Elaine Stritch, Tart-Tongued Broadway Actress and Singer, Is Dead at 89
By Bruce Weber and Robert Berkvist, July 17, 2014
Elaine Stritch, the brassy, tart-tongued Broadway actress and singer who became a living emblem of show business durability and perhaps the leading interpreter of Stephen Sondheim’s wryly acrid musings on aging, died on Thursday at her home in Birmingham, Mich. She was 89.
Ms. Stritch’s career began in the 1940s and included her fair share of appearances in movies, including Woody Allen’s “September” (1987) and “Small Time Crooks” (2000), and on television; well into her 80s, she played a recurring role on the NBC comedy “30 Rock” as the domineering mother of the television executive played by Alec Baldwin. But the stage was her true professional home, where, whether in musicals, nonmusical dramas or solo cabaret shows, she drew audiences to her with her whiskey voice, her seen-it-all manner and the blunt charisma of a star.
Most of the time she was equally unabashed onstage, rarely if ever leaving the sensually astringent elements of her personality behind when she performed. A highlight of her early stage career was the 1952 revival of “Pal Joey,” the Rodgers and Hart/John O’Hara musical, in which she played a shrewd, ambitious reporter recalling, in song, an interview with Gypsy Rose Lee; she drew bravas for her rendition of the striptease parody “Zip.”
In 2005, after nearly 60 years in show business, Stritch made her solo club act debut, appearing at New York's posh Carlyle Hotel and was brought back frequently. She lived in the Carlyle's Room 309 for a decade.
A documentary, "Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me," premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival the week before she left New York, showing a feisty Stritch as she reacted with anger, frustration and acceptance at her increasingly evident mortality. Asked what she thought of the film, she replied: "It's not my cup of tea on a warm afternoon in May." The film was released in 2014.
In the recent Broadway revival of "A Little Night Music," Stritch played a wheelchair-bound aristocrat who offers dry and hysterical pronouncements in her half-dozen scenes, and mourned the loss of standards in her big song "Liaisons," in which she looked back on her profitable sexual conquests of dukes and barons. She might as well have been speaking of theater itself.
"Where is skill?" she asked. "Where's passion in the art, where's craft?"
"You know where I'm at in age?" she said backstage, in her typical wit and sass. "I don't need anything. That's a little scary — when you know that the last two bras you bought are it. You won't need any more. I'm not going to live long for any big, new discovery at Victoria's Secret."
For more stories on this legendary lady, please, please, please go here. (You will absolutely never forgive yourself if you don't ~HvR):