THE LEGENDARY ELAINE STRITCH: A TRUE ORIGINAL
FROM THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
ELAINE STRITCH has an off the wall anecdote to share. And when ELAINE STRITCH wants to tell a story, you listen.
“I have no secrets,” the 85 year old Broadway legend said by way of introduction as she sat at a makeup table getting her eyes done a few hours before a performance of A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC.
A few days ago, she began, she was at her Midtown hairdressers for a three hour appointment before a show when she realized she’d forgotten her teeth. Ms. Stritch, who calls herself “a brittle diabetic,” has two sets of dental implants – one for the stage and one for regular life. She didn’t have the ones for the theatre.
She had no time to waste: She called over to THE CARLYLE HOTEL, where she lives these days, to ask an assistant to find the stage teeth — they’d be in a little white container in the bathroom. She wanted them brought down to the front desk.
Then she tried to contact her hired limo driver, who was idling outside the salon. But she didn’t have his number and there was no time to get hold of the car service. So Ms. Stritch, in a bit of a panic by now, went out to find him.
“I run downstairs. I’ve got on the robe from the hairdressers.” And she leans into the window of the limo and bellows: “You’ve got to drive up to The Carlyle and pick up my teeth!!!“
“Suddenly, I’m standing in the middle of 57th Street. And there are about 20 people laughing,” she recalled with a sly smile.
“Publicity stunt? No way! No way. You don’t do publicity stunts like that. Not even I could do that unless it was really happening.”
Spend an hour with her and you’ll get a lot of stories like that — funny, self effacing and revealing. The woman seems to have an iron core: brassy and exacting and salty, but also accommodating and full of wit.
“I like anything I don’t know about,” she remarked at one point. “And I don’t like most of the things I do.”
At another point, she offers this: “The most horrible line in the English language for me is, ‘God, you haven’t changed a bit.’ It’s the worst thing you can say to anybody.”
STEPHEN R. BUNTROCK, her costar in A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, has long admired the actor and has learned to stay on his toes around her.
“You have to bring your A game when you’re around her. If she senses any kind of weakness, she will dive in. And in her wonderful, strong personality way, draw it out of you.”
ELAINE STRITCH has become a sort of shorthand for acting longevity since she made her Broadway debut in LOCO in 1946. Since then, she’s performed in both musicals and dramas, from EDWARD ALBEE to NOEL COWARD to STEPHEN SONDHEIM. She’s appeared in numerous films (including two WOODY ALLEN movies: SEPTEMBER and SMALL TIME CROOKS) and on TV as the EMMY winning mother of ALEC BALDWIN in 30 ROCK.
Her one person show ELAINE STRITCH AT LIBERTY won her a second TONY in 2002 and her cabaret shows at THE CARLYLE HOTEL are legendary.
Each generation finds her relevant and hip. She was recently parodied on an episode of THE SIMPSONS in which Lisa Simpson attends a fancy performing arts camp. One class was on making wallets with ELAINE STRITCH and ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER.
She got an enormous kick out of it. “That’s worth being in the business for 150 years,” she said with a laugh.
Ms. Stritch has been getting standing ovations lately for her turn as Madame Armfeldt in a revival of STEPHEN SONDHEIM’S A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC. She and BERNADETTE PETERS replaced ANGELA LANSBURY and CATHERINE ZETA JONES over the summer and have agreed to stay on until JANUARY 9.
Ms. Stritch plays a wheelchair bound aristocrat who offers dry and hysterical pronouncements in her half dozen scenes and mourns the loss of standards in her big song LIAISONS, in which she looks back on her profitable sexual conquests of dukes and barons.
“Where is skill?” she asks. “Where’s passion in the art? Where’s craft?”
She is at an age — and with such goodwill built up — that simply appearing on stage will earn her bursts of applause. But she still tries to earn it every time with a heart tugging take on Madame Armfeldt.
“It’s a very hard part for me. Don’t ask me why. I don’t know why. Some parts just don’t blow me away. This one did. There’s a lot of new kind of emotions. You don’t want to go into that because an actor talking about how they do their stuff is more boring than anything I can ever think of.”
She calls the song LIAISONS interesting, intelligent and unusual. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
“It can creep into meaning you’re getting close to leaving the building time at my age. There’s no sense not paying attention to it because it’s absolutely true.”
“You know where I’m at in age? I don’t need anything. That’s a little scary — when you know that the last two bras you bought are it. You won’t need any more. I’m not going to live long enough for any big new discovery at Victoria’s Secret.”
She has one issue she’d love to leave as her legacy: reducing the standard eight shows a week contract that performers sign.
“I wish I could leave the building with that having been accomplished — seven shows a week. Eight shows gets to be too much.”
When producers of A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC asked her and the cast to do nine performances a week, she had a fit.
She gleefully displayed a letter she wrote demanding a change: “Try to understand our physical, emotional, physiological desperation,” it read. Producers soon backed down.
Ms. Stritch is already planning her future when this musical ends. She’s considering doing an evening of just ELTON JOHN songs.
“You don’t know what I can do with those songs,” she mused.
“It might be fun and unusual.”