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Jerry Orbach was a Tony Award-winning American actor best known for his role as Detective Lennie Briscoe on Law & Order.
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Jerry Orbach was born on October 20, 1935, in the Bronx, New York. Leaving college in 1955, Orbach began an acting career. He played El Gallo in The Fantastiks and won a Tony Award in 1969 for his role in Promises. Moving to television, Orbach was a recurring guest star on Murder, She Wrote and The Golden Girls. In film,
he played the father of Jennifer Grey in Dirty Dancing. Orbach's best known TV role was as Detective Lennie Briscoe on Law & Order. He died in 2004.
Actor. Born Jerome Orbach, on October 20, 1935, in the Bronx, New York. The only child of Emily (nee O'Lexy), a greeting card manufacturer, and Leon Orbach, a restaurant manager. Since neither of his parents were strangers to the performing arts (his father had tried vaudeville and his mother once had a stint as a radio singer), they were always supportive of Jerry’s desire to be an actor. While Jerry was still in grade school, the family moved frequently but finally settled in Waukegan, Illinois, where he joined the football team and began learning basic acting techniques from his speech teacher. In 1952, following his high school graduation, he worked in summer stock at the Chevy Chase Country Club in Wheeling, Illinois, where he got to try his hand at everything from minor performances to set building. After attending the University of Illinois for one year, Jerry transferred to Northwestern University, where he continued to study the Stanislavsky method of drama.
In the fall of 1955, Orbach decided to forego his senior year at Northwestern and move to New York City, where he found work as an understudy in The Threepenny Opera. He stayed with the show for over three years, eventually playing the lead character, Mack the Knife. During this time, he continued to study acting under the tutelage of Herbert Berghof, Mira Rostova, and Lee Strasberg of The Actor’s Studio. In 1959, he received two simultaneous acting offers: one for a Broadway production paying $250 a week and the other for an off-Broadway show paying only $45 a week. Orbach chose the latter and created the role of El Gallo in the off-Broadway production The Fantastiks, which met exceptional reviews and became the longest running off-Broadway show in history. Orbach left the show in 1961 to make his Broadway debut in David Merrick’s production of Carnival! and won rave reviews for both his singing and his acting.
Following this success, Orbach experienced a brief slump; discouraged about being typecast in musicals, he spent a few miserable months trying unsuccessfully to break into films in Hollywood. However, he hit his stride once again when he returned to the East and earned a Tony nomination for his portrayal of Skye Masterson in Guys and Dolls and made a stunning, critically acclaimed performance as a neurotic Jewish intellectual in Scuba Duba. He then went on to win a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical in 1969 for his portrayal of Chuck Baxter in Promises, Promises, a Neil Simon adaptation of Billy Wilder’s 1960 film The Apartment.
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