Dazed and confused? Not me. I’m just Lost in the Cheese Aisle.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Jill Clayburgh
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.)

Daniel Seltzer
“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!


Kevin Kim said...

I had a crush on her in the 1980s, back when I saw "Silver Streak" (with Gene Wilder) on TV. She was a lovely lady, and this is sad news, indeed.

Jim - PRS said...

Ah, I had to think for a second about what movie(s) I had seen her in, and then it came to me: the puke scene. She was brilliant in that movie.

Rahel Jaskow said...

I remember her as Catherine in the musical "Pippin." Sweet, simple, touching. Barukh dayyan ha-emet.

Houston Steve said...

Chemical Engineering student takes Shakespeare course at Ivy League school and lives to tell the tale. Funny how studying the liberal arts makes those of us who did it that much more interesting and interested. While chemical engineering may have paid the bills, understanding the arts helps to make the life worth living, don'cha think?

I shall now descend from my soap box and return to my reveries of the Pendarvis Matter.

Bou said...

I had no idea that she died and that she had CLL. Whereas sometimes they can cure other leukemias, there is no cure for the chronics. Twenty years is a long life with it; I don't think it is typically that long. I was thinking 10-15. There are new drugs that help it, one came out two months after a friend of mine died of leukemia. But they only help keep you alive, keep you out of a leukemic state, they can't cure you. The last race I ran, I ran for a woman who has multiple myeloma (still no cure) and for my cousin who has CLL. Leukemia is a bitch.

Anonymous said...

I found your blog because I was googling Dan Seltzer. A hundred years ago, I studied theater in a summer program at Harvard. I was sixteen at the time and Dan Seltzer ran the program. He was so respectful and encouraging of all of us. What an impression he made on me... He was larger than life and his enthusiasm and precision as an instructor was seminal in my pursuing acting as a career. I was happy to read your comments. He touched so manynof us. Yes.