Elaine Stritch would probably have been pleased to know that news of her death on Thursday at 89 pushed world events like the conflict in Gaza or the downed Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 off the front pages, at least for a couple of hours. Stritch made her name not only with her great, idiosyncratic style, but as a monster; her unbridled rage as much a part of her persona as her rakish hats and perpetual pantlessness (after all, the legs are the last to go).
Watch her implode while recording her signature number, “The Ladies Who Lunch” in the documentary of the making of the original cast recording of Company. Recall her many cantankerous and profanity-laden talk show appearances. Consider the unbridled, take-no-prisoners anecdotes sprinkled throughout her award-winning one-woman show, At Liberty, which of course she always was.
She may have been an angry woman (a close friend, in a profile for the New York Times, described one of her explosions as “Medea-like”), but she was an interestingly angry one. Stritch’s aggression never stemmed from diva-tude or entitlement. She was angry not because she wanted things to be right, but because she needed them to be. Her rage didn’t mask insecurity; it was her insecurity, or rather, her vulnerability. It was the way she showed her deepest self.
A friend of mine once described why New York City has always made him nervous. “It’s so big and loud and angry and aggressive,” he said, “but it’s also such a fragile ecosystem. If there’s a storm, or a power outage, or a subway fire, the entire city shuts down. Nobody can get anywhere or do anything. It’s chaos.”
Elaine Stritch, like the city she epitomized and sang about, was much the same way. And like New York, she was one of a kind. She may be gone, but, somehow, she’s still here.
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