Remembering Doris Jacoby

Doris Jacoby died last month, at 94.

The longtime Westporter and her husband Frank received a Westport Arts Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012 for their contributions to film and television. That followed by 5 years a Friends of the Westport Library Special Friend Award.

The couple shared a career as pioneers during the golden age of television, including founding New York City’s first public television station.

They later started Jacoby/Storm Productions and traveled to over 60 countries making educational, documentary and corporate films.

Doris and Frank Jacoby, in the mid-1980s.

In addition to her professional accomplishments, she was a violinist (having studied at Juilliard from the age of 13), gardener, knitter, sculptor, and adoring grandmother to Alana, Maia, Greg, and Devon.

Her eldest granddaughter Alana is a musical theater writer, theater-maker and educator. She lives in the Hudson Valley, and wrote this remembrance:

When Doris Jacoby received a lifetime achievement award from her alma mater Brooklyn College in 2015, she suggested it be renamed a “lifetime achievement up until now award.” She said, “I’m only 89, and I’m not done yet.”

No one would have blamed her for being “done.” Behind her lay a remarkable career in film and television. She still ran a film screening series at the Westport Library, participated in a French conversation group, and had only recently given up ice skating (after starting lessons at age 73. There was always a magical notion among my family that Doris might outlive us all.

She had been destined for a life in show business. The younger daughter of Manheim and Fannie “Bobbie” Rosenzweig, she was born in 1926 in New York City. Her love of theater was firmly established by age 5, when she and her sister Sonya sold tickets to their productions around their neighborhood.

Doris and her older sister Sonya, circa 1928.

She followed in her musician mother’s footsteps, and began training as a violinist at Juilliard at 13. Theater is how she met my grandfather: When she was 19, she and Sonya borrowed scenery from the local Jacoby Playhouse for a production at the theatrical school they’d founded. Frank Jacoby, age 20, came to retrieve it.

They eloped 3 weeks later. Their marriage lasted 66 years, until Frank’s death in 2012.

Doris and Frank Jacoby celebrate with relatives and friends, a month after their elopement in 1946.

Doris and Frank’s professional relationship grew alongside their personal one, and they soon found themselves pioneers in the Golden Age of Television. Frank worked behind the scenes, while Doris flitted effortlessly between work behind and in front of the camera.

One moment she was a spokesperson, appearing on one of the first live TV news programs as the Con Edison Girl, extolling the wonders of electricity. The next, she was crouched under a table, slowly pulling a wick through a trick candle to create an illusion of a flame slowly disappearing for the opening segment of “Lights Out.”

Doris Jacoby — the “Con Ed girl” — with John Tillman on WPIX-TV, around 1949.

Doris and Frank put Channel 13 on the air, sparking a decades-long love of educational programming. They established Jacoby/Storm Productions (she was known professionally as Doris Storm) and traveled the world together making educational, documentary and corporate films, often working alongside their three sons, Doug, Bruce and Jeff. Their films included “The Wonderful World of Westport,” created to celebrate the town’s 150th anniversary in 1985.

Doris defied gender expectations throughout her life. She received special permission to study physics in high school, and was the only girl in her class.

She was the kind of woman who not only broke barriers, but also turned around to help the next woman through. One day during her tenure as the first female senior vice president of the publishing firm Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, she discovered her secretary sobbing in the restroom, having been sent home for wearing a pantsuit to work. Doris assured her everything would be okay. She bought her own pantsuit after work that evening and wore it the next day. Doris paraded into every male executive’s office, daring them to criticize her. No one said a word.

My grandmother was a true disciple of the tenet, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” Her quick wit and dramatic instincts turned tales from her acclaimed career into the stuff of legends. In a favorite story whose details I never entirely understood even while she was telling it, she claims to have single-handedly persuaded the government of Armenia to reinstate Daylight Savings Time in 1997.

I will always remember her in a t-shirt that read, “If I knew grandchildren were so much fun, I would have had them first.” I’ll remember her showing me how to plant vegetables and solve crossword puzzles, stirring a bowl of chocolate pudding, teaching me how to knit as we made a hat for my cousin.

My memories of folding laundry with her or peeling an apple in a single spiral stand out as brightly as memories of Broadway shows and strolling the streets of Paris. She was the kind of person it felt special to be around, no matter what we did. She was an exceptionally excellent grandmother to me, my sister Maia, and my cousins Greg and Devon. She was incredibly well loved when she died peacefully at home on January 27.

Doris Jacoby accepting her Lifetime Achievement Award from Brooklyn College, her alma mater, in 2015.

If you feel inclined to donate in her memory, our family asks you to consider 2 options. Doris was extraordinarily proud of the work she did to establish Devon’s Place, a Boundless Playground in Norwalk that allows children of a wide range of abilities to play together. Named in honor of my youngest cousin, the park has been hugely important to countless children since it opened in 2004. It is due to be renovated within the next year, and we are currently collecting funds for this project.

Another wonderful option is to donate to the Reading Activity program at the Thomas Hooker School (138 Roger Williams Road, Bridgeport, CT 06610), where Doris read aloud to students up until her last few years. She touched many lives through this program.

 

6 responses to “Remembering Doris Jacoby

  1. Wendy Crowther

    What a beautifully-written tribute to Doris.

    Her life, and those of her husband and her children, intersected with mine at the Westport YMCA back in the 1980s and 1990s when I worked there and they were members. They even cast me in one of their corporate films as a business person attending a staff meeting. I had one line: “Sorry, I’m late.” It was so fun.

    In the last few years, Doris and I crossed paths once again in another fitness setting. She was coming for workouts with a personal training colleague of mine. Doris was still a force to be reckoned with and certainly knew her way around a gym. I was so impressed that she was still pursuing her health and fitness thirty years later.

    Westport has lost another Grande Dame. My condolences go out to all members of her family.

  2. What a wonderful eulogy. It sounds like she should have been the subject of a documentary having led such a full and fascinating life.

  3. Roseann Spengler

    Wonderful story. Makes me proud to be a woman, although somewhat inadequate. Where can I get one of those tee shirts?

  4. Susan Gold Falkenstein

    Doris was dynamic person that filled a room with such a joyful life force and positivity. I was proud to have worked with Doris and Frank at Jacoby Storm Productions and to see how a winner works. She was a beautiful, kind, creative and spirited person that left a profound effect on all who knew her.
    Kudos to you Doris for being a shining beacon for us all!

  5. Eileen R Winnick

    I was a young actress working on a Jacoby/ Storm film in Westport. Who appeared at the door but this amazing multi-tasking producer-Doris Jacoby. A woman! She made script changes, handled wardrobe, took lunch orders and produced the film. Whip-smart, kind, efficient, organized, and very funny, Doris was respected and loved by everyone who worked with her. She changed the way, I looked at women in a male-dominated industry. Remarkable woman. Eileen Ryan Winnick

  6. She was an amazing, bright, funny and friendly woman. I enjoyed often sitting next to her in french class. She had many great stories to tell.