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Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Farewell to Broadway Legend Elaine Stritch

There will never be another like her. Today's New York Times obit described 89-year-old Elaine Stritch as a "Tart-Tongued Broadway Actress and Singer" in its headline.

Younger audiences may know Stritch from her tv appearances on tv's 30 Rock and Law & Order. Or as Jane Fonda's mother-in-law in the film Monster in Law. But her first love, and the medium in which she perhaps did her best work, was the stage.

I was fortunate to have seen her on Broadway in her one-woman show, At Liberty, and she was truly a phenomenon; a force of nature. She talked frankly about her alcoholism, including the anecdote about how she "blew the audition" for the role of Dorothy Zbornack on tv's The Golden Girls when she got juiced before audition and, when asked to read, threw a few choice obscenities into her delivery. The role, of course, went to Bea Arthur.

I recall, also, some good gossip about Ms Stritch when she was to be honored at a cabaret awards ceremony in New York City. One of her demands was having her hair coiffed for the occasion. She submitted an astronomical bill. The awards ceremony's organizer (who told me this story) had a Carol Channing impersonator call Elaine and say (as Channing) he'd heard about the salon through the grapevine and enquired as to cost. He was given a significantly lower price tag. When Elaine Stritch showed up for her award, she was wearing a hat. Now that was a diva!

In musical theater, Elaine worked with the legendary Noel Coward and Stephen Sondheim, famously singing "Ladies Who Lunch" in Company.

She co-starred in a few films, including A Farewell to Arms opposite Rock Hudson, and Who Killed Teddy Bear with Sal Mineo.

Although Stritch claimed to have overcome her alcoholism in At Liberty, on a recent Today Show appearance (February 2014), she freely dropped the F word with Kathy Lee and Hoda when she was promoting her documentary, Shoot Me. Then, she barked out that she, not her hosts, would have the last word on her segment.

And so another great icon departs. Buddy Beaverhausen pays her this tribute. Elaine Stritch was a unique talent, absolutely one-of-a-kind, and she is missed. Tonight, I expect, the lights on Broadway will be dimmed in her honor. Elaine Stritch will always be a star wherever she shines. I imagine, right now, she's doing cocktails in heaven with the winged ladies who lunch.

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