FLASH FRIDAY: Hats Off! An Elaine Stritch Memorial
Today we are saluting one of Broadway's brassiest, bawdiest and best-loved leading ladies in honor of her death this week, the one and only Elaine Stritch.
Let's All Drink To That
One need look no further than the bracing and brilliant documentary ELAINE STRITCH: SHOOT ME, now available on DVD and streaming, highlighting legendary Broadway icon and recognizable, multi-award-winning small screen and big screen presence Elaine Stritch for a generous dose of what made her a legend in her own time. Salty, sophisticated, smart and altogether hilarious, Stritch was unquestionably one of a kind and so is her movie - at turns moving, melancholy, ebullient, effervescent, sobering and always absorbing. It's a true accomplishment and a more than merely worthy capper - or, should we say, grand continuation - of the 89-year-old's remarkably idiosyncratic and fascinating career. Nonetheless, as she herself told me in our extensive InDepth InterView earlier this year - available here - there is nothing Stritch despised more than being called a diva - but, not as a result of the implication of attendant unreasonable demands and fits of fury, but because, as she put it, "God, I could kill when I hear that word; the way it makes me feel... I don't know what it makes me feel like when they call me that, but I don't like it! Not at all. It makes me feel 100-years-old, at least!" Not that that's necessarily a bad thing, though, being 100 - far from it. Sadly, Stritch never got to see her 90th birthday, let alone the big 100, but what an incredible life she packed into those 89 years.
Stritch began and ended her life in Michigan, where her father acted as a an executive at B.F. Goodrich and her uncle was no less than a cardinal there, having once been Archbishop of Chicago. Fate smiled early on for Stritch, with her landing a gig in the comedic play LOCO when she was only 19, only shortly after arriving in New York City and amassing a few quaint credits. LOCO was followed soon thereafter by roles in the comedy MADE IN HEAVEN, the musical revue ANGEL IN THE WINGS and the comedy YES, M'LORD. Stritch's first major musical role came byway of acting as standby for iconic Broadway diva Ethel Merman in the Irving Berlin musical CALL ME MADAM, which Stritch eventually took on a national tour. Yet, if you can't have the Merm, a young and sprightly Stritch certainly does the trick!
Next, Stritch made a major mark in the 1952 revival of Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart's PAL JOEY, providing an incomparably show-stopping "Zip!", continuing to display her copious musical comedy chops with ON YOUR TOES after that. A major dramatic turn in William Inge's classic BUS STOP garnered Stritch a well-earned Tony Award nomination, though her next ventures would not be quite as popular with audiences - the short-running play THE SIN OF PAT MULDOON, as well as the original musical GOLDILOCKS, for which Stritch claimed the starring role on Broadway. Partnering with acerbic and erudite theatre mater Noel Coward for the musical SAIL AWAY proved artistically fulfilling, despite many hiccups endured by the troubled production on its way to the Great White Way. After that, Stritch nabbed one of the finest modern theatrical dramatic roles as a replacement performer in Edward Albee's searing four-hander WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?
Then came COMPANY. The revolutionary concept musical by Stephen Sondheim and George Furth provided Elaine Stritch not only with the role of her career, but the song, as well - the incomparably idiosyncratic showstopper of showstoppers, "The Ladies Who Lunch". Stritch received yet another Tony Award nomination for her work on the Hal Prince-directed, Michael Bennett-choreographed musical marvel, taking the anamalous show across the pond to the West End, where she would then stay for the better part of the next two decades, concentrating on film and television appearances as well as the occasional stage and/or cabaret appearance.
Although many of us stateside may relish Stritch's multi-award-winning work on Tina Fey's heralded comedy series 30 ROCK, Stritch was already a sitcom name in the UK by that time thanks to her successful run in the Britcom TWO'S COMPANY. No stranger to the small screen, Stritch made a strong if fleeting early impression in the heyday of television back home, having appeared on THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW as well as the first HONEYMOONERS, with appearances on the series THE GROWING PAYNES and MY SISTER EILEEN, too. Subsequently, Stritch made memorable use of her turns on the Roald Dahl anthology series TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED in the UK, as well as stateside TV shows THE EDGE OF NIGHT, THE ELLEN BURSTYN SHOW, THE COSBY SHOW, LAW & ORDER, OZ and 3RD ROCK FROM THE SUN later in her career.
As for film, Stritch committed an unforgettable early role to celluloid in the 1957 David O. Selznick film of A FAREWELL TO ARMS, in addition to character roles in Blake Edwards's THE PERFECT FURLOUGH and Alain Resnais's PROVIDENCE, besides WHO KILLED TEDDY BEAR and THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE among many others. Modern audiences may also be familiar with her work in COCOON: THE RETURN as well as AUTUMN IN NEW YORK. Plus, there are the comedies - OUT TO SEA, SCREWED, MONSTER IN LAW and more. And, of course the Woody Allen double-header of SEPTEMBER, a melancholy drama which she dominates, and SMALL TIME CROOKS, in which Stritch delivers a delectable comedic cameo as only she can. Also, Jon Turturro's ROMANCE & CIGARETTES finds Stritch sharing a spectacular scene with friend and recently fallen star James Gandolfini, the latter of whom appears in ELAINE STRITCH: SHOOT ME and offers a particularly arresting anecdote.
Yet, it was the roles she took later on in life that so ingratiate her with audiences and many theatre enthusiasts today - besides FOLLIES: IN CONCERT, Stritch continued to shine in the roles of Sondheim via the first and only Broadway revival of A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC as well as claiming the epic FOLLIES anthem "I'm Still Here" as her own following sensational performances of it in her own one-woman solo show, ELAINE STRITCH: AT LIBERTY - the part for which she finally received a long-awaited Tony Award, playing herself - as well as the delectable capper to the sensational SONDHEIM! THE BIRTHDAY CONCERT. On that note, many Broadway babies also still discuss and dissect her stirring and committed essaying of a tricky character in a revered revival of Edward Albee's Pulitzer Prize-winning A DELICATE BALANCE, as well as her endearing and moving Parthy in Hal Prince's well-regarded SHOW BOAT revival - not to mention stints in A.R. Gurney's LOVE LETTERS and Samuel Beckett's ENDGAME, plus her Papermill Playhouse THE FULL MONTY and countless regional productions and tours. A life well-lived and a career clearly representative of that fact.
Hats off to one of the greatest musical grand dames - never, ever diva - in history. It's safe to say, today, we'll all drink to that.
The Little Things
So, now, let's take a look at a few of the countless stupendous clips available to view of Elaine Stritch.
First, relive the amazing life of this legend with the complete Tony Award-winning tour de force, ELAINE STRITCH: AT LIBERTY.
Go behind the scenes of the making of ELAINE STRITCH: AT LIBERTY.
Follow Elaine Stritch through the day and into opening night of ELAINE STRITCH: AT LIBERTY.
Stritch's very first TV appearance came with this amusing live advertisement during summer replacement series THE DOODLES WEAVER SHOW.
Next, check out a young Elaine Stritch in a CALL ME MADAM musical moment.
An early film role to remember came in the form of A FAREWELL TO ARMS.
Now, revisit the Noel Coward musical comedy SAIL AWAY.
In her last Broadway performance, Elaine Stritch sings "Liaisons" from A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC.
Stritch stops the show with "It's Today" from MAME at the Royal Variety Performance.
Now, the moment we all have been waiting for: "The Ladies Who Lunch" from COMPANY.
Stritch reinvents "Broadway Baby" at FOLLIES: IN CONCERT.
Elaine Stritch performs "I'm Still Here" for President Barack Obama.
This fascinating TV profile catches Stritch as she starred in A DELICATE BALANCE in 1996.
Gasp along with the audience at this off-the-cuff Tony Awards telecast remark!
Witness Elaine Stritch claim her 2004 Emmy Award with style and candor.
Stritch tells a hilarious story as only she can on ELLEN.
Devoted Broadway baby Rosie O'Donnell interviews Elaine Stritch, before she takes the stage to perform.
Following that, Stritch gets the best of David Letterman.
Michael Parkinson engages Stritch in an in-depth discussion.
Enacting a Disney classic as only she could, here is a gut-busting "Someday My Prince Will Come".
Another unusual teaming of stars, Stritch joins with famous friends for "All That Jazz".
Also, sample this funky and unique musical curiosity from her solo album.
Take a peek at Stritch's Britcom TWO'S COMPANY.
Woody Allen provided Stritch with a true star turn for SEPTEMBER.
Stritch joins with James Gandolfini for an unforgettable scene in ROMANCE & CIGARETTES.
Elaine Stritch and Alec Baldwin perform her final scene on 30 ROCK.
This episode of THEATER TALK salutes Stritch's very last cabaret appearance.
In her final TV appearance, Stritch still causes a commotion.
Lastly, check out the trailer for ELAINE STRITCH: SHOOT ME.
As a special bonus, hear Elaine Stritch tell her favorite joke in her final New York cabaret appearance.
What precisely is it about Elaine Stritch that endeared her to so many generations and made her one of the most legendary leading ladies in Broadway history? Is it her salty wit? Her brash, take-no-prisoners attitude? Her astonishing way with both comedy and drama? Her fierce, fiery commitment to all of her roles? Whatever it may be, there is one more angel in theatrical heaven today - most likely being not only the center of attention at the celestial bar, but the star of the whole damn show.
As Stritch herself said in her final scene on 30 ROCK, "I'm going out of this world the same way I came into it - wearing a hat."
Photo Credits: Walter McBride, etc.