Actress Elaine Kussack has spent her life immersed in the entertainment industry. She has appeared on stage and on screen since the 1950s, and she continues working today in her 80s. Elaine’s passion persists at an age when most other actors have long since retired. Her determination to pursue her career despite all odds and obstacles is what makes her so interesting, and so inspirational.
Elaine Kussack started young; as a child she had an interest in singing. When she was three years old she would listen to opera on the radio and try to sing like the performers. As she got older, she watched Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire films and became even more interested in the performing arts.
At age 13, Elaine made a bargain with her mother: she agreed never to smoke if her mother paid for singing lessons. Elaine went on to attend the Brooklyn Academy of Music throughout her high school years. Although she aspired to be an opera singer, she studied English in college and earned a BA and an MA in the field; she subsequently became an English teacher while continuing to attend opera workshops.
Elaine married an Air Force officer, Captain Lawrence J. Greenberg, and started a family. Due to her spouse’s military service, she and her family moved quite a lot. While stationed in Buffalo, New York, she joined a community theater and attended many regional auditions. During one such audition, a judge suggested she try to find a place in musical comedies–advice that Elaine took. Moving away from opera, she went on to become well known at the Buffalo Arena Stage for playing parts in productions such as “Kiss Me Kate” and “Three Penny Opera.”
When Elaine and her family moved to Cherry Hill, New Jersey in 1964, she won parts in-state and in nearby Philadelphia. During this time she landed a role in yet another production of “Kiss Me Kate,” a gig that led to her receiving her Actors Equity Card. She traveled for 12 weeks with the show, leaving her children in the care of her beloved and supportive mother-in-law. In 1967, Elaine’s husband was sent to Vietnam, and she and her children moved to New Rochelle, New York. During this time she stopped acting to focus on her family. Once her husband returned to the United States, Elaine resumed acting–landing her breakout role in the original Broadway production of “Fiddler on the Roof” in 1969.
Elaine went on to perform in five different productions of “Fiddler on the Roof,” in the leading roles of Golde or Yenta. “Of all the characters I’ve played Golde is my favorite because she reminds me of my mother,” Elaine stated in a recent interview. “She’s a wife and a mother and she keeps the family together so she also reminded me of my own role in my family. I understood her.” Elaine also recalled a fondness for playing the role of an Italian grandmother in a play titled “Over the River.” Since it was another family-oriented part, it appealed to her: “I love making audiences laugh but I also don’t mind making them cry–it’s being able to make them feel something that is key.”
When Elaine was in her 50s, she let her hair go gray and became a white-haired model. As she got older, she started acting more on TV and film rather than in theater. “There’s nothing like the stage since you get instant feedback from the audience, and that’s very satisfying” Elaine explained. “The stage is my favorite medium, but it’s too demanding a schedule; television and film is easier for me now.”
Elaine has landed many memorable roles on both TV and in movies. She has appeared in major feature films such as “Mr. Poppers Penguins,” “Admission,” and “Ghost Town” as well as prime time shows including “Ugly Betty,” “The Good Wife,” and “Law and Order,” amongst others. “I played the rabbi’s wife in ‘Sex in the City’ and everyone seems to remember me most from that,” she declared.
Amazingly, Elaine found acting roles for over four decades without an agent. “I used to promote myself a lot,” she explained. “I had a rule that I had to call five agents a day. I finally found a wonderful agent who I’m still working with today.” Via her agent, Elaine frequently has the opportunity to try out–and sometimes secure–parts in many big-name productions.
Aside from acting, Elaine serves as a mentor to many up-and-coming performers. Despite her success, she is quick to warn young people about the hardships of the business: “Acting is hard work and you have to treat it like a business. It’s not about meeting famous people, it’s about being committed. And you can’t do it only for the money because it’s hard to make a living this way alone; you really need another job to support yourself while you pursue acting. You also have to be prepared for a lot of disappointment since you’ll get rejected more than you’ll get accepted. To quote my old acting teacher, Michael Shurtleff, ‘Anyone who can quit, should. Acting is really only for people who feel they have no choice.’” Elaine is proud to call herself an “acting addict.” “If I get a call for an audition, I’ll go,” she stated, “and I’ll keep going until I physically can’t do so anymore.”
Despite the fact that she never achieved great fame, Elaine is very satisfied with the way her life turned out. “I’ve lived the way I envisioned I would as a little girl,” she stated. “I got to entertain people, and I have a family who are also interested in the media industry.” This is certainly true; Elaine’s daughter, Carin Greenberg, is a Daytime Emmy-winning writer for children’s television, and Elaine’s granddaughter is seeking to become a producer. Of her career, Elaine has few regrets; “I just hope that one day I’ll have a chance to say a line that is really meaningful and memorable. Playing a part that makes a lasting impression is my dream role. I never got to be truly famous but I have lived a good life and I’m very happy to have had the experiences that I have had.”
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