Elaine Cancilla Orbach, Widow of Jerry Orbach Passes Away at 69

By: Apr. 02, 2009
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Elaine Orbach, born January 19th, 1940 in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, the Daughter of Anna and Salvatore Cancilla. The cause of death was pneumonia. She was 69 years old.

From the age of ten to sixteen she studied dance at the Community School of Pittsfield. A teacher took her to New York where she auditioned for George Balanchine at the School of the American Ballet. She was accepted at the school with a full scholarship and started classes at age seventeen. She was placed in the professional ballet class with Jacques d'Amboise, Melissa Hayden, and budding ballerinas including Patricia McBride. After seeing the original production of West Side Story at the Winter Garden Theatre she decided to become a show dancer. Following a stint in summer stock in North Tonawanda, she landed her first Broadway musical, Fiorello!, at age nineteen.

She went directly from that show into How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying where she became a favorite dancer of choreographer Bob Fosse. During her breaks in the performance of How to Succeed she and the other dancers would sneak over to the Imperial Theatre where Carnival! was playing, and watch her future husband, Jerry Orbach and Anna Maria Alberghetti in the show. More Broadway shows followed including Here's Love!, Flora, the Red Menace, Baker Street, and Sweet Charity. After a leading role in the national tour of Sweet Charity she turned her career to summer stock. For eight years, she was a featured lead in such theatres as the famous Melody Top theatre in Milwaukee. She starred in many shows including South Pacific and The Unsinkable Molly Brown. Bob Fosse called her and asked her to standby for Chita Rivera in the original company of Chicago on Broadway. It was there she met Jerry Orbach for the first time.

They dated for almost a year, finally deciding to get married while both were performing on the national tour of Neil Simon's Chapter Two. After they were married, Elaine left show business and devoted herself to her marriage. Along with her husband, she was an ardent supporter of many charities.

Elaine recently completed a memoir of her marriage to Jerry Orbach, Remember How I Love You: Ordinary Moments in an Extraordinary Marriage, with co-author Ken Bloom. It will be published this fall by Simon & Schuster's Touchstone imprint.

She is predeceased by her husband, Jerry Orbach. She is survived by a sister, Rita Hubbard, and a brother Robert Cancilla and his wife Patricia Cancilla. Her nieces and nephews are Alan and Sandi Hubbard, Jeffrey and Wendy Hubbard, David and Mary Cancilla, Paul Cancilla, Jackie and Joseph Harrington, Patricia and David Lynch. She also had eight beautiful grand nieces and nephews.

Funeral arrangements are private.

Donations can be made to The Elaine and Jerry Orbach Musical Theatre Fellowship through the Theatre Hall of Fame or the Jerry Orbach Fund for Prostate Research at Sloan-Kettering Hospital.