NEW YORK — Anne Jackson, who was half of one of America’s best-known acting couples, sharing much of a long and distinguished career with her husband, Eli Wallach, died Tuesday at her home in Manhattan. She was 90.
Her death was confirmed by her daughter Katherine Wallach.
If not quite on the same level of stardom as Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne or Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy, Ms. Jackson and Wallach came close. From the early 1950s to 2000, when they co-starred off-Broadway in Anne Meara’s comedy “Down the Garden Paths,” they captivated audiences with their onstage synergy, displaying the tense affections and sizzling battles of two old pros who knew how to love and how to fight.
Ms. Jackson had an impressive stage career of her own. Critics hailed her range and the subtlety of her characterizations, including all the women — from a middle-aged matron to a grandmother — in David V. Robison’s “Promenade, All!” (1972) and a housewife verging on hysteria in Alan Ayckbourn’s “Absent Friends” (1977). She was nominated for a Tony for her performance as the daughter of a manufacturer, played by Edward G. Robinson, in Paddy Chayefsky’s “Middle of the Night” (1956).
But she was best known for her work with Wallach, who died in 2014. Together they appeared in classics by Shaw and Chekhov; in dramas by Tennessee Williams and Eugène Ionesco; and, perhaps most notably, in offbeat comedies by Murray Schisgal.
They both won Obie Awards for their work in Schisgal’s 1963 off-Broadway double bill, “The Typists” and “The Tiger.” They also starred in his hit 1964 Broadway comedy, “Luv,” co-starring Alan Arkin and directed by Mike Nichols, which ran 901 performances and won three Tony Awards, and in another pair of Schisgal one-acts, “Twice Around the Park,” on Broadway in 1982.
Reviewing “Twice Around the Park” in The New York Times, Frank Rich wrote: “It would be absurd to think of a more perfect Schisgal woman (or maybe even a more perfect woman) than Miss Jackson — who is cool, poised, and intelligent except on those occasions when she crumbles to the floor to demand that Mr. Wallach give her a sound kicking. (Don’t worry: Miss Jackson doesn’t deserve the punishment, and Mr. Wallach, deep down, is far too kind to deliver it.)”
Ms. Jackson and Wallach appeared together 13 times on Broadway, seven times off-Broadway, and occasionally in movies. Later in their careers, they did most of their work on television. The volatility that characterized much of Ms. Jackson’s and Wallach’s stage work often carried over into their dressing rooms, with life imitating art over some technique or timing in a performance. Friends called it candid shoptalk by perfectionists who respected each other intellectually, emotionally, and professionally.
Life in the Jackson-Wallach apartment on Riverside Drive was also a turbulent affair: a juggling of finances and schedules to meet the demands of show business, marriage, and parenthood — raising three children in the competitive wilds of Manhattan.
In 1979, Ms. Jackson published a memoir that surprised critics. It was not about her career and had no spicy gossip or self-promotional revelations. The book, “Early Stages,” was instead a frank examination of her childhood and the years of turmoil that formed her, ending poignantly with the deaths of her parents.
She also examined her early days with Wallach. “We had a lot in common,” she wrote. “Neither of us could sing; both of us loved to act; we were both ambitious and idealistic; and we endowed each other with the most extraordinary virtues.”
Anna Jane Jackson was born Sept. 3, 1925, in Millvale, Pa., near Pittsburgh, the youngest of three daughters of John Jackson, a Croatian immigrant barber and an avowed Communist, and the former Stella Murray, the Irish Catholic daughter of a coal miner.
When Anna was 7, the family moved to Brooklyn, where she slept on a parlor couch with elevated trains pounding past the window and her mismatched parents battling endlessly. She became a troublemaker and a thief and once threatened to jump out a window unless she was given movie money.
Movies were her escape. By age 11, she could do impressions of Charles Laughton, Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Shirley Temple, and Jeanette MacDonald. She excelled in drama in high school, won a talent contest, and took acting lessons.
Her mother suffered a breakdown when Anna was 14 and spent the rest of her life in mental institutions.
Ms. Jackson met Wallach, 10 years her senior, in 1946, when they were cast in a production of Tennessee Williams’ “This Property Is Condemned.” They joined the American Repertory Theatre, appearing in “Henry VIII,” “Androcles and the Lion,” and “What Every Woman Knows,” and married in 1948.
For years the couple studied method acting with Lee Strasberg, who also taught Anne Bancroft, Montgomery Clift, James Dean, and Marilyn Monroe, who worked for the Wallachs as a baby sitter.
Ms. Jackson won acclaim in Williams’s “Summer and Smoke” (1948) and Shaw’s “Arms and the Man” (1950). In Edward Chodorov’s comedy “Oh, Men! Oh, Women!” (1953), she delivered a memorable 20-minute monologue from a psychiatrist’s couch.
She appeared with Wallach and Laughton in Shaw’s “Major Barbara” (1957). Among the other plays in which they co-starred were Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie” (1959), Ionesco’s “Rhinoceros” (1961), and Jean Anouilh’s “The Waltz of the Toreadors” (1973).
In 1978 they appeared together in an off-Broadway revival of “The Diary of Anne Frank,” alongside their two daughters. Roberta Wallach played Anne, and Katherine Wallach played Anne’s sister, Margot.
In addition to her daughters, Ms. Jackson leaves a son, Peter; a sister, Beatrice Marz; three grandchildren; and a great-grandson.
Wallach received an honorary Academy Award for lifetime achievement in 2010. “Lifetime achievement?” Ms. Jackson said at a crowded celebration in Los Angeles. “Oh, my God. He’s still learning. And this leads me to the truth of the matter: I taught him everything he knows.”