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A Film by Michael Kantor



Elaine Stritch

An inimitable actress and singer with a magnetic appeal, who has combined a career in the musical theater with another in drama, films, and on television. Stritch has been called caustic, sardonic, witty, tough, and much else besides. She is said to have sung for the first time on stage in the Long Island revue “The Shape of Things!”, in June 1947, and a few months later introduced “Civilization (Bongo, Bongo, Bongo)” on Broadway in another revue, “Angels in the Wings.” Stritch subsequently understudied Ethel Merman in Irving Berlin’s hit musical “Call Me Madam,” and played Merman’s role of ambassador Sally Adams in the 1952-53 U.S. tour. Also in 1952, she was Melba Snyder in a revival of “Pal Joey” at the Broadhurst Theater, and gave a memorable reading of the amusing “Zip.” During the remainder of the ’50s, Stritch appeared on Broadway in the 1954 revival of “On Your Toes” (rendering a “drop dead” version of the interpolated “You Took Advantage of Me”) and with Don Ameche and Russell Nype in “Goldilocks” (1958). In 1961, she sang “Why Do the Wrong People Travel?”, among other songs, in Noël Coward’s “Sail Away,” and in the following year went with the show to London. Although she starred as Vera Charles in the U.S. tour of “Mame,” and appeared in a U.S. television version of the legendary revue “Pins and Needles,” Stritch did not appear on Broadway again until “Company” (1970), the show that gave her cult status.

Dean Jones and Elaine Stritch in Sondheim's classic "Company."

The television program documenting the agonies involved in recording its original cast album, particularly the sequence in which a weary Stritch struggles to lay down a Stephen Sondheim-pleasing version of “The Ladies Who Lunch,” proved to be riveting viewing, and was eventually released on videotape and Laserdisc. After reprising her role for the 1972 London production of “Company,” Stritch lived in England for about 10 years, appearing in various plays, and co-starring with Donald Sinden in the top-rated television series “Two’s Company.”

Elaine Stritch

Born: February 2, 1925
Key Shows
  • "Call Me Madam"
  • "Company"
  • "Goldilocks"
  • "On Your Toes"
  • "Pal Joey"
  • "Sail Away"
Related Artists
  • Michael Bennett
  • Donna McKechnie
  • Harold Prince
  • Stephen Sondheim
  • Jule Styne
  • Tony Walton
In 1985, she returned in triumph to New York for the two-performance “Follies in Concert” at Lincoln Center. She played Hattie, and very nearly stopped the show with her “sensational” rendering of “Broadway Baby.” In the early ’90s, she was back at Lincoln Center with the original cast of “Company” for benefit concerts, made her cabaret debut at New York’s Rainbow & Stars, and played the role of Parthy in the 1994 Tony Award-winning revival of “Show Boat” on Broadway. Stritch was inducted into The Theater Hall of Fame in 1995, and two years later made a rare working trip to London in order to join a host of stars celebrating Barbara Cook’s 70th birthday at the Royal Albert Hall. In May 1998 she withdrew from the cast of Bob Kingdom’s play “Elsa Edgar” at the Bay Street Theater, Long Island, just a few hours before its scheduled opening. Stritch was to portray socialite Elsa Maxwell in the first act, and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover in the second.

Source: Biographical information provided by MUZE. Excerpted from the ENCYCLOPEDIA OF POPULAR MUSIC, edited by Colin Larkin. © 2004 MUZE UK Ltd.

Photo credits: Photofest and Martha Swope