5 Things We All Can Learn from Elaine Stritch

Photo by Todd Heisler, New York Times

Stritchy has left us, and fans everywhere are hoisting a vodka stinger in tribute to this feisty, salty-tongued singing actress. I saw her in Company on the stage of Her Majesty’s Theatre in London more than 40 years ago, and the Pennebaker documentary Original Cast Album memorably captures her in the studio struggling to nail a good take of her signature song, The Ladies Who Lunch. It’s an unforgettable clip.

Years later, I saw her as Parthy in Show Boat, directed (like Company was) by Hal Prince, who understood that Parthy, like Stritchy, had no tolerance for bullshit, not even when it came from her charming bullshitter of a husband, Cap’n Andy, played by the equally memorable Robert Morse. Sublime casting, especially when it meant audiences got to hear her croak out “Why Do I Love You?” to her infant granddaughter Kim in an unexpected moment of tenderness at the top of Act II.

If you’re reading this blog, chances are that you already know and admire Elaine Stritch. If you need some schooling, start with this tribute in the Times, and for fun, check out the documentary Elaine Stritch: Just Shoot Me, currently streaming on Netflix.

Now then, as promised, 5 Things We All Can Learn From Elaine Stritch. Shut up and pay attention.

1. Stritchy was FEARLESS.

That’s right, she didn’t give a fuck. And that mean’t she didn’t fear self-exposure, which is an actor’s stock-in-trade. Warts and all, that’s what you got when Stritch sang.

2. Stritchy TOLD THE TRUTH.

“You cannot tell an audience a lie. They know it before you do; before it’s out of your mouth, they know it’s a lie.” Even when the truth was scary, or unflattering, or both – she told it.

3. Stritchy was DANGEROUS.

Phyllis Newman describes her as “dangerous, completely original [and] achingly funny.” Of course, this follows from #1 and #2, above. But, as Newman recalls, “You’re never sure what she’s going to do with a song, a scene or even a line. So you best keep your eyes on her, lest you miss something.”

4. Stritchy could LAND A LYRIC.

Her tempos were slow, but the content LANDED. It was a combination of impeccable diction and her megawatt personality.

5. Stritchy HUNG IN THERE.

Still going strong in her 80’s? My god, we should all have her tenacity. An indomitable spirit, surely kicking ass in the afterlife. God bless her.

If you have time on your hands, here’s more than two hours worth of Stritchy.

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