B'way stage manager, wife of John Steinbeck
Elaine Anderson Steinbeck, one of the first women to work as a Broadway stage manager and who later was the wife of Nobel Prize-winning author John Steinbeck, died April 27 in New York City after a long illness. She was 88.
Her first husband was thesp Zachary Scott, popular player in such 1940s and 1950s pics as “Mildred Pierce.”
After John Steinbeck’s death in 1968, Elaine Steinbeck became a self-described ambassador of the Nobel laureate’s legacy. She also remained active in the theater throughout her life.
Austin, Texas, native Elaine Anderson was the daughter of well-to-do parents in the oil business. She studied drama at the U. of Texas at Austin, where she met and fell in love with Scott, another aspiring actor. They married and had a daughter. After the couple moved to New York in 1939, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne recommended them to Lawrence Langer of the Theater Guild. Although Anderson hoped to be an actress, she went to work for the Theater Guild instead so Scott could pursue his career.
Scott quickly got roles in plays, but Anderson never found success as an actress. Still, she learned all she could about stage production and was hired in 1943 as an assistant stage manager for the historic original Broadway run of “Oklahoma!,” becoming one of the first women hired for such a job. Through the remainder of the 1940s, she was stage manager for a variety of shows and became one of the first women to manage a road company: a tour of “Othello” starring Paul Robeson.
Her marriage to Scott disintegrated after he went to Hollywood and became a major leading man. They divorced in 1950. She met John Steinbeck during a visit to California that year. The author had been asked to escort Ava Gardner to a dinner party in Carmel, but when Gardner had to cancel, the hostess asked Steinbeck to pick up actress Ann Sothern and “a friend” — Elaine Anderson Scott, visiting from New York. John and Elaine married before the end of the year, and until his death, the author would often raise a glass at parties to toast Ava Gardner.
The scribe, author of such classics as “The Grapes of Wrath” and “Of Mice and Men,” won the Nobel prize in 1962. Over the past 35 years, Elaine Steinbeck was his greatest supporter, editing volumes of his work, proudly showing off his Nobel medal to visiting reporters and speaking tirelessly on his behalf.
She lived in the Manhattan apartment she had shared with her husband, who died in 1968, but spent summers in Sag Harbor, in the heart of Long Island’s Hamptons. She was a board member of the Bay Street Theater there, and in 1998, it dedicated its stage to her honor. There to honor her were “chums” Edward Albee, Terrence McNally, E.L. Doctorow, Springsteen and Julie Andrews.
She is survived by a daughter, stepson, four grandchildren and two sisters. She was predeceased by one stepson and a grandson.
A memorial service was scheduled for 3 p.m. Thursday May 1 at the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home in Manhattan.
Donations can be made to the Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor, the Center for Steinbeck Studies at San Jose State U. or the Zachary Scott Theater Center in Austin.