Review: Jerry Orbach, Prince of the City - His Way from The Fantasticks to Law & Order, by John Anthony Gilvey

Jerry Orbach, Prince of the City:
His Way from The Fantastics to Law & Order

by John Anthony Gilvey
Applause Theatre & Cinema Books, 2011
157 pp.
I generally try to avoid biographies/ memoirs/ autobiographies as a rule - out of disinterest and a general distaste for the style. I haven't made an exception in a while, which is probably how I wound up with four of them on my Summer TBR pile this year. The two I've already covered (Oliver and Baker), one that I'm having a hell of a time getting through, and a Jerry Orbach biography that I couldn't refuse.

Everyone knows Jerry Orbach from something or another - this is ironic given what it took to get him to that height in the public's conscious. John Gilvey, in his well-researchecd biography, uses stories from Jerry's kids, wives, friends and mother, piecing together a comprehensive and full picture of Jerry's life and career for those who didn't have the good fortune to know him. 

After being born in NY, Jerry's family moved him to Wisconsin. He eventually made it back again, and became the picture of an ideal New Yorker. He led and lived a full and vibrant life surrounded by people who loved him - actors, directors, the mafia - you name it - with highs and lows like any other performer. The lows are a revelation for someone like me who only knew of him in the last fifteen years of his career, when he was an unbridled success. The harder times were certainly character-building for him and his family, and the later years in retrospect seem like karmic relief for what he'd endured up until then. He was a trailblazer of sorts who helped pave the way for actors who today so easily shift between theatre, television and film industries. Gilvey does not shy away from the darker patches in Jerry's life, nor does he judge anyone for them. It's simply another piece of Jerry's character. But for someone like me, those moments suddenly make that ideal New Yorker much more human. 

My one criticism of the book is that it reads like a biography. There's very little bravado to it, there's not a lot of creative structure. And given the subject matter, that would have made it more engaging. As it is, I can enjoy it because of my appreciation for Jerry. But for someone who only has a mild interest in his life, there's not a lot to draw the reader in. 


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