The film is rapidly gaining popularity as it streams into homes across America via Hulu and Netflix. Abel Raises Cain sheds a bright light on Alan Abel’s career of heightening public awareness, but there is a softer focus to the film: the bond Jenny’s parents share.
The view is so subtle, you could miss it — which would have happened if it wasn’t our job to notice when somebody has a successful marriage! We learned that the Abels have encouraged one another for 50 years, which is a small part of the “magic formula” they have used to keep their marriage strong.
“We have our separate lives, so to speak,” says Alan, who is currently working on a new film, while Jeanne is in the completion phase of an in-depth biography that will answer questions being raised since the documentary’s release.
“I have to say that in any one day, a lot of the time we spend together is probably just dinner or breakfast, and then the rest of the time we are working in our own space,” Jeanne says, “But we enjoy the work process. We kick it around together in give and take.”
“We give each other massages occasionally,” Alan says, “I think touch is important, whether you’re old or young. We had dinner out not too long ago, that’s fun to do. We like to hold hands occasionally — go to the movies and hold hands.”
“We chase each other around the house naked occasionally,” Jeanne laughs.
Though they have gained notoriety for being publicity gurus, the Abels are hardly different from any other married couple who must also endure life’s lows. Not long ago, financial troubles prevented them from remaining in their family home of many years. They had no choice but to move their belongings to storage – including 180 boxes, trunks and file cabinets filled with over 60 years of eclectic memorabilia – and become house sitters.
The troubled times, they’ve shown, are worth surviving.
“Of all times to be important to stick together,” Jeanne says, “Jennifer and both of us, we’ve always been a tight family, so this was no time to be anything but that.”
“Growing up in Ohio, I lived a very disciplined life. He just forges ahead, and when things don’t go well, he picks himself up and goes on. He doesn’t buckle under all this. I admire that. I admire the fact that he doesn’t take “No.” for an answer.”
Jeanne has no regrets about the life she shares with her husband, despite the difficulties they’ve been through: “We’ve done a lot of things together. Everything we do is creative. He has a very outrageous idea or two here or there, and I point out it won’t work.”
“She is clairvoyant, Jeannie, she can see right through people. She has that magical power to know whether to be close to or run away from,” Alan says.
When Jeanne first showed up at his New York office in 1958, Alan could not have been happier. “I came to New York as an actress,” Jeanne says, “I had done theater in Cincinnati, got a union card and equity card, and thought, “Where else is there to go?” I was going to ask about Abel Films. He kept me in his office for this lengthy period of time and I couldn’t figure out why he was being so nice.”
Little did Jeanne know that Safari, Alan’s off-Broadway show had not done well. When the show closed, Alan called the company that rented scenery to Abel Films and told them they could take their things back. Somehow, a tree was never collected.
“So he was being sued for a tree,” Jeanne says, “That’s when I walked into his life.”
“When we first met, on that day, I was hiding from the process server,” Alan remembers, thinking back to their first conversation, “We were together 35-40 minutes. That chemistry was there. She was Miss Right. I’d had a lot of flirtations with women, nothing ever really serious, but this was it – and it wasn’t because I was getting older, I could have gone through life like a lot of men do. You don’t necessarily have to get married.”
But, Jeanne and Alan did, for a whopping two dollars at New York City Hall, September 11th, 1959.
“Then I went off on a lecture tour and she was in New York,” Alan says, “It was like being on the internet, because we did a lot of text messaging.”
“He wrote me a letter every day. It was pretty much a romance by mail.”
Today, Alan’s presence continues to make Jeanne feel satisfied and content, “His strengths are my weaknesses. If he takes the lead, then I do all the support work. When I was doing “Yetta Bronstein” (a Presidential campaign for a Jewish grandmother from the Bronx promoted by Alan) he did all the support work for that. When I was editing the film Is There Sex After Death?, he was doing the cooking and the cleaning.”
“We have veto power, too,” Alan says, “She can veto me and vice versa. She wants to go to Paris, we don’t have the money, we settle for a French kiss.”
“We find it hard to argue. We’ve never really had any major fight,” Jeanne says.
“But,” adds Alan, “It’s never too late to start.”
Alan Abel may be considered a hoaxer for his elaborate scripts and for scenes that cause great public alarm, like his campaign to ban breastfeeding, but to his wife, Jeanne, he is far more interesting.
She is in the process of writing a biography about his young life in Coshocton, Ohio, as a prequel to the Abel Raises Cain documentary. “Our goals are to finish this book, to make another film, a comedy, in the spirit in the Is There Sex After Death?, called Organza,” she says. With 50 creative years behind them and many more ahead, the Abels will not be lacking in entertainment.