We say goodbye to one of our most beloved company members Eleanor Jacobs in this special segmented Spotlight Series.
There are some people in your life when you can remember the exact moment of how you met them. And then there are others who just seemed to have always been in your life — no beginning point — just always there from the start.
Eleanor Jacobs is in the category of the later. I don’t remember how Eleanor began with our company — there never seemed to be a beginning. I do remember Eleanor said that an instructor from ACT (American Conservatory Theater) told her she should get involved with African-American Shakespeare Company.
Many of you might remember her playing the Grandmother in Cinderella for several years, but Eleanor had two other stand out roles with the company as Lena Younger the matriarch of the Younger Family in A Raisin in the Sun; and Big Momma in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Eleanor was brilliant in both roles, but that is no surprise as L. Peter Callender was her director. Eleanor commented, “working with Peter [Callender] is like taking a master acting class.”
Peter commented that her work ethic was excellent as he would often push her beyond her comfort level. There would be a time when Peter would coach her through a scene and he could stop as Eleanor would focus in with a look in her eye and tell Peter “I know exactly what you want from this scene.”
“There was a gravitas presence when she portrayed the roles of Lena Younger and Big Momma. She had that respect for me as the Director, and as her Artistic Director, but she also treated me like a son. Always gave me a hug, asking, ‘how am I doing’ and ‘did you eat?’ She was very maternal to the cast. She will be missed” – L. Peter Callender
During the run of A Raisin in the Sun, I would come out and watch the performance near the end when the Eleanor as Lena Younger, would take her final look around the room, turn off the lights, and slowly close the door. All you would see is a special light on the little plant she had been lovingly caring for throughout the play left on the window sill; and I would hear audible gasps and comments from the audience “she left the plant behind”, only to have Eleanor re-enter 10 seconds later and swiftly go to claim her special plant and close the door once again.
As Big Momma in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, I can still hear her lilt of a high pitch whine when she would say, “Oh Big Daddy, don’t be so cruel!” It seemed the character was always in tears, but the actress herself was not a shrinking violet. During one school matinee performance, a student asked if she was anything like her character. Eleanor put one hand on her hip, leaned in closer, and pointed her manicured fingernail in the audience and said in a slow stern voice, “If ANY man talked to me the way Big Daddy talked to his wife there would be problems”.
Eleanor Jacobs has been part of the African-American Shakespeare Company family for over ten years. She has seen some of the children in our company grow-up, she’s given out advice, and even counseled me a few times on the situation of our venue challenge. Even the times Eleanor wasn’t cast, she would still attend our performances as a patron. Eleanor considered African-American Shakespeare Company to be her second home. And she often displayed her comfort level whenever she arrived. Unfortunately, some of our new company members didn’t know this as they would get a surprise visit from Eleanor in their dressing rooms after the show in the midst of changing. It didn’t matter to Eleanor — they were all family!
Eleanor was always enthusiastic and loving asking everyone about their day, and after rehearsals she would always say “good job”! to her fellow cast mates. Her laughter was infectious and broad as it was a call to circle around Eleanor during rehearsals and converse. Eleanor and I would have conversations about the company, running the business, city politics, and her “Bob”. Bob Davis was the love of Eleanor’s life. Her eyes would light up like a child on Christmas whenever she talked about Bob Davis.
This year past season I noticed that I had not seen Eleanor as a patron. And something in my mind told me to give her a call. I wanted to check-in and see what she was doing. Eleanor and her son came to the Antony and Cleopatra performance and she was so proud to see Peter on stage. We were proud to have her spend the time with us well.
There could not be a greater star to us than Eleanor Jacobs, and while she took her last curtain call with African-American Shakespeare Company – her spotlight will never fade in our hearts.
Homecoming Services were held Thursday, August 11th at McAvoy O’Hara & Evergreen Mortuary in San Francisco.