Actor Marj Dusay has died. Marj is one of the lead actors in my second feature film, A Chronicle of Corpses. Marj and I met by chance at the New York-Avignon Film Festival in 1998 where the first feature film I directed, Magdalen, was screening. I knew who she was immediately as I was/am a huge Guiding Light fan and loved her Alexandra Spaulding on the show.
That first day Marj and I smoked a few cigarettes outside the film festival reception (they were doing a tribute to Sam Fuller that year) and, as The Steel Helmet ground away in the background, I told Marj how skillful I thought her work was. Marj had just done Love Walked In and said the independent film was a nice change of pace from soap work. I mentioned specific scenes from various projects, the way she had played them, and how they impressed me. I believe she was flattered. Finally, I asked if Marj would look at a script in about six-month’s time for what was going to be my next movie. Marj said to call her when I was ready and I did. Marj read the script, we met for coffee at Cafe des Artistes on 6th Avenue, and Marj said she’s play ‘Grandmother Elliot’ in A Chronicle of Corpses – I was thrilled – a show business dream come true!
Marj was the first actor I wrote a role for (whom I did not know). I had been thinking about her for the part before we met. Marj was also the first actor I worked with who was not primarily a theater actor. Marj was trouper (as was the rest of the New York cast), traveling down to Philly on the train Summer ’99 to film. Marj came back in October for some pick-up shots. she was incredible complementary to my crew and they loved her… that meant the world to me. My Mother loved Marj too – she would drive Marj around Philly and they sneak off to go shopping (“Mother, seriously, I need Marj on set by 10 – no later!”), or to tour bakeries to “window shop” (Marj was on a low carb diet at the time but would have just one bite of something ultra-carb-y every morning with her coffee).
My movie, A Chronicle of Corpses, climaxes with Marj reveling all (well, maybe, she plays a rather unreliable character) in an seven-minute tour de force monologue – we shot this scene on my actual 21st birthday, and it remains a dream fulfilled – Marj Dusay in a movie of mine!
Marj won best actress for her role in A Chronicle of Corpses at the Estepona, Spain Fantastic Film Festival in ’03 and her work in the picture always drawls positive notices.
After we wrapped, I have fond memories of being Marj’s date to the Daytime Emmy’s in ’99 and ’00. I also remember the time Marj, Ruth Warwick and I went out to dinner at the old Jo-Jo’s on the Upper East Side and I quizzed Ruth about Gregg Toland, Song of the South, Orson Welles and working on Citizen Kane (we all skipped the bread basket that night, as I recall).
I always thought Marj and I might find another project to work on together, but it was not to be.
Dear Marj – thank you for your performance as Grandmother Elliot, for being so game, and for taking a chance on a precocious young filmmaker.
Today, my heart is heavy that Marj will not be with the rest of the cast and crew of A Chronicle of Corpses when the movie turns 20 this year and will be re-released in a stunning new 4K digital restoration commencing with a screening at The Museum of Modern Art, NYC, 24 March 2020, 7 PM. If Marj’s family and friends are in New York that night, I hope they will attend and that the screening will be a celebration of all our hard work that magical summer twenty years ago as well as Marj’s life, largess, and spirit!
–Andrew Repasky McElhinney, 1/30/2020