Elsa Raven, perhaps best known for her small role as the “Save the Clock Tower” lady in Back to the Future, has died on Tuesday, November 3rd at the age of 91.
Born in 1929, in Charleston, South Carolina, Elsa Raven – born Elsa Rabinowitz – started her acting career on the stage in New York City, and assisted in bringing the Free Shakespeare Festival to Central Park. Raven made her first film appearance in 1970’s The Honeymoon Killers. In addition to her role in Back to the Future, Raven made notable appearances in many great films over the years.
In 1979’s The Amityville Horror, Elsa Raven played Mrs. Townsend, the realtor who sells the haunted house to the Lutz family. Raven would also work with Back to the Future director Robert Zemeckis’ mentor, Steven Spielberg in 1983’s Twilight Zone: The Movie. Raven would also appear in small parts in films like 1993’s Indecent Proposal and In the Line of Fire, Peter Weir’s 1993 drama Fearless, and she would play Gertrude Stein in 1988’s The Moderns. Raven’s last film role was in 2011’s Answers to Nothing, starring Lost’s Elizabeth Mitchell, Dane Cook, and Julie Benz.
Beyond Back to the Future, arguably Elsa Raven’s most famous role was in James Cameron’s massive 1997 blockbuster Titanic as Ida Straus. While most of her scenes were cut in the film, Straus is notably seen in Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On,” as one half of the couple holding each other in bed as the water rises in their room.
But past her roles in movies like Back to the Future and Titanic, Elsa Raven had a prolific career in television. Raven would appear in such popular shows as Quincy, M.E., The A-Team, and General Hospital. In 1989, Raven played the maid Inga in the Sherman Hemsley-led series Amen. She would play the character for 17 episodes between 1988 and 1990. From 1987 to 1990, Raven would play Carlotta Terranova Aiuppo, the mother to lead character Vinnie on the series Wiseguy.
In later years, Elsa Raven continued to appear in iconic television series, with performances in shows like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Murphy Brown, The Larry Sanders Show, Seinfeld, 3rd Rock from the Sun, Everybody Loves Raymond and ER. From 1994 to 1999, Raven would play multiple roles on the NBC soap opera Days of Our Lives, and in 2006, she appeared as herself in the Back to the Future documentary, Looking Back to the Future.
Elsa Raven was also a member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. She is survived by her sister-in-law and her 15 nieces and nephews. Raven died in her Los Angeles and her death was confirmed by her agent, David Shaul.
While Elsa Raven’s roles in films like Back to the Future and Titanic might have been small, her presence in those films made an impact on those who loved them. We still have the great films and television shows she worked on, and she’ll certainly be missed whenever we revisit them.