A brash, incorrigible scene-stealer who led a six decade career that had many highs and lows, veteran Elaine Stritch certainly lived up to the Stephen Sondheim song “I’m Still Here”. Having stolen so many moments on stage that she could be convicted of grand larceny, this tough old broad broached her eighties with the still-shapely legs, puffy blonde hairdo and deep, whiskey voice with no intention of retirement – or so it seemed.
Born in Detroit in 1925 and educated at a finishing school, she prepared for the stage at the Dramatic Workshop of the New School and made her debut in 1944. She made it to Broadway two years later and has since become the toast of both Broadway and London’s West End, collecting a number of trophies on both continents over the years for such award-winning turns as “Bus Stop”, “Sail Away”, “A Delicate Balance”, “Show Boat” and “Company”. Through sheer personality alone, her cacophonous singing voice miraculously took classic songs from Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart to Noël Coward and Stephen Sondheim and put her indelible stamp on them.
She was a supporting player in several films, including A Farewell to Arms (1957) with Rock Hudson and Jennifer Jones, and dabbled on comedy TV, with the series My Sister Eileen (1960), but never made a strong name for herself in either of those mediums.
In the early 1970s she married the English actor John Bay and moved to London. She succeeded first on stage, then on TV with Donald Sinden in Two’s Company (1975). Returning to America alone, she offered sly, abrasive cameos in both sitcoms and dramatic features. When she was 76, she still threw out zingers on stage and also copped the Tony, Drama Desk, Obie, Outer Circle Critics and New York Drama Critics awards for her candid one-woman musical memoir Elaine Stritch at Liberty (2002). The show chronicles her notorious private life, which included a long bout with the bottle (to curb her stage fright) and a destructive relationship with a fellow alcoholic Gig Young. Add to that a fair share of Hollywood gossip all cleverly packaged up with a still razor-sharp wit and show-stopping patter songs and you have what Elaine Stritch is all about. Truly one of a kind.
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