17 July 2014

Here's to Elaine

"Let's hear it for the ladies who lunch—Everybody rise."—Stephen Sondheim

Today we lost a legend. An actress and singer who appeared on stage and in film and television for nearly 70 years, Elaine Stritch with her brassy voice and sharp observations was an original who epitomized what it meant to be a New Yorker even though she was born in Detroit, Michigan. Yes, she could be difficult and blunt, never mincing words when it came to her opinion, but she was also a professional who was always toughest on herself. 

Born on February 2, 1925, Stritch was a convent school girl who after graduation moved to New York to study acting at the New School. She ended up staying for 71 years until retiring to Birmingham, Michigan last year. After making her Broadway debut in Loco in 1946, she would go on to be a cast member in multiple Broadway productions throughout her career including Pal Joey, Bus Stop, Sail Away, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?A Little Night Music, and most famously Company. She had roles in a variety of television shows including her last as Alec Baldwin's mother in 30 Rock and starred in numerous films including A Farewell to Arms, September, and Small Time Crooks

She didn't have an easy life; she lost her beloved husband, John Bay, to cancer after ten years of marriage and battled alcoholism with varying degrees of success. In her later years, diabetes and memory loss made performing extra challenging yet she continued on, making public appearances almost until the end. 

Stritch spent her last decade in New York living in room 309 at the Carlyle Hotel where for eight of those years she performed a cabaret show downstairs at the Carlyle Café wearing her signature outfit of white shirt and black tights (no pants). The documentary Shoot Me, which was released in February, centers around her last show at the Carlyle (I highly recommend it).

I greatly regret that I never got to see her perform live. Her passing in many ways is like the end of an era; there will be other stars of the stage but there will never be anyone quite like Elaine Stritch.

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