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Anne Jackson And Eli Wallach Honored With Stage At Bay Street

Originally Posted: May 06, 2010

Douglas MacKaye Harrington

Anne Jackson, Eli Wallach and Lauren Bacall sitting front row center at the tribute celebrating the new "Annie and Eli" second stage at Bay Street. (Douglas Harrington)

Sag Harbor - In an intentional reversal of order the curtain came down and then went up on Bay Street's new second stage named in honor of legendary actors Anne Jackson and Eli Wallach.

Katherine Wallach reading a tribute by Harvey Keitel.

The evening began with a star studded wine and cheese reception in Bay Street Theatre's beautiful lobby. Surrounded by family, friends and fans, Jackson and Wallach graciously embraced the affection of the SRO crowd that attended the event in support of the Sag Harbor theater that has produced professional productions and educational programs in the village since 1992, including sending several plays to Broadway.

Considered one of the great romances in show business history, Jackson and Wallach have been married since 1948 and have appeared together in numerous stage, film and television productions. Daughters and actresses Katherine and Roberta Wallach participated in the ceremony honoring their parents with Katherine serving as the evening's Mistress of Ceremonies and Roberta performing several iconic scenes from her parents lexicon with actor Peter Riegert. Jackson and Wallach's son Peter Wallach and their two grandsons were also present at the celebration.

During the reception their their friend Lauren Bacall told me, "I met them a long time ago, many, many years. They are great friends and I couldn't be happier for them." Bacall was accompanied by her Papillion puppy and sat front row center with Jackson and Wallach during the tribute.

Playwright Joe Pintauro during his touching tribute heralding the hard, beautiful work of the theatre and Jackson and Wallach's impact upon it.

I caught up with actress and Hamptonite Blythe Danner who recalled the first time she met the couple, "I think it was when Anne Bancroft and some others were trying to form a new American repertory company in New York City, I attended several meetings. I have just always loved them; they are so warm and generous. They are icons of the American theatre and when I found out this was going on I just had to stay over another day."

Once inside the theatre, Executive Director Sybil Christopher and Artistic Director Murphy Davis came through the red curtains of the new theatre and welcomed the guests with opening remarks that heralded the support that Jackson and Wallach have given to Bay Street since its inception. Murphy explained the concept of the new theatre, named the "Annie and Eli," as a 99 seat theatre that will allow Bay Street to offer productions throughout the year. Essentially, removable walls go up and the present "Elaine Steinbeck" theatre shrinks in size.

Tammy Grimes serenaded Jackson and Wallach with a rendition of Anne Murray's "Could I Have This Dance."

Davis later told me, "It was such a natural for us, because Anne and Eli have been such supporters since we opened our doors. It was a no brainer; we immediately knew we wanted to name it after Annie and Eli. They have been such a gift to us and when you get to give back it is the best feeling in the world." The Actors Equity union worked with Bay Street to create a 99 seat contract that will allow the theatre company to produce more theatricals between September and May, including new work from emerging playwrights.

The curtains opened to reveal a large backdrop film screen, a grand piano, a pair of microphones on a center stage platform and two Plexiglas podiums, one of which Katherine used to orchestrate the evening's tribute, reading numerous messages of congratulations throughout the event from the likes of Harvey Keitel, Mike Nichols, Liam Neeson and Patricia Neal, whose photos appeared on the screen behind her. The Wallach sisters also read a tribute from Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara in duet that was nothing short of hysterical. There was, as well, a touching video tribute by Al Pacino.

Legendary actors Brian Murray and Zoe Caldwell perform a staged reading of a Jackson/Wallach performance.

The live performances of the evening began when Tammy Grimes opened the event by singing "Could I Have This Dance" following the story of when Jackson and Wallach first met on stage all those years ago. Among the evening's other performances, legendary actors Brian Murray and Zoe Caldwell took the stage for staged readings of scenes from Jackson/Wallach performances in "Waltz of the Toreadors" and "Major Barbara." As too did Roberta and Riegert later on in the program render a reading from "Luv" by Murray Schisgal, a 1964 Broadway play that starred Jackson, Wallach and Alan Arkin.

American theatre icons Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson at Bay Street Theatre's ceremony celebrating them and the "Annie and Eli" stage named in their honor.

Schisgal was in attendance to deliver a live tribute in which he noted, "Of all the tributes to Annie and Eli I have been a part of, I believe this is the first time they have had a theater named after them." Betsy Von Furstenberg also took the podium to deliver her own congratulations to the couple, sharing stories of their long time friendship.

Perhaps the evening's most poignant tribute was delivered by playwright Joe Pintauro who spoke of the beautiful and hard work that is the theatre and the profound body of work created by Jackson and Wallach. Referencing the fact that May 1 in France is their Labor Day and people give everyone they love Lilies of the Valley, he said, "If anything is a symbol of work it is the Lily of the Valley and because you are people with roots, I have brought you Lilies of the Valley that you can plant in East Hampton. They are as beautiful as you."

The honorees take center stage to a standing ovation surrounded by the evening's performers.

After the entire audience joined in to serenade Jackson and Wallach with a rendition of "A Bushel and a Peck" at the conclusion of the festivities, Christopher and Murphy escorted the couple to center stage where they were joined by the evening's performers to a standing ovation. Attendees surrounded the couple offering praise and congratulations. Jackson told me, "I must be dreaming. I think this is the best thing that ever happened. I think I am dreaming, so don't wake me up."

A dream indeed, now realized. The dream of Bay Street to be able to present year-round productions, the dream of Jackson and Wallach to be honored by a stage in the village they love and the dream of the community to share in the celebration of two of America's greatest actors who have profoundly left their imprint on the beautiful work that is the art of the theatre.

For more information go to www.baystreet.org.

Frequently mistaken for the "Most Interesting Man in the World" from the Dos Equis commercials and the iconic gray-bearded Sean Connery, DMH is the Senior Contributing Editor at Hamptons.com. www.hamptons.com Hamptons HamptonsOnline HamptonsOnline


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