Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Late Great Elaine Stritch

Star of stage, screen, and television Elaine Stritch died today at the age of 89.

Elaine Stritch was born on 2 February 1925 in Detroit, Michigan. Her father was George Stritch, an executive with B. F. Goodrich. Her mother was Mildred Stritch (née Jobe), a homemaker. The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Chicago from 1940 to 1958, Samuel Cardinal Stritch, was one of her uncles. Miss Stritch was only four years old when her father took her to see a touring production of The Ziegfeld Follies. Her father took her backstage to meet comedian Bobby Clark, whom her father knew. It was the beginning of Elaine Stritch's love affair with the stage. It was after she graduated from high school that she moved to New York City to pursue acting. She studied drama at the he New School for Social Research under Erwin Piscator. Among her fellow students were Bea Arthur and Marlon Brando.

Elaine Stritch made her stage debut in a children's play entitled Bobino. She made her debut on Broadway in the play Loco in 1946. Miss Stritch would have a long career on Broadway. In the late Forties she appeared in such productions as Made in Heaven, Angel in the Wings, and Yes, M'Lord. She was Ethel Merman's understudy in Call Me Madam. While she never got to play Ethel Merman's role of Mrs. Sally Adams on the Broadway stage, she did star in a national tour of Call Me Madam in the Fifties. In the Fifties she also starred in a revival of Pal Joey on Broadway, as well as the original production of Bus Stop as Grace Hoylard. In the Fifties she also appeared in the productions On Your Toes, The Sin of Pat Muldoon, and Goldilocks.

In the Sixties Miss Stritch appeared on Broadway in Noel Coward's play Sail Away. Later she was one of the actresses who played Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Later in the decade she appeared in the production Company. Elaine Stritch would then be absent from the Broadway stage until 1990, when she took over the role of Melissa Gardner in Love Letters. In the Nineties she appeared in a revival of Company, a revival of Show Boat, and a revival of A Delicate Balance. In the Naughts she was the star of her own Broadway show, Elaine Stritch At Liberty, and appeared in a revival of Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music.

Elaine Stritch made her debut on television as one of the regulars on the DuMont sitcom The Growing Paynes in 1949. In the Fifties she was the first actress to play the role of Trixie Norton, appearing only once in the part on a "Honeymooners" sketch on the DuMont show Cavalcade of Stars starring Jackie Gleason. Late in the Fifties she starred as Ruth Sherwood on the TV series My Sister Eileen. Throughout the Fifties she guest starred on such shows as Kraft Theatre, The Motorola Television Hour, Goodyear Playhouse, Appointment with Adventure, Climax, Studio One, Adventures in Paradise and Wagon Train.

Aside from her role as Ruth Sherwood on My Sister Eileen, in the Sixties Miss Stritch only appeared on television in the on the shows The Nurses and The Trials of O'Brien as well as various talk shows and variety shows. In the Seventies she starred in the British TV series Two's Company. She played the role of Aunt Polly in a miniseries version of Pollyanna and had a recurring role on the series Nobody's Perfect. She also appeared on the shows Shades of Greene, Jackanory, and Tales of the Unexpected.

In the Eighties Elaine Stritch was a regular on the TV series The Ellen Burstyn Show. In 1984 she also appeared in several episodes of the daytime serial The Edge of Night. She guest starred on the shows Trapper John, M.D., Tattingers, American Playhouse, Head of the Class, and The Cosby Show. In the Nineties Miss Stritch made two appearances on Law & Order as Lanie Stieglitz, the first of won her the Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series. In 1993 she appeared in several episodes of the soap opera One Life to Live. She guest starred on such shows as Bless This House, Soul Man, Oz, and 3rd Rock from the Sun.

From the Naughts into the teens Elaine Stritch played the recurring role of Colleen Donaghy, Jack Donaghy's overbearing mother on 30 Rock. She won another Emmy for the role, one for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series, and was nominated another four times in the category for playing Colleen Donaghy.  She was also a regular on the show Life's a Bitch.

Elaine Stritch made her film debut in The Scarlet Hour in 1956. In the late Fifties she appeared in the films Three Violent People (1956), A Farewell to Arms (1957), The Perfect Furlough (1958), and Kiss Her Goodbye (1959).  In the Sixties she appeared in the films Who Killed Teddy Bear (1965), Too Many Thieves (1967), and Pigeons (1970). In the Seventies she appeared in the films The Spiral Staircase (1975) and Providence (1977). 

In the Eighties she played former actress Diane in Woody Allen's September (1987). While the film itself was not well received, Miss Stritch was widely praised for her performance. She also appeared in the films Cocoon: The Return (1988) and Cadillac Man (1990). In the Nineties Elaine Stritch appeared in the films Out to Sea (1997), Krippendorf's Tribe (1998), Screwed (2000), Small Time Crooks (2000), and Autumn in New York (2000). From the Naughts into the Teens she appeared in the films Monster-in-Law (2005), Romance & Cigarettes (2005) , and River of Fundament (2014). She was the voice of ParaNorman (2012).

To put it simply, Elaine Stritch was incredible. Plain spoken, acerbic, and extremely funny in person, Miss Stritch was no small talent. In a career that literally spanned from the Forties to the Teens she played a wide variety of roles and played all of them well. If Elaine Stritch ever gave a bad performance I never saw it. Even when the material was not particularly good Miss Strich was capable of  great acting. A perfect example is the role of brassy, abrasive, self-centred former movie star Diane in September. The movie was not particularly good, but Elaine Stritch was fantastic. She also shined in another Woody Allen film, Small Time Crooks, playing snobbish socialite Chi-Chi Potter. Elaine Stritch had a particular gift for comedy, capable of eliciting laughs with the delivery of only a single line.

Of course, not all of Elaine Stritch's roles were comedic, nor were all of her characters abrasive or offensive. In another instance of her performance actually being better than the over all film, Elaine Stritch played Dolly Talbot, Winona Ryder's character's caring grandmother in Autumn in New York. She was also great in the role of caring, motherly nurse Helen Ferguson in the 1957 version of A Farewell to Arms. It must also be kept in mind that Elaine Stritch was a talented singer and dancer. After all, of all the media in which she appeared, Elaine Stritch may have seen the most success on Broadway. If one has ever seen her show Elaine Stritch at Liberty, then they are fully aware of her talent as a vocalist.

In the end Elaine Stritch was a woman of multiple talents, who was great at all of them. She was equally adept at playing drama as she was comedy, and she could play a wide array of roles. Elaine Stritch was an absolutely brilliant woman, who could be as entertaining in interviews as she was on the stage or the screen. She was a wholly singular talent whose like we probably won't see again. 

No comments: