TV

The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Elaine Stritch, brash Tony Award-winning stage legend with perfect comic timing, dies at 89

  • Print

NEW YORK, N.Y. - Elaine Stritch, the brash theatre performer whose gravelly, gin-laced voice and impeccable comic timing made her a Broadway legend, has died. She was 89.

Joseph Rosenthal, Stritch's longtime attorney, said the actress died Thursday of natural causes at her home in Birmingham, Michigan.

Although Stritch appeared in movies and on television, garnering three Emmys and finding new fans as Alec Baldwin's unforgiving mother on "30 Rock," she was best known for her stage work, particularly in her candid one-woman memoir, "Elaine Stritch: At Liberty," and in the Stephen Sondheim musical "Company."

A tart-tongued monument to New York show business endurance, Stritch worked well into her late 80s, most recently as Madame Armfeldt in a revival of Sondheim's musical "A Little Night Music" in 2010.

In 2013, Stritch — whose signature "no pants" style was wearing a loose-fitting white shirt over sheer black tights — retired to Michigan after 71 years in New York City and made a series of farewell performances at the Carlyle Hotel. A documentary released in February showed her final years.

Stritch's death was felt closely on Broadway and throughout entertainment. Liza Minnelli remembered her as "a true trail blazer. Her talent and spunk will be greatly missed by so many of us." Lena Dunham said on Twitter: "May your heaven be a booze-soaked, no-pants solo show at the Carlyle." Broadway's marquees were to dim in her memory on Friday.

In "At Liberty," the actress told the story of her life — with its ups, downs and in-betweens. She discussed her stage fright, missed showbiz opportunities, alcoholism, battle with diabetes and love life, all interspersed with songs. It earned her a Tony Award in 2002 and an Emmy when it was later televised on HBO.

In "Company" (1970), Stritch played the acerbic Joanne, delivering a lacerating version of "The Ladies Who Lunch," a classic Sondheim song dissecting the modern Manhattan matron. Stritch originated the role in New York and then appeared in the London production.

Among her other notable Broadway appearances were as Grace, the owner of a small-town Kansas restaurant in William Inge's "Bus Stop" (1955), and as a harried cruise-ship social director in the Noel Coward musical "Sail Away" (1961). She also appeared in revivals of "Show Boat" (1994), in which she played the cantankerous Parthy Ann Hawks, and Edward Albee's "A Delicate Balance" (1996), portraying a tart-tongued, upper-crust alcoholic.

She was parodied in 2010 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. "That's worth being in the business for 150 years," she said with a laugh.

Stritch's films include "A Farewell to Arms" (1957), "Out to Sea" (1997), and Woody Allen's "September" (1987) and "Small Time Crooks" (2000). She also appeared on TV, most notably a guest spot on "Law & Order" in 1990, which won Stritch her first Emmy. A recurring role in "30 Rock" got her another in 2007.

She was also known to TV audiences in England, where she starred with Donald Sinden in the sitcom "Two's Company" (1975-79), playing an American mystery writer to Sinden's unflappable British butler. Stritch also starred in "Nobody's Perfect" (1980-1982), appearing with Richard Griffiths in this British version of the American hit "Maude."

She starred in the London stage productions of Neil Simon's "The Gingerbread Lady" and Tennessee Williams' "Small Craft Warnings." It was in England that Stritch met and married actor John Bay. They were married for 10 years. He died of a brain tumour in 1982.

Born Feb. 2, 1925, in Detroit, Stritch was the daughter of a Michigan business executive. She attended a Roman Catholic girls school and came to New York to study acting in 1944.

Stritch made her Broadway debut in 1946 in "Loco," a short-lived comedy. She was first noticed by the critics and audiences in the 1947 revue "Angel in the Wings." In it, she sang the hit novelty song "Civilization," which includes the lyrics "Bongo, Bongo, Bongo, I don't want to leave the Congo."

The actress understudied Ethel Merman in the Irving Berlin musical "Call Me Madam" (1950). Stritch never went on for Merman, but she did take over the part when the show went on the road.

Stritch then appeared in revivals of two Rodgers and Hart musicals, "Pal Joey" (1952), in which she stripteased her way through "Zip," and "On Your Toes" (1954).

She became good friends with Noel Coward after appearing on Broadway and in London in "Sail Away," playing that harassed cruise-ship social director. The performer brought down the house by warbling a deft Coward ditty called "Why Do the Wrong People Travel?"

A documentary, "Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me," premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival the week before she left New York, showing a feisty Stritch as she reacted with anger, frustration and acceptance at her increasingly evident mortality. Asked what she thought of the film, she replied in typical fashion: "It's not my cup of tea on a warm afternoon in May."

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

O'Shea says the team is going to stick to the plan after first loss

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A black swallowtail butterfly land on Lantana flowers Sunday morning at the Assiniboine Park English Gardens- standup photo – August 14, 2011   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • A mother goose has chosen a rather busy spot to nest her eggs- in the parking lot of St Vital Centre on a boulevard. Countless cars buzz by and people have begun to bring it food.-Goose Challenge Day 06 - May 08, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Will you miss Grandma Elm?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google