Throwback Thursday: Elaine Stritch Was Broadway's Toughest Broad
This story first appeared in the Aug. 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Broadway legend Elaine Stritch, who died July 17 at 89 in her Birmingham, Mich., home, had a career that ranged from Noel Coward's last musical to Tina Fey's first sitcom. When Coward saw Stritch's 1962 Tony Award-nominated performance in his Sail Away, the British playwright noted in his diary that she sang "so movingly that I almost cried." Almost five decades later, in 2007, Stritch earned an Emmy for her guest turn as Alec Baldwin's cantankerous mother on 30 Rock. Says 30 Rock creator Fey: "Elaine was a 'tough old bird,' but I suspect she may have been a 'tough old bird' since birth."
Stritch's Roman Catholic parents allowed her to move to New York from Michigan in 1944 to study acting at The New School (Marlon Brando was a classmate), but only if she lived in a convent. She landed her first Broadway role in 1946 and continued performing in New York City until her retirement in 2013. Stritch struggled with alcoholism — in her prime, she was said to be capable of drinking friend Judy Garland under the table — and stopped drinking in her 60s upon learning she had diabetes, which in typically tart fashion she called "a pain in the ass, quite frankly." At 48, she married actor and Bay's English Muffin heir John Bay (he died in 1982).
Broadway was always Stritch's home turf, but television bit parts gave her career a lucrative second wind, and she appeared on everything from Law & Order to Head of the Class. But she did only one other sitcom with "Rock" in the title: 3rd Rock From the Sun, in which she played Jane Curtin's mother. "She was of the theater and she brought the theater with her," says 3rd Rock star John Lithgow. "She was idiosyncratic and kind of autocratic, but she was entitled to that and she knew it. I loved her."