I first discovered the incredibly quick-witted and famously pantsless Elaine Stritch back in 2006 when she guest-starred on 30 Rock as Colleen Donaghy, the brash yet secretly-loving mother to Alec Baldwin’s Jack Donaghy. She effortlessly stole every scene, and her comedic timing was impeccably sharp. So, naturally, it took a whole three seconds before I thought to myself: “Who is this woman, and why isn’t she my grandmother?” It’s paradoxical how I was just then being introduced to a woman who had already been in the spotlight for over six decades.
Stritch got her start in the theater in 1944 and ultimately went on to perform in 19 different productions on Broadway. Though I never got a chance to see her perform live when I moved to New York, I was tickled as hell with the thought of randomly bumping into her on its busy streets. And what would have happened if I actually did run into her? Well, I probably would have asked for a hug, sidling up to her oversized coat that seemed to weigh just as much as she did, and I might have even asked to try on her iconic black-rimmed glasses. Is that crazy?
To me, Elaine’s most inspiring work is Elaine Stritch At Liberty, her brutally honest one-woman show where she courageously reveals everything from her battle with alcoholism to going on a date with Marlon Brando (as a 17-year-old virgin) to losing the lead role in The Golden Girls. Stritch’s exploration of her past in this golden age of Hollywood and theater encouraged me revisit the classics. So, rather than getting slowly and deliciously inebriated in the early afternoon like the other college kids around me, I spent my university weekends marathoning black-and-white movies on TCM. I’m not sure how she did it, but Elaine Stritch, in her ninth decade alive, took an impressionable twentysomething on a relatable journey through struggle, sacrifice, and love.
It’s fitting that Stritch’s recent documentary, Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me, ended with the text: “She plans to retire in 2014. Or 2015. Or 2016. Or 2017. Or 2018,” because there really was no stopping her. It’s that type of charisma and chutzpah that made Elaine Stritch a class act and, unbeknownst to her, my mentor. I’ll miss you, Elaine. And in honor of your performance on 30 Rock and overall seventy years in showbiz, “I will eat a bowl of cherries and some ghost meat in your honor.”
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