When we covered cast members of ER last April, I knew going in there wasn’t actually going to be room to talk about everyone. I’d already done Gedde Watanabe the January before, so that was one down, but the show was on the air for a long time and had a huge cast. Unfortunately, Gloria Reuben was one of the ones who got left out, but that meant she needed to get added to the schedule for another time. She’s too talented to be left out.
While there’s more to Gloria Reuben than Jeannie Boulet, that is where we’re going to start. It’s probably her most notable role. Certainly it’s the role that brought her to my attention. She’s a physician assistant—in my mind, at least, an underrated job that fills in a lot of gaps in hospitals and clinics around the country. Jeannie is married, but her husband is fairly worthless. Eventually, he gives her HIV. Her story arc is moving and powerful, and Reuben handled the role with skill and dignity.
Okay, so there’s great big gaps in my awareness of her career—the thing about writing this column every week, and the corresponding Saturday column, is that I simply cannot keep up with everyone’s entire career before writing about them. This is something that will probably go better in the After Time, when my kids aren’t in the house all day. But even if all you knew Reuben for was Jeannie, that’s a pretty decent thing to know her for.
What’s more, she was also part of the truly phenomenal cast of Lincoln. She was in a role that didn’t have to be in the movie at all. She played Elizabeth Keckley, dressmaker and confidante to Sally Fields as Mary Todd Lincoln. Arguably she had nothing to do with the passage of the 13th Amendment. However, as Keckley, Reuben provides one of the emotional centers of the film, the only character who actually experienced slavery. She is also the only one who seems to care about the feelings of Mrs. Lincoln. It’s a powerful role even though it’s a minor one.
Gloria Reuben is one of those people who should be a bigger name than she is. She’s beautiful. She’s a fine actress. She’s a talented musician. She’s sung backup to Tina Turner, and she’s released a couple of albums. She’s also written a book. The clip I found on YouTube so I could hear her singing voice included her accompanying herself on the piano as well. She was definitely someone I had to get back to even if I filled ER month without her.