Elaine Stritch, as irascible as ever


At 89, tBroadway legend Elaine Stritch is retired. But she returned to New York for the premiere of a film about her life. (Uncredited/AP)
March 15

Elaine Stritch just loves the documentary about her. Adores it, actually. There’s just one thing she’d change.

“Someone asked me, ‘How did you like the film, Elaine?’ ” the actress said late last month. “I said I loved it, I just wish I wasn’t in it.”

At 89, Stritch, as funny and irascible as ever, returned to New York to celebrate the opening of “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me,” delighting Broadway fans who have missed her and stunning others by unleashing the f-bomb on the “Today” show.

Last year, Stritch retired to her home state of Michigan and moved to suburban Detroit after seven decades in New York. She suffers from diabetes, a broken hip and memory loss.

Filmmaker Chiemi Karasawa follows Stritch as she winds down her time in New York, complete with forgotten lyrics, touching moments and flashes of irrational anger. The actress admits some of it was uncomfortable to watch, but wanted honesty.

“I made up my mind to really tell the truth and prove to myself once and for all that the truth was fascinating,” Stritch said. “Any time a human being stands up and tells the truth, I think, ‘I want to hear that and I want to see that. I want to understand that. Is she out of her mind?’ ”

Although Stritch appeared in movies and on television, garnering three Emmy Awards, she was best known for her stage work, particularly in her candid one-woman memoir, “Elaine Stritch: At Liberty,” and in the Stephen Sondheim musical “Company.”

Alec Baldwin, who appears in the documentary and helped produce it by sinking in his own money, said the woman who played his mother on “30 Rock” will never completely disappear no matter how far away she goes.

“People who are really talented have a level of immortality. You never say goodbye to them,” he said. “Everybody in the business, they laugh with Elaine and at Elaine because of her irascibility, but all of them know she’s just incredibly talented.”

Stritch was more than a Broadway actress. She was a New York institution, strolling around in fur coat, porkpie hat or oversize sunglasses. She often wore shorts and ties, or just black stockings and a white flowing shirt. Her weapon of choice was the zinger.

The documentary includes testimonies from friends such as Tina Fey, James Gandolfini, Hal Prince and Cherry Jones.

“She is confident and brassy and stylish and gorgeous. She doesn’t wear pants. And she lives the way she wants to live,” Fey says in the film.

“Some of the things that some of my friends said about me, you couldn’t ask for anything better,” said Stritch in response. “Oh, my goodness.”

Stritch said that she loves Michigan and hates flying, and that her wheelchair makes her feel “like Dame May Whitty.” Despite a “hot temper and lousy weather,” she stayed fun and feisty. “I’m still kind of in one shape,” she said, with some surprise.

She added that the biggest reaction she gets about the film is from people who assumed she had already gone to that big Broadway in the sky. “’Oh, you didn’t go yet?’” Stritch said, gently mocking well-wishers. “’We’ll go through all that nonsense again?’ ”

— Associated Press

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