Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Happy Birthday Elaine Stritch

Hers is the incongruously gravelly voice that wouldn't seem to lend itself to a career on the Broadway stage; backstage, maybe, working as a Teamster... Yet Elaine Stritch is a living legend in the Broadway community, a singer-dancer-actress whose appeal is immediately evident, and whose ballsy offstage demeanour has endeared her to three generations' worth of stage door Johnnies.

PhotobucketBorn on this day in 1926, she made her Broadway debut at the age of twenty, in a revue entitled Angel in the Wings; her first big exposure came when she understudied Ethel Merman in Call Me Madam. Those were some mighty big lungs to fill, which Stritch ably did for months when the show went on its national tour. Her acclaim built with appearances in a 1952 revival of Pal Joey and a 1954 revival of On Your Toes. Emboldened, she took a non-singing role in the 1956 production of William Inge's Bus Stop.

Stage-wise, though, her greatest triumph came from Stephen Sondheim's grand Company, which allowed her the showstopper The Ladies Who Lunch.

Offstage, too, she's distinguished herself; on the small screen she originated the role of Trixie in The Honeymooners when it was still a sketch on Jackie Gleason's variety program Cavalcade of Stars*. From 1975-9 she appeared in the legendary British sitcom Two's Company opposite Sir Donald Sinden, playing a novelist with a personality not unlike her own. On the big screen she's appeared in dozens of films, including Woody Allen's sodden September (1987) as well as his more spritely Small Time Crooks (2000). She even made her presence felt on radio, when she was a panelist on the BBC comedy show Just a Minute with Kenneth Williams, Clement Freud and Barry Cryer.

Her one-woman show Elaine Stritch at Liberty ran to great fan response in 2002, and in 2007 she was awarded an Emmy for her portrayal of Colleen, the dragon-lady mother of Alec Baldwin's character Jack Donaghy in the hilarious 30 Rock. Proving, I guess, that even for a living legend life begins at eighty!

*Regular readers of this blog and pop culture vultures alike will know Stritch was later replaced in the role by Joyce Randolph, as Pert Kelton would be relieved of playing Alice Kramden by Audrey Meadows.
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