Broadway royalty paid tribute to Elaine Stritch this week at the Al Hirschfeld Theater.
Below is a clip from Playbill.com. Nathan Lane begins with a hilarious speech that recounts his many memories of the Broadway icon. “And they all keep up like an awards show montage,” he cracked.
He joked about how she came backstage after he preformed in the leaden “Addams Family,” in which he carried the show. “Whatever they’re paying you, it’s not enough,” she scoffed. Lane laughed about her outfits, which he described as “schoolmistress” like, and her “trademark giant glasses and fur hat.”
Bernadette Peters, Cherry Jones, Betty Buckley and Laura Benanti were among the many Broadway luminaries who participated in Elaine Stritch’s send off. From this clip – it was impossible to score a seat to this packed VIP event – there were more laughs than tears, which is exactly as Stritch would have wanted it.
I have many memories of Stritch. It was always a relief to see her in the crowd of an opening night Broadway play when I knew I needed witty quotes and they weren’t going to come from the canned comments of most of the celebrities I interviewed.
Stritch was notorious for never paying for a theater ticket. In his speech at the Stritch memorial, Lane says she would go up to the box office ten minutes before curtain and announce, “I’m Elaine Stritch, Just give me a single in the back,” and she’d waltz into the theater. The only time it didn’t work, she told him, was “At Mama f…ing Mia.”
I recall seeing her at the intermission of the Broadway opening of the 2005 revival of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.” I asked Stritch, who has been in so many Edward Albee productions, how she liked the play. I recall she was so moved by the production she had tears in her eyes as she started to talk about it. Here is our exchange:
“It’s just, just – it’s just – I can’t put it into words,” Ms. Stritch said. “This is really good. I’m talking – really – good. ”
I asked her if she had ever been in relationships that reminded her of the play, where there was lots of yelling and screaming. Her tone changed completely, and she stopped crying.
“Ho, ho, ho, ho. Is the pope Catholic?” she shot back.
I once saw her at the reception of an Off Broadway play stuffing goodies of uneaten food into her omnipresent plastic bag. She was known for being frugal and somehow with her, it looked classy and demure.
I count myself lucky to have one final encounter with her in 2013 at the Tribeca Film Festival where Chiemi Karasawa’s documentary, “Just Shoot Me” premiered to a packed audience. Stritch was in good form although a bit frail. She wore a top hat, her trademark large dark glasses and tights and carried a cane. She even did a soft shoe number to adoring journalists.
She teared up when she told me, “I can’t think of a more charming way for me to end my days in New York City than the way I’m doing them this week with Chiemi Karasawa and her documentary and the film festival, that they picked it up and promoted it. It’s so wonderful! This is exciting!” She was about to move to Michigan to be with family.
When I lamented that I didn’t know how New York City would survive without her, she replied, “They’re going to have to try,” she laughed. “They’re going to have to try. And I’ll help them when they’re in really big trouble.”
A few weeks before she died, I ran into Chiemi Karasawa at Orso’s in the theater district. (She was interviewing Diahann Carroll, another theater legend, who will be the director’s next documentary subject).
Karasawa told me she was still in close touch with Stritch, who wasn’t doing so well. “She’s ready,” the director told me, intimating that Stritch was at peace with death whenever it came, which seemed soon.
It’s New York I’m worried about, with no Stritch to help us next time we’re in big trouble, without her old song and dance and her acid but hilarious wisecrack.
Photos below taken by Jane Louise Boursaw at the 2013 Traverse City Film Festival screening of “Elaine Stritch: Just Shoot Me.”