THEATRICAL THROWBACK THURSDAY: Elaine Stritch Gets Juicy
Today we are turning back the hands of time in viewing an unearthed piece of theatre history featuring the TV debut of Tony Award-winning legend Elaine Stritch singing and selling up a storm in honor of her passing last week at the age of 89.
I'll Drink To That
Legendary leading lady Elaine Stritch may have been known around the world for her unmistakable and incomparable take on the Stephen Sondheim standard "The Ladies Who Lunch" from COMPANY, but long before Stritch sang the unforgettable "I'll drink to that" libation line in that sensational showstopper she sold her juicy wares in a different live medium - television.
Yes, indeed. In the early days of television, which was routinely broadcast live during the 1950s and 1960s - including all commercials - a young, rising star by the name of Elaine Stritch made her debut in 1951 singing a catchy jingle hocking a much softer beverage than the hard stuff she gamely glugged in COMPANY byway of promoting orange and grapefruit juice concentrate on THE DOODLES WEAVER SHOW, which was a variety show that ran on NBC at the time as a summer replacement for popular - and fondly remembered - Sid Caesar variety series YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS.
"And now we take to you to a typical American supermarket in Orange...," wink-wink, "New Jersey." Thus goes the winking introduction for the live advertisement of Florida Orange Juice featuring Ms. Stritch, as emceed by the amiable host of the program himself (real name: Winstead Sheffield Glenndenning Dixon Weaver).
Cue Stritch and a gaggle of well-dressed ladies in a cute supermarket-set musical sketch. Of course, Stritch is the centerpiece of the skit, attended to by three daughters of various ages - surely the eldest not too far from Stritch's own age at the time (26), with Stritch having always looked a few years older than her actual age would imply. As we can see here, it certainly worked in her favor early on in her career!
Then, the real entertainment value of the footage begins! "As I was shopping here today / I suddenly heard my grocer say," begins the characteristically brash and instantly recognizable cadence of Ms. Stritch's fabulous foghorn vocal instrument on the song before the scene cuts away to a visibly nervous and cringe-inducing cue card mishap involving the young actor playing the grocer.
"Run along, chickadee / Your mama's going on a shopping spree," continues Stritch soon after to her daughters in the skit, while both gamely putting over the jaunty tune and saving the ad from going down in flames completely.
Following that: "I keep my family in the pink / A few cents only for a great big drink," Stritch sings before breaking into the big razzmatazz finish, instantly wiping away any memory we might have about the mishap - that only live TV or theatre could and can provide - with her surefire star power and performance prowess.
Miss Stritch undoubtedly proves from even this brief but impressive first impression that she was a star from the very start.
Now, who's in the mood for some juice?
Check out the classic clip of Elaine Stritch on THE DOODLES WEAVER SHOW below.
So, what is it about Elaine Stritch's idiosyncratic performance style and flair that continues to ingratiate her with audiences more that 60 years after this early appearance? Even in death she will forever remain for theatre fans as a brassy Broadway broad like few others. We can all drink to that!