Broad City: A Toast to Elaine Stritch

We lost a good one yesterday, folks. Elaine Stritch – actress, singer, and the ultimate performer – passed away at the young age of 89. Or at least that’s what she made it seem like, anyways.

Elaine was known for her brutal honesty. Her salty candor. Her tart tongue. Her brassiness (is that even a word?). Her refusal to wear pants. Her unwavering ability to tell it like it is and not apologize for it. She was the absolute definition of a broad (in the best way possible). Elaine was what a lot of women, and men too, I imagine, wished they had the courage to be. She was fearless and she was truthful, classy yet not, and admirable all at the same time. A true legend and icon that will never be matched in our lifetimes.

And then there’s her talent. Ooh did she have it. A lot of people from our generation or younger are most familiar with Elaine as the wise-cracking equally as opinionated and verbal Colleen Donaghy, mother to Alec Baldwin’s Jack. I think this clip properly summarizes her character on the show – behind the caustic exterior is a woman who is caring and loving, despite the fact she doesn’t show it. Like, ever.

But Colleen Donaghy was just a role towards the end of her impressive career. She made her Broadway debut in 1946, and went in to appear in Wonderful Town and a number Noel Coward plays. However it was Stephen Sondheim (Steve, she called him) that helped her become the iconic Broadway actress she is/was today. In 1970, she was cast as the vodka-stinger drinking Joanne in his show Company, a role she was born to play. Or rather, was born to play her.

The character of Joanne was not only written for Elaine Stritch, it was based on her, or at least on her acerbic delivery of self-assessment, as exemplified by a moment George Furth had shared with her: they had entered a bar at two in the morning and Elaine, well-oiled, had murmured to the bartender in passing, ‘Just give me a bottle of vodka and a floor plan.’”
— Stephen Sondheim in Finishing the Hat on the late, great Elaine Stritch (1925-2014)

Shortly after the show opened on Broadway, a documentary of the cast recording the soundtrack was released, and in a memorable scene, Elaine is shown recording her classic song Ladies Who Lunch to less than perfect recordings. She eventually got the hang of it, and  what resulted was an act of genius, both on Sondheim’s behalf and Elaine’s on point delivery.

Fast forward to 2002 when she opens her one woman show on Broadway, Elaine Stritch At Liberty (which you can view in its entirety here). She talks about everything throughout both her professional and personal life, like the time she had a horrible date with Marlon Brando or describing the pain she felt after her husband’s death with the only way she knew how – a song from Sondheim’s Follies. She won her first and only Tony Award for the show, and the same guy who made the Company documentary turned At Liberty to a documentary as well in 2002, earning her an Emmy for Best Performance in a Variety Special in 2004, providing one of the most entertaining acceptance speeches in Emmys history.

Elaine took on Broadway one more time in the revival of Steve’s A Little Night Music, and appeared in a number of cabaret shows, which she performed in a cabaret below her apartment. And by that I mean she lived at NYC’s Hotel Carlyle and performed in the cafe downstairs. Woman was still energetic even into her 80s (I mean, I’m obsessed with this interview from last year. Doesn’t miss a beat). In 2013, after being a New Yorker for years, Elaine decided to move back to her homestate of Michigan in a subrub outside of Detroit.

“She doesn’t miss New York? “You say that like it’s not true!” she says. “I feel good about being here. When the hospital sends for me, when the ambulance comes and I ease my way out of the world, I’d rather be in Detroit, Michigan, than Lenox Hill. Pfft.” She actually spits. – Interview with Vulture in 2013 {x}

With Elaine gone, there’s an Elaine-shaped hole in the world of Broadway, in the world, really. It’ll be hard to ever find someone like her on the stage again. But here’s a toast to what Elaine left behind. A legacy that will be cherished for years. The tears, the laughter, etc. etc. etc. She probably wouldn’t want too much hullaballoo and ass kissing during her time of mourning anyways. So, let’s just drink to that.

 “I pray that I may live expectantly. To live expectantly – what’s going to happen on Sunday, and on Sunday what’s going to happen on monday? In the meantime, stay where you fucking are and enjoy it the best way you know how.” – New York Times Interview, 2008 {x}

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11 thoughts on “Broad City: A Toast to Elaine Stritch

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