Elaine Steinbeck, Author's Widow and Former Stage Manager, Dead at 88

By Kenneth Jones
29 Apr 2003

Elaine Steinbeck, the widow of John Steinbeck and a former Broadway stage manager in a time when women rarely held such positions, died April 27 in Manhattan at the age of 88.



Mrs. Steinbeck served as a replacement assistant stage manager for Oklahoma! in the 1940s and later supervised a national tour of Othello starring Paul Robeson. Her later role in life was protecting and promoting the work of her late husband.

Theatre was in her blood from an early age, when the Austin, TX, born Elaine Anderson studied drama at the University of Texas. There, she met her future husband, Zachary Scott. The couple moved east and worked for various theatres, including Westport Country Playhouse and The Theatre Guild. They divorced in 1949. The next year, she and the novelist John Steinbeck were married until his death in 1968.

Even in her later years, Mrs. Steinbeck remained connected to the theatre, both on her own and because of interest in Steinbeck's works for the stage. She was a board member of the Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor, NY, where she lived when not in Manhattan.

Years after The Theatre Guild ceased being a potent force in American theatre, Mrs. Steinbeck remained attached to them, perhaps for the sake of history and sentiment.

Press agent Susan L. Schulman told Playbill On-Line that when The Theatre Guild production of State Fair was coming into New York in 1995-96 after touring, the producers needed a new show curtain to set the mood for the musical.

"The didn't have any money for it so Elaine Steinbeck paid for it," Schulman said. "As The Theatre Guild had been important to her throughout her career, it was her way of saying thank you. No one knew about it at her request so it was never acknowledged in the program or anywhere else. She played a key role in helping the Theatre Guild out of a tough spot."

As executor of Steinbeck's estate she would evaluate requests for his short stories and novels to be turned into stage shows (East of Eden, for example, was seen in a two-part adaptation at Actors Theatre of Louisville, and Frank Galati's version of The Grapes of Wrath was a brief Broadway sensation in 1990, winning the Tony Award for Best Play). Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men is known as a novella and a play (both written by the author).

The New York Times reported that Mrs. Steinbeck was active with the Steinbeck Research Center at San Jose State University in California and, in 1996, donated a collection of letters sent to Steinbeck by international figures.

Survivors include daughter Waverly Scott Kaffaga, of New York City; stepson Thomas Steinbeck; four grandchildren; and two sisters.