I was surfing the internet at around 1pm yesterday, when I suddenly came across a headline that almost literally broke my heart. “Oh, my gosh,” I gasped, slightly paralyzed. “Elaine Stritch just died!” The other bloggers looked around and at me with looks of concern. “Who?” they asked. It sadly occurred to me that not everyone my age would know who she was, but how could I begin to describe her? She was a star of Broadway, television, and arrestingly intimate, hugely successful one-woman shows performed nationwide, but these titles only scratched the surface.
I knew then that I had to write something about her, to do my best to convey how truly spectacular she was, and how much she continues to inspire me. So, for those of you in need of enlightenment, I decided to compile a list of everything that made her so brazenly, wonderfully Elaine.
1. Her effortless glamour
One of my favorite things about Elaine Stritch has always been the way she dressed in her later years. A long white button-down, black stockings, jewels, furs, the occasional neck-tie or hat, and fabulous glasses. Her look was as iconic, chic and carefree.
2. Her sense of humor
In every show she was in, on screen or on stage, Elaine played a caricature of herself. She made light of the darker moments of her life in a way that never failed to entertain. She was also hilarious in her role as Jack’s mother on 30 Rock (this was my first introduction to her). “I don’t know what to say about humor,” she told the New York Times, “except thank God for it. I can change the subject of my life with humor, when it’s down.”
3. Her perseverance
Elaine battled diabetes, heartache (her husband died ten years into their marriage—she never remarried), and a deadly love affair with alcohol. Despite all this, she put all of her heart and her time into rehearsing and creating. She always made sure whatever she created was honest and as close to perfect as possible.
4. Her crazy dates
Elaine was the talk of the town as a young adult, and won the hearts of practically everyone she came in contact with. I was delighted, but not at all surprised, to find out that she had gone on dates with the likes of Marlin Brando (before he was super famous) and John F. Kennedy (before he was president). She never let either of them past second base, though. “I knew about kissing, but that was it,” Stritch said of her 17-year old self. “I knew there was something beyond that, but I didn’t know what it was. I was too busy.”
5. Her raw energy
She was a small woman, but tapped into an almost animal energy within herself that never seemed forced or contrived. She sang and spoke with a fiery determination that is hard to put into words. Here’s one of her most powerful performances—Sondheim’s “The Ladies Who Lunch” from the musical Company.
6. Her courage
Elaine held nothing back on stage. She spilled to her audience every night the way one would to her best friend. Her secrets, her regrets and her triumphs, everything was out in the open. “Everyone’s got a sack of rocks,” she declared in the recent documentary Elaine Stritch: Shoot me. She carried her’s with pride and wanted others, when they saw her shows, to learn from her mistakes.
7. Her potty mouth
There is nothing greater than a wise-cracking old woman with a sailor’s tongue. And the fact that she was so unapologetic about it made it all the better. Here, she casually drops the F-bomb on morning television (and no, they didn’t bleep it).
8. Her confidence
“I’m convinced, now,” Stritch told the New York Times. “I really am convinced that I’m really, really talented. I’m really good. I know how to entertain.” What made her performances perfect was that fact that despite any jitters or second-thoughts before hand, she threw 100% of herself into the ring come show time, leaving all insecurities backstage.
9. Her ambition
If ever I find myself hesitating before making any big decision, I think about what Elaine would do. She was only seventeen when she made the decision to move to New York City by herself to study acting.
10. Her life, lived as one big performance
Knowing her professional life was coming to a close after her health started to worsen, Elaine put on one last show for a few nights at Café Carlyle, which would “give her fans the chance to say goodbye, up close and personal,” said the Carlyle’s managing director.
Elaine Stritch was an icon, an inspiration, and a woman of few words. When asked by the New York Times how she would like to be remembered, she said she didn’t care. “Whatever you think is fair. Most important thing is that I am.”
Images courtesy of the New York Times and Hour Detroit Magazine