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Elaine Stritch

Elaine Stritch
File:Elaine Stritch 2 Allan Warren.jpg
Stritch in 1973.
Born (1925-02-02)February 2, 1925
Detroit, Michigan, United States
Died July 17, 2014(2014-07-17) (aged 89)
Birmingham, Michigan, United States
Occupation Actress, singer
Years active 1944–2014
Spouse(s) John Bay (m. 1973; his death 1982)

Elaine Stritch (February 2, 1925 – July 17, 2014)[1][2] was an American actress and singer, best known for her work on Broadway. She appeared in numerous stage plays and musicals, feature films, and television series. She was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame in 1995.

Stritch made her professional stage debut in 1944 and her Broadway debut in the comedy Loco in 1946. Her notable Broadway credits include her Tony Award-nominated roles in the original production of William Inge's 1955 play Bus Stop and musicals by Noël Coward (Sail Away, 1961) and Stephen Sondheim (Company, 1970), the latter including her performance of the song "The Ladies Who Lunch", plus the 1996 revival of the Edward Albee play A Delicate Balance and her 2001 Tony Award-winning one-woman show Elaine Stritch at Liberty.

In the 1970s, Stritch relocated to London, starring in several West End productions, including Tennessee Williams' Small Craft Warnings in 1973 and the Neil Simon play The Gingerbread Lady in 1974. She also starred with Donald Sinden in the ITV sitcom Two's Company, which ran from 1975 to 1979 and earned her a BAFTA TV Award nomination.

Stritch won an Emmy Award in 1993 for her guest role on Law & Order and another in 2004 for the television documentary of her one-woman show. From 2007 to 2012, she had a recurring role as Colleen Donaghy on NBC's 30 Rock, a role that won her a third Emmy in 2007.

Early life

Stritch was born in Detroit, Michigan, the youngest daughter of Mildred (née Jobe; 1893–1987), a homemaker, and George Joseph Stritch (1892–1987), an executive with B.F. Goodrich.[3] Her Roman Catholic family was well-off.[4][5] Her father was of Irish descent, while her mother had Welsh ancestry. Samuel Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago from 1940 to 1958, was one of her uncles.[6] She trained at the Dramatic Workshop of The New School in New York City under Erwin Piscator,[7] alongside Marlon Brando and Bea Arthur.[8]


Early stage career

Stritch made her stage debut in 1944. However, her Broadway debut was in Loco in 1946, directed by Jed Harris,[9] followed soon after by Made in Heaven (as a replacement) [10] and then Angel in the Wings (1947), a revue in which she performed comedy sketches and the song "Civilization".[11]

Stritch understudied Ethel Merman for Call Me Madam, and, at the same time, appeared in the 1952 revival of Pal Joey, singing "Zip".[11] Stritch later starred in the national tour of Call Me Madam, and appeared in a supporting role in the original Broadway production of William Inge's play Bus Stop. She was the lead in the musical Goldilocks.

She starred in Noël Coward's Sail Away on Broadway in 1961. Stritch started in the show in a "relatively minor role and was only promoted over the title and given virtually all the best songs when it was reckoned that the leading lady...although excellent, was rather too operatic for a musical comedy".[12] During out-of-town tryouts in Boston, Coward was "unsure about the dramatic talents" of one of the leads, opera singer Jean Fenn.[13]

Joe Layton suggested "What would happen if...we just eliminated [Fenn's] role and gave everything to Stritch? ... The show was very old-fashioned, and the thing that was working was Elaine Stritch...every time she went on stage [she] was a sensation. The reconstructed 'Sail Away'...opened in New York on 3 October".[13] In 1966, she played Ruth Sherwood in the musical Wonderful Town at New York's City Center, and appeared in an Off Broadway revival of Private Lives in 1968.

Stritch became known as a singer with a brassy, powerful voice.[citation needed] She was the original performer cast in the role of Joanne in Stephen Sondheim's Company (1970) on Broadway. After over a decade of successful runs in shows in New York, Stritch moved in 1972 to London, where she starred in the West End production of Company. On tour and in stock, Stritch appeared in such musicals as No, No, Nanette, The King and I, I Married an Angel, and both as Vera Charles (opposite Janet Blair) and Mame Dennis in Mame.


File:Elaine Stritch 2009.jpg
Elaine Stritch in 2009

Strich's earliest television appearances were in The Growing Paynes (1949) and the Goodyear Television Playhouse (1953–55).[14] She also appeared on episodes of The Ed Sullivan Show in 1954.[15] She was the first and original Trixie Norton in a Honeymooners sketch with Jackie Gleason, Art Carney and Pert Kelton. The character was originally a burlesque dancer, but the role was rewritten and recast after just one episode with the more wholesome looking Joyce Randolph playing the character as an ordinary housewife.[7]

Stritch's other television credits included a number of dramatic programs in the 1950s and 1960s, including Studio One. In the 1960 television season, Stritch appeared in the role of writer Ruth Sherwood in the CBS sitcom My Sister Eileen, opposite Shirley Bonne[16] as her younger sister, Eileen Sherwood, an aspiring actress. The sisters, natives of Ohio, live in a brownstone apartment in Greenwich Village. The one-season series aired opposite Hawaiian Eye on ABC and Perry Como's Kraft Music Hall on NBC.

In 1975, Stritch starred in the British LWT comedy series Two's Company opposite Sir Donald Sinden.[17] She played Dorothy McNab, an American writer living in London who was known for her lurid and sensationalist thriller novels. Sinden played Robert, her English butler, who disapproved of practically everything Dorothy did and the series derived its comedy from the inevitable culture clash between Robert's very British stiff-upper-lip attitude and Dorothy's devil-may-care New York view of life. Two's Company was exceptionally well received in Britain and ran for four series until 1979.[18] In 1979, both Stritch and Sinden were nominated for a BAFTA TV Award for Two's Company, in the category "Best Light Entertainment Performance", losing out to Ronnie Barker.

Other British television appearances by Strich included Roald Dahl's Tales of the Unexpected. Although she appeared several times in different roles, perhaps her most memorable appearance was in the story "William and Mary", in which she played the wife of a man who has cheated death by having his brain preserved.[19] She appeared on BBC 1's children's series, Jackanory,[20] reading, among other stories, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl.

After returning to the United States, she appeared on The Edge of Night as vinegary nanny Mrs. DeGroot, then was cast as a regular on the short-lived The Ellen Burstyn Show in 1986. She appeared as the stern schoolteacher Mrs. McGee on three episodes of The Cosby Show (1989–1990). She had a recurring role in Law & Order (1992, 1997) as Lanie Stieglitz.[21] On April 26, 2007, she began guest appearances on the NBC sitcom 30 Rock as Colleen, the fearsome mother of Alec Baldwin's lead character, Jack Donaghy.[22] Her later roles included Judge Grace Lema on Oz (1998); and Martha Albright (mother of Jane Curtin's character) on two episodes of 3rd Rock From the Sun (1997, 2001), alongside her Broadway co-star George Grizzard, who played George Albright.

Stritch was reportedly considered for the role of Dorothy Zbornak on The Golden Girls but, as she related in her show Elaine Stritch at Liberty, she "blew her audition".[23] The role was cast with Bea Arthur. She was seen on One Life to Live (1993), replacing fellow stage legend Eileen Heckart as Wilma Bern.

Film roles

Stritch appeared in more films in her later years than the early part of her career. In an interview in 1988, it was noted that "Making movies is challenging to Stritch since she considers herself a novice." She said: "I'm fascinated with it. And I want to do more of them." She was asked why she waited so long to make movies since she apparently enjoys it so much. "You do a movie for, like, three months and then you're finished. You do a part in a play and it's like going into a roomful of audiences for a year."[24]

Early in her career, she appeared in Three Violent People (1956) starring Charlton Heston, as the hotel proprietor pal of Anne Baxter,[25] and then co-starred opposite Rock Hudson and Jennifer Jones in the David O. Selznick remake of A Farewell to Arms (1957) as Hudson's nurse.[26] In The Perfect Furlough, she co-starred opposite Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. She had a showy role as the lesbian proprietor of a bar in the cult film Who Killed Teddy Bear? (1965), which starred Sal Mineo.[27] She played a "tough-as-nails" nurse in the remake of The Spiral Staircase (1975)[28] and was praised for her performance in Providence (1977).[29]

When she returned to the United States in the mid-1980s from London, Woody Allen cast her as the former movie star mother in his drama September (1987). People magazine called her performance "acclaimed" and wrote "Though the movie has received mixed reviews, Stritch's roaring presence, like Godzilla in a stalled elevator, can't be ignored."[30] Allen later cast her in his comedy Small Time Crooks (2000) in which she played a "snobby socialite". Rex Reed wrote of her performance: "Elaine Stritch can still stop you in your tracks with a meaningless, drop-dead one-liner (which is all she gets here)."[31]

She joined the ensemble of Cocoon: The Return (1988) as an apartment manager who helps widowed Jack Gilford get over his wife's death. Among her co-stars were former Goldilocks co-star Don Ameche and Gwen Verdon.[24] She appeared in Out to Sea (1997) as Dyan Cannon's wise-cracking mother and "danced up a storm" with the other characters.[32] She played Winona Ryder's loving grandmother in the film Autumn in New York (2000).[33] Stritch had a rare co-starring role in the comedy Screwed (2000), playing Miss Crock, who becomes the intended victim of a kidnapping by her disgruntled butler (Norm Macdonald).[34] She appeared in the comedy Monster in Law (2005) starring Jennifer Lopez and Jane Fonda, playing Fonda's mother-in-law.[35]

BBC Radio

In 1982, Stritch appeared on an edition of the long-running BBC Radio comedy series Just a Minute alongside Kenneth Williams, Clement Freud and Barry Cryer. The show was described by long-time chairman Nicholas Parsons as being among the most memorable because of the way Stritch stretched the show's rules. She described Kenneth Williams as capable of making "one word into a three-act play".[36]

Later stage work

After her husband, John Bay, died from brain cancer in 1982,[37] Stritch returned to America, and after a further lull in her career and struggles with alcoholism,[38] Stritch began performing again. She appeared in a one-night only concert of Company in 1993 and as Parthy in a Broadway revival of the musical Show Boat in 1994.

In 1996 she played Claire in a revival of Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance, with Variety writing: "Equally marvelous is Stritch, with a meatier role than her recent foray as Parthy in 'Show Boat.' To watch her succumb to the vast amounts of alcohol Claire ingests, folding and refolding her legs, slipping – no, oozing – onto the floor, her face crumpling like a paper bag, is to witness a different but equally winning kind of thespian expertise. It's a master class up there."[39]

Elaine Stritch at Liberty

Her one-woman show Elaine Stritch at Liberty, a summation of her life and career, premiered at New York's Public Theater, running from November 7 to December 30, 2001.[40] It then ran on Broadway at the Neil Simon Theatre from February 21 to May 27, 2002 and then, also in 2002, at London's Old Vic Theatre.[18][41] Newsweek noted:

A Little Night Music

Stritch appeared in the Broadway revival of the Sondheim-Wheeler musical A Little Night Music from July 2010 to January 2011, succeeding Angela Lansbury in the role of Madame Armfeldt,[43][44] the wheelchair-bound mother who remembers her life as a courtesan in the song "Liaisons". The AP reviewer of the musical (with the two new leads) wrote "Devotees of Stritch, who earned her Sondheim stripes singing, memorably, "The Ladies Who Lunch" in Company 40 years ago, will revel in how the actress, who earned a huge ovation before her very first line at a recent preview, brings her famously salty, acerbic style to the role of Madame Armfeldt."[45]

The theatre critic for The Toronto Star wrote:


Stritch performed a cabaret act in New York City at the Cafe Carlyle in the Carlyle Hotel, where she was a resident from 2005 until she left New York in 2013. Her first show at the Carlyle was titled "At Home at the Carlyle". The New York Times reviewer wrote:

Between musical numbers, Stritch told stories from the world of stage and screen, tales from her everyday life and personal glimpses of her private tragedies and triumphs. She performed at the Cafe Carlyle in early 2010 and in fall 2011 in At Home at the Carlyle: Elaine Stritch Singin' Sondheim...One Song at a Time.[48]

Personal life

Strich was married to the actor John Bay from 1973 until his death in 1982. He was part of the family that owns the Bay's English Muffins company, and Stritch sent English muffins as gifts to friends. Said John Kenley: "Every Christmas, she still sends me English muffins."[49][50] When she was based in London, Stritch and her husband lived at the Savoy Hotel.[7]

She was good friends with gossip columnist Liz Smith, with whom she shared a birthday (February 2).[51] In March 2013, Stritch announced she was leaving New York and relocating to Birmingham, Michigan.[52]

Stritch was candid about her struggles with alcohol.[53] She took her first drink at 14 and began using it as a crutch before performances to vanquish her stage fright and insecurities. Her drinking worsened after Bay's death, and she sought help after experiencing issues with effects of alcoholism, as well as the onset of diabetes. Elaine Stritch at Liberty discusses the topic at length.[5]


Stritch died in her sleep at her home in Birmingham, Michigan on July 17, 2014. She was 89 years old. She suffered from diabetes and had been battling stomach cancer at the time of her death, three months after surgery for the disease, although cancer was not cited as an immediate cause of her death.[54][55][56][57]

In popular culture

Stritch's voice and vocal delivery are spoofed in the Forbidden Broadway songs "The Ladies Who Screech"[58] and "Stritch", parodies of "The Ladies Who Lunch" and "Zip", songs she performed in the musicals Company and Pal Joey.

In 2009, a parody by Bats Langley entitled "How the Stritch Stole Christmas" (loosely based on "How the Grinch Stole Christmas") appeared on YouTube.[59]

On The Big Gay Sketch Show in 2007, she was spoofed (and portrayed by Nicol Paone) as a Wal-Mart greeter who is still a theater gal at heart.[60] In a later episode, Stritch is spoofed as an airport security guard, who's still "on" and isn't able to tone down her over-the-top antics.[61] In yet another episode, "Stritch" is promoting her self-titled perfume "Stritchy" in dramatic fashion when she is confronted by the real-life Elaine Stritch, who makes a cameo appearance.[62]

In the Modern Family episode "Schooled", Mitch states that school was difficult for him because of having a name that rhymes with "witch, snitch, bitch, Elaine Stritch" to which he states that, "Not all bullies are straight."[citation needed]

Honors and awards

Tony Awards

Stritch earned five Tony Award nominations, winning once.

In addition to the 2002 Tony prize, Elaine Stritch at Liberty was awarded the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Solo Performance the same year. The stage performance of observations and songs from her life in theatre would later be the focus of D. A. Pennebaker's 2004 documentary Elaine Stritch at Liberty, which went on to win several Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Achievement in a Variety or Music Program.[63]

Emmy Awards

Stritch earned eight Emmy nominations, winning three.

Grammy Awards

An audio recording of The Best Halloween Ever earned Stritch a 2005 Grammy nomination for Best Spoken Word Album for Children.

American Theater Hall of Fame

Stritch was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame in 1995.[65]





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  46. ^ Ouzounian, Richard. "Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch: Making beautiful music in Manhattan", The Toronto Star, August 20, 2010.
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  60. ^ Catlin, Roger (April 24, 2007). "Equal Opportunity Clunkers on 'Sketch Show'". Hartford Courant. p. D2. 
  61. ^ "Episode 8, Season 2". The Big Gay Sketch Show. September 16, 2013. Retrieved July 18, 2014. 
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