By Maison Kelly
“Audiences are not strangers to me. They’re the best friends I’ve got in my life.”
On July 17th, 2014, the vibrant, strong-willed, and always memorable Elaine Stritch passed away. From her absolutely iconic performance of ‘Ladies Who Lunch’ from Company, to her hysterical portrayal of Jack Donaghy’s mother on 30 Rock, it was obvious that whatever role Stritch decided to take on, it would be iconic.
Stritch made her Broadway debut in Loco in 1946, and has had over 34 Broadway and Off-Broadway credits since then; perhaps her most notable being in Bus Stop, Sail Away, A Delicate Balance, and of course, Company. After finding her fame in New York, she moved to London in 1972 to revisit the role of Joanne, which she originated, in Company on the West End.
Stritch was actually raised as a devout Catholic, and moved to New York City as a 17 year old with no doubt in her mind that she was going to rebrand herself and create her own life on the stage. With grit, guts, but always stunning elegance, she paved her way to stardom despite having her own obstacles on the way. Stritch spent many years of her life struggling with alcoholism, which started as a crutch to deal with crippling stage fright, but ended when she decided that she wanted to always perform with a clear head. That quality of boldness is what set Elaine Strich apart; she was always in complete control of her life and handled even the most difficult of times with humility and a level-head.
Although nominated for 4 Tony awards for all of the roles that she was best known for, it wasn’t until she debuted her one-woman show, Elaine Stritch at Liberty, that she finally won one. Her show was such a genuine and hilarious look into her life, it’s no wonder that she found, arguably, the most success portraying the personality which brought her the most fame- her own. Anyone who worked with Stritch agreed that she was absolutely one-of-a-kind. Tina Fey, creator of 30 Rock, spoke about her experience with Stritch as a guest star, “Elaine was a ‘tough old bird,’ but I suspect she may have been a ‘tough old bird’ since birth.”
When speaking of her career, it was obvious her focus was always on entertaining the audience and bringing her character to life, and never on her personal success. In her own words, “Success doesn’t mean a thing.” She truly set herself apart as an actress truly involved in theatre for the people.
“Quite frankly, I don’t know how to be happy. I have not a clue. I only serve – and I don’t say that with any grandeur. I just serve others through entertaining. That’s when I am happy. I’m not just delighted with myself when I’m entertaining, but I’m happier than when I’m not.“
Though it cannot be denied that Broadway lost a legendary actress, it seems that the greatest loss the world is having to face is the loss of the headstrong, sharp-tongued, genuine personality that was Elaine Stritch. She will forever be remembered by the stages and lives that she graced with her presence.