970’s, including her portrayal of Erica in An Unmarried Woman... a role that garnered her an Oscar nomination among other tokens of recognition.
That movie might have been the first I ever saw with a puke scene... Erica’s response upon hearing her husband confess his infidelity. It’s also the reason there are only two degrees of separation between me and the late Ms. Clayburgh. Let me explain.
There’s a scene in An Unmarried Woman in which Erica - sometime after her husband has left her - goes to see Dr. Jacobs, her doctor. She’s trying to understand what has happened to her and is seeking help in weathering the resulting emotional shitstorm... and the good doctor proceeds to hit on her. (Needless to say, Erica is not pleased.)
“Are you seeing other men yet?” Daniel Seltzer (1933-1980) as Dr. Jacobs in An Unmarried Woman.
Dr. Jacobs was played by one Daniel Seltzer, a Harvard Ph.D. who was also a distinguished Shakespearean scholar and Tony award-winning stage actor, and who served as chairman of Princeton’s McCarter Theatre for several years in the early- to mid-1970’s. Seltzer’s career, alas, was cut short: He passed away in 1980 at the age of 47.
Seltzer was also my English professor, under whom I studied Modern Dramatic Art and Advanced Shakespeare at Princeton. They were both pretty far off the beaten track for me given that I was a chemical engineer, but they were far and away among the most fascinating courses I took thanks largely to Seltzer’s acting abilities and larger-than-life personality.
It was astonishing to see his face on the movie screen, complete with his signature pouf of frizzy red hair, in that scene with Ms. Clayburgh. It was equally astonishing that she was playing the superannuated wife who was being ditched for a Younger Woman... at the advanced age of thirty-five.
Jill Clayburgh was a talented lady; I will miss her. Ave atque vale!