Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Elaine Stritch keeps up cabaret show, '30 Rock' gig at 88

Getty Images

NEW YORK — Elaine Stritch sat in her usual place on the tiny raised stage at the Café Carlyle, the pricey 100-seat cabaret/supper club in the hotel where the actor has lived for more than a decade. Nearby, right where he has hovered for years, was her supportive pianist, Rob Bowman. She wore pretty much what she always has — her trademark white shirt over sheer black hose exposing the skinniest legs this side of the aviary.

But this time was different. It was, she blurted out right away, "the most frightening night in my life."

You see, it was the final opening night of her final five-night engagement before Stritch, 88, moves back to — what? — suburban Birmingham, Mich., where she'll live in a condo near her nieces and nephews.

"I'm going to go to sleep at 9 o'clock at night. I've been up all night all my life," she said.

It is hard to imagine Stritch without Manhattan, and vice versa. For 71 years, she has built a legendary theater career, a life and a persona that feel inseparable from the sophistication, the challenge and the crankiness of New York.

But there she was at her old haunt in a program she named "Elaine Stritch at the Carlyle: Movin' Over and Out." Tom Hanks was beaming at her from one of the tables. So were Liza Minnelli, Bernadette Peters, Tony Bennett and, seated away from the action, Metropolitan Opera music director James Levine.

But she was scared, at least at the start of the 75 rambling yet riveting minutes. Her health has not been good, a combination of worsening diabetes, a broken hip and reports of small strokes.

"Every time I leave the building," she growled out of both her comic mouth and her serious eyes, "I fall on my ass."

The memory glitches she had at her 85th birthday concert at the Carlyle are more frequent now, and it offends her daunting sense of professionalism. "There's something that really frightens me," she said, "and that is fear." The Stephen Sondheim specialist who set the forever-standard for The Ladies Who Lunch from Company, sang only three numbers that night — and none of her historic ones. Mostly she told anecdotes, some picked by adoring audience members from a circulating bowl of story cues, and she vamped with stars in the audience — especially Hanks — admitting, "I am so crazy about famous people, people who entertain me."

Some stories are familiar from Elaine Stritch at Liberty, her thrilling 2002 Tony-winning solo and Emmy-winning HBO special about the captivating ups and downs of a "good Roman Catholic girl" from the Midwest whose surprisingly innocent but seductive diversions included JFK and Marlon Brando. "Don't ask me about Brando," she said to us, "It's too ... complicated."

There wasn't an inauthentic moment in her then and there isn't now. Chiemi Karasawa, who made the new documentary Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me, which premiered last weekend at the Tribeca Film Festival, said in a recent phone interview that she marveled at the access Stritch gave her.

"She never wanted to hide anything," she said. The result is a "very intimate movie. Her softer side comes out. She is very generous."

After what Karasawa, 44, describes as a "bittersweet courtship" (Stritch wasn't sure she wanted to do it), the two became "very, very close." The filmmaker knew of Stritch's celebrity and difficult reputation. They were thrown together by happenstance because they both went to the same hairstylist, who said "you really should make a documentary about her."

"I went to Google and YouTube," she remembers, "and I couldn't believe she wasn't a household name. I recognized that most people who know her history are theater buffs or older than I am. My mission is to bring her into the foreground. She is so singular."

Fans of 30 Rock know Elaine Stritch. She won an Emmy for playing Alec Baldwin's mother on the TV series by being more ornery than her son. What most people don't know is that, when the financing for her documentary fell through late in the project, Baldwin contacted the documentary maker and asked, "How much do you need?"

Elaine Stritch keeps up cabaret show, '30 Rock' gig at 88 04/23/13 [Last modified: Thursday, April 18, 2013 11:54am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Tribune News Service.

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Review / photos: Sunset Music Festival brings Major Lazer, safety upgrades to Raymond James Stadium in Tampa


    Somewhere beyond the barricades and mountainous LED stages of the Sunset Music Festival, there had to be worry. There had to thousands of parents in parking lots and empty kitchens, anxiously distracting their minds, every now and then checking their phones.

    Major Lazer headlined the Sunset Music Festival on May 27, 2017 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.
  2. 24-year-old man charged with murder in shooting at Andrea Cove Motel

    LARGO — Pinellas sheriff's officers arrested a 24-year-old transient man Saturday in connection with a homicide at the Andrea Cove Motel in unincorporated Largo.

  3. Photo gallery: Calvary Christian rolls to state title


    View a gallery of images from Calvary Christian's defeat of Pensacola Catholic 11-1 in six innings Saturday night at Hammond Stadium in Ft. Myers for the Class 4A title.

    Calvary Christian players circle up on the field before the FHSAA class 4A baseball championship against Pensacola Catholic on Friday May 27, 2017 at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers, Fla. Calvary scored 6 runs in the first inning, and had 7 hits.
  4. Two girls found safe after being reported missing in New Port Richey

    UPDATE: Both girls were found safe Saturday night, police said.

  5. IT failure blamed for British Airways cancellations (w/video)


    LONDON — British Airways canceled all flights from London's Heathrow and Gatwick airports on Saturday as a global IT failure upended the travel plans of tens of thousands of people on a busy U.K. holiday weekend.

    Passengers wait at a British Airways check-in desk after the airport suffered an IT systems failure Saturday at London''s Gatwick Airport. [Associated Press]