In 2013, Alec sat down with the late stage and screen veteran who, among many famous roles, played his mother Colleen Donaghy on 30 Rock. Stritch spoke to Alec about her transition from the Sacred Heart Convent and finishing school to finding herself in the New York theater classes sitting between Walter Matthau and Marlon Brando. She performed for nearly 70 years and throughout career, Stritch comments, "I was the funny kind of offbeat girl. I was never the romantic lead.”
Alec Baldwin: Actress Elaine Stritch has been performing for nearly 70 years. No matter the medium, she brings her characters to life with a playful ferocity that naturally leads to scene stealing performances. Despite her enviable career in film and television, Elaine Stritch is a self-professed Broadway baby.
A big break came back in 1950 when she was hired to understudy Ethel Merman in Irving Berlin’s musical Call Me Madam.
Elaine Stritch: She scared me to death.
Alec Baldwin: Really? She was a tough broad.
Elaine Stritch: But when I got to the end of Call Me Madam, it was mine.
Alec Baldwin: Elaine Stritch remained on stage for much of the '50s and '60s, playing such iconic roles as Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, both Vera and Mame in the musical Mame, and Amanda in Private Lives.
In 1970, she originated what was arguably the role of her career, the acerbic JoAnne in Stephen Sondheim’s Company.
In a TV documentary about the cast recording of that production, we meet Elaine’s toughest critic, herself. Here she is listening to a take of the song she made famous, Ladies Who Lunch. Alec Baldwin: Just to be clear, that’s Elaine yelling at the sound of her own voice.
That was over forty years ago but Elaine Stritch has continued to hold herself to impossibly high standards. And she’s stayed busy, at least until recently.
Earlier this year, she announced that she was leaving New York for her home state of Michigan. In April, at age 88, Elaine Stritch performed her last cabaret show at the Carlisle Hotel.
Elaine Stritch: About a month ago, I really said I want out of here. I want out of New York. I shouldn’t live in New York anymore. It’s not for me anymore. It’s too fast for me or no, it’s not too fast and then I changed my mind about that. It’s not this, it’s not that. It’s just not for me. This is New York; taxi, lo! And it’s dinner and tonight and tomorrow –
Alec Baldwin: A very full day. It rattles your nerves.
Elaine Stritch: And I can’t handle it anymore because I’m not interested in handling it.
Alec Baldwin: Right, you just don’t want – you could do it, you just don’t want to do it.
Elaine Stritch: It doesn’t give me any satisfaction. I don’t go home and say, 'I guess I told them.' Alec Baldwin: So about a month ago, it had been an idea and then a month ago, you went ‘I’m doing it.’
Elaine Stritch: I called up my nephew who is a great buddy of mine in Birmingham, Michigan and I said, ‘I’m coming home.’
Alec Baldwin: What do you think you’re going to do there?
Elaine Stritch: Oh, you have no idea.
Alec Baldwin: No, I’m just saying. You’ve got a very active life.
Elaine Stritch: First of all, nothing. I’m really going to do nothing. I’m going to wake up and –
Alec Baldwin: And go back to bed.
Elaine Stritch: And go back to bed. That’s exactly right.
Alec Baldwin: Yeah, that’s what I want to do.
Elaine Stritch: I want to do it. I want to sleep a lot.
Alec Baldwin: What’s wrong with us? I would like to wake up and have my oatmeal and read the paper and go right back to bed until about noon.
Elaine Stritch: And go right back to bed. Who wouldn’t?
Alec Baldwin: Yeah, until about noon. So you’re going to go there and do nothing.
Elaine Stritch: I like to go to dinner. I like to meet my nieces, my nephews, my cousins, you know.
Alec Baldwin: Your relations there are by way of who?
Elaine Stritch: My two sisters.
Alec Baldwin: Your two sisters.
Elaine Stritch: I had two sisters. We were three sisters. I was the baby. And they had all the kids.
Alec Baldwin: In Michigan. In bedroom Detroit, you were in like what, Bloomfield Hills, or?
Elaine Stritch: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Alec Baldwin: But your dad was someone not in the car business.
Elaine Stritch: Daddy was – yes he was. He was in BF Goodrich rubber.
Alec Baldwin: He was in the tire business.
Elaine Stritch: My mother called it the GDBF Goodrich rubber.
Alec Baldwin: The Goddamn BF Goodrich –
Elaine Stritch: You got it.
Alec Baldwin: What are your two sisters, what kind of lives did they have? No show business?
Elaine Stritch: Very, very chic. Very -
Alec Baldwin: Normal.
Elaine Stritch: Normal. Georgine had four kids and Sally had three.
Alec Baldwin: Oh, my. So you have seven.
Elaine Stritch: Yeah.
Alec Baldwin: Nieces and nephews.
Elaine Stritch: Yeah, so there’s seven guys running around and they are all crazy about me. Why shouldn’t I go home? There’s nothing to tie me here.
Alec Baldwin: Right, it’s not the same.
Elaine Stritch: My career tied me here. I talk career, I talk parts in plays.
Alec Baldwin: And plan, and plan and make plans. What am I doing next? What am I doing next?
Elaine Stritch: And plan. Yeah, that’s right, that’s right.
Alec Baldwin: And when you get off that merry-go-round, you get a different perspective.
Elaine Stritch: What a stop.
Alec Baldwin: Ooh.
Elaine Stritch: What a stop it is. The merry-go-round broke down.
Alec Baldwin: Why do you say that? You could keep working.
Elaine Stritch: Absolutely.
Alec Baldwin: But you don’t want to.
Elaine Stritch: No. I don’t want to find parts and look for them. I said the other night, 'when is pretend going to end?'
Alec Baldwin: Right.
Elaine Stritch: Slowly but surely, Alec, I'm starting to say I don’t want to pretend anymore. I want to get up in the morning and I want it to be real. I don’t want to –
Alec Baldwin: I can’t believe you’re saying this because it’s so –
Elaine Stritch: Yeah, but I am.
Alec Baldwin: It’s so much – maybe as a result of my getting older, I turned fifty-five a couple weeks ago. And my wife, I got married again and my wife, we are having a baby. And because of all this stuff, I realize I want to be me for a change. I want to wake up and I want to say my words and have my thoughts or not say anything. It’s such a self involvement, this work.
Elaine Stritch: Yeah, yeah. It is, it is.
Alec Baldwin: Why do you think you’ve lasted this long? You know what talented is. Why have you lasted all this time? And because you are talented. Certainly it isn’t because people think you are an easy time of it.
Elaine Stritch: Because I have to accomplish something in that department almost every day of my life. I have to.
Alec Baldwin: So you’ve never to stopped trying to prove yourself.
Elaine Stritch: Uh-uh.
Alec Baldwin: That’s the key isn’t it?
Elaine Stritch: No. I’ve got to go and do that part in that soap, in that schmope. I don’t care what it is.
Alec Baldwin: Right, you got to give it everything you have.
Elaine Stritch: Or I am with Noel Coward on the West End or I’m with Hal Prince on Broadway. I’m with all the big, big, big shots. And they are directing me well and guiding me well and I’m –
Alec Baldwin: You want to prove that you belong there with them.
Elaine Stritch: Yes. And I am being directed in the way of the big shots. And I’m doing fine. I’m doing fine. I’m doing fine.
Alec Baldwin: But there’s a point, I’m assuming, when did you feel that you are in the room and all of a sudden it’s like I don’t need anybody’s advice. I know what I want to do. Here’s what I do. Was there a time you remember in your life when that changed?
Elaine Stritch: I got self-satisfied about the parts that I played.
Alec Baldwin: For example?
Elaine Stritch: Well, like I was the funny kind of offbeat girl. I was never the romantic lead. I wasn’t that kind of looking girl in the movies. I couldn’t be that kind of looking girl. I was -
Alec Baldwin: Well, you could have been looks-wise but you just didn’t want to play it because those were dull parts.
Elaine Stritch: Well, yeah.
Alec Baldwin: They weren’t as good of parts.
Elaine Stritch: Yeah.
Alec Baldwin: You were a sassier woman.
Elaine Stritch: Yeah.
Alec Baldwin: And you played those parts –
Elaine Stritch: I was an attention-getter. But I didn’t want to be Eve Arden. I really didn’t.
Alec Baldwin: Okay, okay. That’s a good point. Why?
Elaine Stritch: Well, because I don’t want to be a funny girl that’s just cracking wisecracks or staying up with the rollers in her hair.
Alec Baldwin: Yeah, or driving the car while the two leads make out in the back of the car.
Alec Baldwin: You don’t want to be that.
Elaine Stritch: No, I sure don’t.
Alec Baldwin: So what did you add? What did you add?
Elaine Stritch: I don’t want them to make out in the backseat.
Alec Baldwin: Right, right. What did you sprinkle on top of what might have been Eve Arden for you which it very easily could have been. What did you sprinkle on top of that to make sure that it wasn’t Eve Arden? What do you do that Eve Arden didn’t do?
Elaine Stritch: I get dramatic or frightened or real about something, or -
Alec Baldwin: Pain.
Elaine Stritch: Yeah.
Alec Baldwin: There is a pain in what you do.
Elaine Stritch: Yes, yes.
Alec Baldwin: That’s not in Eve Arden’s work, but there was pain.
Elaine Stritch: Something dramatic happens to me in the course of a comedy. I don’t know but I–
Alec Baldwin: Were you always that way?
Elaine Stritch: What, was I always what way?
Alec Baldwin: Complicating things with the pain of your existence. This thing you tap into, did you do it when you were very young?
Elaine Stritch: I think so. I think I did.
Alec Baldwin: Were you the complicated one?
Elaine Stritch: Oh, I think so. I mean, there’s very often I would hear around our house, ‘Where is Elaine?’ And then my mother would say ‘Oh.’ And they’d say ‘Oh’ and I’d say ‘I’m right here.’
Alec Baldwin: They were worried about you.
Elaine Stritch: Yeah, everybody was worried about me because when I wasn’t accountable, I scared them and I didn’t mean to.
Alec Baldwin: When did performing begin for you? Were you a performer as a child?
Elaine Stritch: I was laughing. I was born laughing.
Alec Baldwin: And you were funny.
Elaine Stritch: Oh, God. I was funny. I really was funny. And I made everybody laugh and I wasn’t conscious of it. I want to tell you something. I’d love to tell you a line from my life to see if you get this and I’m going to tell it to you.
Alec Baldwin: Sure, go ahead.
Elaine Stritch: My mother and dad as a present to me when I was six years old took me to Niagara Falls which was very close to Birmingham, Michigan. And I kept hearing about this and I was going to wear my new pink coat and hat and I was going to Niagara Falls. And I kept hearing it and Christmas morning, Christmas morning or whatever it was. And I never said a word. I just sat in the back seat and I just waited.
They pulled up, Alec, to the parking lot and Niagara Falls and ‘Here we are, we’re here. Lainey, we’re here. Come on, get out.’ And it was just me, mom and dad. So the two sisters, the older sisters, the hell with them. And I got very teary-eyed and pulled my mother back from the car and said, ‘Momma.’
‘What, what? We’re going to go see Niagara Falls.’ And I ask her if Niagara Falls had a baby. And to me and to my mother and to my father, it was one of the most extraordinary, dramatic lines of all time. All I was interested in is, 'did this woman, Niagara Falls have a baby.' because then I could play with her. And it was I think an absolute proof of how lonely and sad I was as a kid.
Alec Baldwin: Wow.
Elaine Stritch: I didn’t know what the hell artistic was all about. I really didn’t. I knew I had to express myself. I knew I had to express myself and that’s all there was to it.
Alec Baldwin: So when you left Michigan, when you left home, you lived at home in Michigan, your family lived in Michigan until you left home. Did you go to college?
Elaine Stritch: No, I didn’t go to college.
Alec Baldwin: No, where did you go?
Elaine Stritch: I graduated from high school.
Alec Baldwin: And went where?
Elaine Stritch: Sacred Heart Convent.
Alec Baldwin: You went to a convent.
Elaine Stritch: I went to a convent. The Sacre Coeur; highly educational, big scholastic Scooby Doo.
Alec Baldwin: You went there for what?
Elaine Stritch: Twelve years.
Alec Baldwin: That was your high school?
Elaine Stritch: Yeah.
Alec Baldwin: When you left there, where did you go?
Elaine Stritch: To the Duchene residence which was also the Sacre Coeur but it was a residence finishing school.
Alec Baldwin: For what?
Elaine Stritch: It was like after school stuff. I’m trying to think of one of the courses that we took. Current events, isn’t that a gas?
Alec Baldwin: How long were you there?
Elaine Stritch: Two years.
Alec Baldwin: Two years after high school?
Elaine Stritch: Yeah, I went out and major in dramatics at the new school in Greenwich Village.
Alec Baldwin: The finishing school was in the city or you were back in Michigan?
Elaine Stritch: It was in Greenwich Village. No, I’m in New York.
Alec Baldwin: Oh, you went to finishing school in New York.
Elaine Stritch: Absolutely.
Alec Baldwin: Oh, I see.
Elaine Stritch: On 91st and Fifth Avenue.
Alec Baldwin: Oh, my God.
Elaine Stritch: Yeah. And I took these three courses at the school which was fine. I had a roommate from Chicago who was majoring in journalism. And we were all very sophisticated broads.
Alec Baldwin: You went to New School for drama. That was your first acting exposure, formal.
Elaine Stritch: Yeah, absolutely. Boom.
Alec Baldwin: What did you think about it when you first -
Elaine Stritch: I loved it. I sat next to Marlon Brando. That didn’t hurt at all.
Alec Baldwin: Yeah, that would get you through class.
Elaine Stritch: Yeah. Walter Matthau was on the other side of me.
Alec Baldwin: At the New School?
Elaine Stritch: Yeah. We had a very stellar cast. I was getting along fine and having the most fun I’ve ever had in my whole life.
Alec Baldwin: What’s the first job you ever got?
Elaine Stritch: Well, first of all I was at the Studio Theatre at the New School and we had our own theater and Piscator directed and Stella Adler directed. And we had all those Stanislavski people. We had more fun, Alec, you couldn’t believe it.
Alec Baldwin: What was Stella like as a director?
Elaine Stritch: Heaven.
Alec Baldwin: She was? What made her so? Was she very insightful?
Elaine Stritch: All this kind of dramatics.
Alec Baldwin: Her style.
Elaine Stritch: ‘Elaine’ and ‘Marlon’ and ‘Walter’ and ‘you do it.’ And she would scream her head off at us. She was crazy woman. Absolutely divine.
Alec Baldwin: And when you left that program, what was your first job job?
Elaine Stritch: Summerstock.
Alec Baldwin: Where?
Elaine Stritch: Westport, Connecticut.
Alec Baldwin: Do you remember what you did?
Elaine Stritch: Yeah.
Alec Baldwin: What?
Elaine Stritch: Craig’s Wife I think I did.
Alec Baldwin: People always say that years ago, they go ‘What show did you do?’ And you name a show people had never heard of, they’d go, ‘Craig’s Wife.’ What did you play?
Elaine Stritch: Craig’s Wife.
Alec Baldwin: The saucy nurse? What’d you play?
Elaine Stritch: I played the aunt.
Alec Baldwin: The aunt.
Elaine Stritch: That visited and told Craig’s wife she was full of shit.
Alec Baldwin: You started as an aunt and you are going to finish as an aunt. Now you are an aunt, that’s your role now. You are an aunt up in Birmingham.
Elaine Stritch: They are not allowed to call me ‘aunt’ because it’s so boring. They call me Tante Elaine because my mother is French.
Alec Baldwin: Tante Elaine. I thought they were going to call you Lady Stritch, I would have them call you. Her Highness.
Elaine Stritch: No, no. But I just had the most wonderful time in dramatics school.
Alec Baldwin: And then what about your first job in New York?
Elaine Stritch: And Kirk Douglas, I did my first play with Kirk Douglas.
Alec Baldwin: What show with Kirk?
Elaine Stritch: Craig’s - Wait a minute, wait a minute. I’ll tell you in a minute.
Alec Baldwin: Okay, close your eyes. You and Kirk Douglas, you’re on a stage in New York.
Elaine Stritch: Yeah, and also, where is my black bag, Alec.
Alec Baldwin: Hunter?
Elaine Stritch: I need orange juice.
Alec Baldwin: Hunter, come in please. Can we send Hunter in here please with the provisions?
Alec Baldwin: Hunter Ryan Herdlicker, who accompanied Elaine to the studio, came through the door, juice in hand.
Elaine Stritch: I need some orange juice. My diabetes is kicking up.
Alec Baldwin: Here he is. There we go. Hunter, my good man. Hunter is here now with the orange juice.
Elaine Stritch: Yeah, Hunter is here. All is right with the world. Okay? How about a glass?
Alec Baldwin: Yes, that’s a clean –
Alec Baldwin: We’ll get him a clean. We’ll go get her a clean –
Elaine Stritch: It’s all right, it’s all right. If you just empty that glass, it’s heaven. I need some orange juice. You know that I’m diabetic.
Alec Baldwin: Yes, of course. I think the world knows by now.
Elaine Stritch: The world knows by now.
Alec Baldwin: The whole world is aware.
Elaine Stritch: Okay. You know what I quoted the other day, a line of my father’s that really is so naughty and just so much fun? ‘Here is looking up your old address.’ Isn’t that a great line? And he said it with no – he just, that was it.
Alec Baldwin: Nothing on it.
Elaine Stritch: Yeah, that’s right. All right, I’m going to drink this now.
Alec Baldwin: All right, drink the orange juice now so we don’t have some event here.
Elaine Stritch: That’s cool.
Alec Baldwin: Okay.
Elaine Stritch: All right.
Alec Baldwin: So now that you’ve had your orange juice and your brain freeze is over, Kirk Douglas, what was the show? Do you remember now?
Elaine Stritch: Woman Bites Dog.
Alec Baldwin: That orange juice, it’s a miracle elixir. I’m going to need a case of that orange juice. It’s got all kinds of –
Elaine Stritch: Woman Bites Dog.
Alec Baldwin: Woman Bites Dog. What did you play in that? If you say aunt, I’m going to kick you.
Elaine Stritch: I played his girlfriend.
Alec Baldwin: You played his girlfriend.
Elaine Stritch: Who he lived with. I didn’t even know what that phrase meant.
Alec Baldwin: You were a floozy.
Elaine Stritch: Well, no. I wasn’t a f- But I just lived with him and I wasn’t married to him. I didn’t know what that meant.
Alec Baldwin: What do you remember about Kirk Douglas?
Elaine Stritch: Oh, my God. I loved him.
Alec Baldwin: Oh, God. I loved him too.
Elaine Stritch: I loved him and what an actor. I loved him.
Alec Baldwin: Oh my. And he is one of the few men who was as great an actor as he was a star.
Elaine Stritch: Oh, wasn’t he?
Alec Baldwin: He was a great actor. Oh, he was a great actor. I loved him.
Elaine Stritch: He was a great actor and he loved me. He flipped over me. I have known him for years. And he took me half way away for the weekend and then I discovered that I shouldn’t go.
Alec Baldwin: He took you – wait, I’m sorry.
Elaine Stritch: Half way away to Palm Springs and then I said I shouldn’t be going. So that he said I’ll take you home.
Alec Baldwin: So what did you do? You hit like Redlands? Where were you, Redlands?
Elaine Stritch: I don’t know. We were halfway to Palm Beach.
Alec Baldwin: Palm Springs.
Elaine Stritch: Springs.
Alec Baldwin: So you are driving east from LA.
Elaine Stritch: And we were driving for the weekend.
Alec Baldwin: And you decided you didn’t want to –
Elaine Stritch: Well, I said I’m getting nervous because what do you want me to do when we get up here? And he went, “Oh, Elaine.” He knew I was a virgin so he was dealing with that.
Alec Baldwin: Right. So what was the first leading role you had on Broadway? Big role? Drink more orange juice so you can remember.
Elaine Stritch: The big part
Alec Baldwin: Big part.
Elaine Stritch: – oh, the big big part I had was Angel in the Wings which is a review; hardest thing in the world to do, a review. And they -
Alec Baldwin: What kind of a review? Like new faces? Was it like Leonard Silllman’s?
Elaine Stritch: Yeah, sketches. One sketch after another.
Alec Baldwin: Like a Leonard Sillman kind of thing.
Elaine Stritch: And I was the big busted girl in the bedroom. I was the, I was the -
Alec Baldwin: The piece on the side.
Elaine Stritch: Yeah.
Alec Baldwin: So here, isn’t it amazing you were this virginal, you went to Sacre Coeur and you went to finishing school and as soon as you’re out, God is just tempting you.
He puts Marlon Brando on one side of you and Kirk Douglas is revving up the convertible to take you to Palm Springs. And you are the floozy here and you are the piece on the side, the busty femme fatale.
Elaine Stritch: But what I was really doing is learning my lines to the play or to the television or to the – I was really loving acting. I loved it. I loved pretending. I just loved it. It was being somebody other than I was was my idea of a good time.
Alec Baldwin: Was part of that process for you learning from people you worked with or you admired? Did you look at other people and say, because I have had that. I’m not going to say I had it every day.
Elaine Stritch: Tell me, tell me.
Alec Baldwin: Well, like Merman when you worked with Merman, did you learn from Merman? Did you -
Elaine Stritch: Nah.
Alec Baldwin: No. You didn’t. Why?
Elaine Stritch: I did her part. I did her part. There was no question about that. And I loved her. Everybody loved everybody, but I knew how to do that and I was so frightened and so terrified and I was so good in it.
Alec Baldwin: Right. Did you feel that she was of that type where just Merman is Merman; she goes out in just does -?
Elaine Stritch: Oh, she made – so long. She’d say goodbye to me from the wings on my opening night and then go sit in the first row. She scared me to death.
Alec Baldwin: Really? She was a tough broad.
Elaine Stritch: But when I got to the end of Call Me Madam, it was mine.
Alec Baldwin: Yeah, you felt that way. When do you think he became you?
Elaine Stritch: The moment I started to rehearse Merman’s part. I was doing the new Merman, the new everything. Yeah.
Alec Baldwin: That’s when you became you?
Elaine Stritch: Yeah.
Alec Baldwin: So doing the piece, doing Call Me Madam is when you felt things change for you? You thought you were onto something.
Elaine Stritch: Not necessarily.
Alec Baldwin: No?
Elaine Stritch: No, everything I did, everything I did was, you know.
Alec Baldwin: But when you do a show, Elaine Stritch: At Liberty. When you do a show that is a memoir of your career.
Elaine Stritch: Oh yeah.
Alec Baldwin: And it is enormously successful, when did you think in your life, when did you reach a point in your life that you felt you were someone who could write a memoir about your life, that you thought it was interesting enough. When did you cross a line and say God, I’ve done a lot of stuff.
Elaine Stritch: I was convinced by this producer who saw me perform at a Judy Garland special at Carnegie Hall. And what I did was tell Judy Garland stories and I told three of them.
Alec Baldwin: It was a tribute to Judy. She’s gone by this point.
Elaine Stritch: As a tribute to Judy, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Alec Baldwin: Long gone.
Elaine Stritch: And oh, boy. I really did know her very well.
Alec Baldwin: From? Where did you first meet her?
Elaine Stritch: Party. At a party someplace. I don’t know. And I loved her so. When I tried out one of my stories on Judy Garland, I mean, she tried out one of hers. I said, ‘Judy, I’ve got an idea’ and I sincerely did. I said, ‘I’ve got a great idea. Why don’t we tour Mame’ I said to Judy Garland. And she said, ‘Divine.’ She said, ‘That sounds great!’ I said, ‘But here’s the good idea, Judy. When I do Mame, I go to bed early. And when you do Mame, you go to bed early. And then the other one does Vera.’
Alec Baldwin: So you were going to switch on and off.
Elaine Stritch: Yeah, absolutely.
Alec Baldwin: And she bought that idea?
Elaine Stritch: She’s listening now and she’s saying, ‘Okay, okay.’ Okay, and she’s counting up the songs, what song she has and after this long pause, she looks at me and says,’ What about matinees?’ And I thought it was one of the funniest things I had ever heard in my whole life that Judy Garland wanted to know what about matinees.
That’s how carefully she wanted her career planned so she could be able to get loaded when she wanted to. It was her way of treating a very serious discussion.
Alec Baldwin: So you did a tribute thing where you told stories about her and that’s when someone pitched the idea to you of doing a memoir of your career? Vaguely what year was that?
Elaine Stritch: That’s right. And they said, ‘You tell a story to an audience the likes of which I have never heard.’
Alec Baldwin: That’s true. I was at the opening night at The Public when At Liberty opened. And everyone who had a pulse in New York, everyone who was alive that night came to the opening at The Public. Everybody in the theater came. They went crazy, they went crazy.
Elaine Stritch: It’s lovely, god it’s lovely. Success is lovely. It’s so hard and it’s such hard work but it’s so gratifying.
Alec Baldwin: What’s the hardest thing about it for you? What’s been the hardest thing? Do you find it hard just to have that much focus?
Elaine Stritch: The fear, the fear.
Alec Baldwin: The fear of what? That you won’t be able to perform?
Elaine Stritch: The fear that I’m just going to forget and I’m going to not – not so much forget but it’s the fear. It’s the fear. And that was when I was not drinking at all and I didn’t drink anything to get my talent out. But all my life, I had.
Alec Baldwin: Have you ever done a show – I’m sure you’ve done countless shows. Have you done a show where you’re sitting backstage thinking, 'what am I doing here? How did I get myself into this?' Or were you always engaged by what you were doing?
Elaine Stritch: I was always engaged – always.
Alec Baldwin: Always. You never took a part –
Elaine Stritch: I was leading up to it or coming down – I was trying to get it behind me.
Alec Baldwin: You never regretted doing anything?
Elaine Stritch: Never, no.
Alec Baldwin: Wow. That’s incredible.
Elaine Stritch: No, I never, never regretted doing anything on the stage.
Alec Baldwin: Never? How is that possible?
Elaine Stritch: Because I just won every time I walked out there. You know that old expression about I owned the stage.
Alec Baldwin: Elaine Stritch has never regretted anything she’s done on stage but there are many who regret not seeing her one-woman show, Elaine Stritch: At Liberty on Broadway in 2002.
Newsweek called it ‘A biting, hilarious, even touching tour-de force-tour of Stritch’s career and life.’
In a minute, Stritch tells me a secret and very personal moment she had on stage during the run of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.
Alec Baldwin: This is Here’s The Thing from WNYC radio. I’m Alec Baldwin. In the past 20 years, TV and film have introduced Elaine Stritch to a new audience. She garnered Emmys for her performances in Law & Order and in 30 Rock where she played my character’s mother, the irascible Colleen Donaghy.
Elaine Stritch: I ended up liking Tina Fey an awful lot. And very quietly all by myself.
Alec Baldwin: Right, did you enjoy doing the show?
Elaine Stritch: No.
Alec Baldwin: You didn’t? Why?
Elaine Stritch: I didn’t have any fun with comedy. I did with you for a while but then it got a little bit too routine for me. And I wasn’t –
Alec Baldwin: Challenged.
Elaine Stritch: Mmm-mmm. I didn’t have a challenge with it. I mean, I was fine but oh, I don’t know, Alec.
Alec Baldwin: Yeah, did you think the TV is not your medium?
Elaine Stritch: No, I think the TV is fine with me. Nothing’s wrong with it. I love TV, I love comedy. I loved working with you. It was almost like we need – it was something that I did two weeks ago at The Carlisle when they said, challenged me to do a show and just go out there and do a show for an hour and a half. And I accepted the challenge and did it.
Alec Baldwin: And how did it go?
Elaine Stritch: I didn’t have any rehearsal or anything.
Alec Baldwin: How did it go?
Elaine Stritch: Fantastic. And Warren Beatty, people like Warren and –
Alec Baldwin: Annette.
Elaine Stritch: Annette came – I adore both of them. And he said I’ve got to get three cameras on this. This is terrifying, the fact that I did it with no rehearsal.
Alec Baldwin: You just winged it.
Elaine Stritch: Winged it, exactly, that’s a good way of putting it.
Alec Baldwin: But you don’t want to wing it anymore.
Elaine Stritch: Uh-uh. It’s so hard, my God.
Alec Baldwin: Is there any place you can perform – if you have a notion, if you are sitting there in Birmingham, Michigan and you decide you want to get up and you want to do a show; you want to do and hour and half club act like you just did. Are there facilities there that you are dialed into that you can go do that?
Elaine Stritch: Oh, absolutely. I go up to Ann Arbor.
Alec Baldwin: Go to Ann Arbor and perform.
Elaine Stritch: And I'd rehearse it. But I wouldn’t – I would just say here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to learn three songs. I have to learn them sort of. And if I go up in the lyrics, it doesn’t matter.
Alec Baldwin: Yeah. Who is your piano player, your accompanist?
Elaine Stritch: Rob Bowman. He’s brilliant.
Alec Baldwin: Rob. And Rob is always - And he is feeding you the lyrics all the time?
Elaine Stritch: Amusingly, yeah.
Alec Baldwin: Yeah, that’s part of the act. Elaine
Stritch: I’ve never heard a laugh like this but the other night when I said, ‘Rob, what is it?’ And I’m out of control. And he says, ‘I don’t know. That’s what it is.’ And I was hit. I said, ‘Okay. But we’ve got to start over then, don’t we, Alec – I mean Rob?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’
So we went to a new song and I sang it straight through with no mistakes and they went crazy. I sang a Sondheim song… that song. It just goes so fast and furiously. And then they went nuts. When you do know something by heart, they really go wow.
Alec Baldwin: Yeah, yeah, yeah. When you give them one, give them one clean take.
Elaine Stritch: That’s it, that’s it.
Alec Baldwin: So – are we okay?
Elaine Stritch: Yeah, I think so.
Alec Baldwin: So did you ever want to do a drama? In your later years? In the last 15 or 20 years?
Elaine Stritch: I was just cut out for it, cut out for it.
Alec Baldwin: You were.
Elaine Stritch: Oh, absolutely.
Alec Baldwin: What’s the last drama you did on stage?
Elaine Stritch: Edward Albee.
Alec Baldwin: Lady from Dubuque?
Elaine Stritch: No, no, no.
Alec Baldwin: Three Tall Women?
Elaine Stritch: No. I was asked to do that. I didn’t do it. It’s too much to learn.
Alec Baldwin: Right.
Elaine Stritch: A Delicate Balance.
Alec Baldwin: A Delicate Balance. That’s the last one you did.
Elaine Stritch: One of the best plays ever written in the whole world and also a play for me.
Alec Baldwin: You loved that play. What did you like about the part? What did you like about -?
Elaine Stritch: It was very quiet and very –
Alec Baldwin: Subtle?
Elaine Stritch: Subtle like forget about it and just - and I just went about my business on that stage and I did everything. I drank too much, I talked too much. I did exactly as I pleased. I went upstairs when I wanted to go upstairs. I was absolutely all over the place and not promising anything to anybody. It was unbelievable.
Alec Baldwin: Who directed?
Elaine Stritch: Jerry Gutierrez.
Alec Baldwin: Really?
Elaine Stritch: Who is the best director, aside from George Wolfe. The two of them were the –
Alec Baldwin: Help illuminate this for people because this to me it’s a very important question for you and that is you are so self-directed. You have got the talent, you’ve got the –
Elaine Stritch: I’ve got to feel good.
Alec Baldwin: But baby, you’ve got so many bullets in your chamber it’s not funny. And you come out there, you’re loaded. And what does a director do for you? How does a director help you?
Elaine Stritch: Oh, he makes me feel comfortable about myself.
Alec Baldwin: Right, he gives you confidence.
Elaine Stritch: For instance, George Wolfe, when he did my one-woman show, he has a way of laughing that when he laughs, he falls on the floor. He throws himself on the floor because he has got to do that. He’s got to go ... He goes crazy when he laughs. And he is laughing and he - and that will make me listen to a director. That will tune me in.
Alec Baldwin: Yeah. Isn’t it nice when a director gives you confidence?
Elaine Stritch: Oh, my God, is it.
Alec Baldwin: Because I have worked with so many of them where – not that they undermined you but they certainly don’t give you any confidence. They almost resented the implication that they do that.
They kind of looked at you like well, you are getting paid all this money. You just get up there and do it. I’m not there to help you.
Elaine Stritch: No, they don’t help you at all.
Alec Baldwin: There’s no mentoring or care, or what have you. It’s very, very strange. But Wolfe you loved and Gutierrez you loved. Now, tell me about performers in the latter part of your career that you worked with that you loved. Did you love Bernadette? I am assuming you just loved her.
Elaine Stritch: Adored her.
Alec Baldwin: Oh, could you imagine? If I could sing.
Elaine Stritch: Adored her. And I kind of ran her, I was her older sister, her older everybody and I made her laugh ‘til she just went crazy.
Alec Baldwin: Isn’t she just breathtaking?
Elaine Stritch: And vice versa. I want a little bit more orange juice, gang.
Alec Baldwin: Yes, Hunter? Get Hunter. Hunter? That beeping sound we’ve been hearing periodically, is that a glucose meter? What’s that thing that went off?
Elaine Stritch: Where’s mine?
Hunter: It’s Dexcom. It’s telling us to enter the blood sugars.
Alec Baldwin: Ok.
Elaine Stritch: Oh my god! I forgot all about them.
Alec Baldwin: Oh my god.
Hunter: Yeah, so when we’re done with this, we’ll enter ‘em.
Elaine Stritch: Oh, are we ok?
Alec Baldwin: Do you want to take a break and do it now? How long will it take?
Elaine Stritch: A minute.
Alec Baldwin: Go right ahead. Oh, please. Do it now. God, I don’t want you –
Elaine Stritch: I don’t think we should wait.
Alec Baldwin: I wouldn’t want it in The Post that you were hospitalized on my account. ‘Alec Baldwin refused to allow me to administer my diabetes treatment.’
Hunter: Okay, here’s for the finger.
Elaine Stritch: Oh, boy. Okay, this is, right away I’m going to do it now. Okay. Ooh, there we go. I don’t have my –
Alec Baldwin: Ladies and gentlemen, Elaine Stritch and Hunter.
Alec Baldwin: The ever trusty Hunter, are squeezing droplets of her blood onto a device in order to tell us that we have nearly killed her here.
Alec Baldwin: Is she okay?
Hunter: Yeah. We need to do it one more time. Here is a tissue.
Elaine Stritch: Okay, and then it’s done.
Alec Baldwin: And you want to keep it at what number? What’s the goal?
Elaine Stritch: Oh, it’s not a matter of keeping; it’s just entering them, what they are now that are two hours after –
Alec Baldwin: I’d love to do mine, too, while we’re at it. Let’s have a prick our finger and squeeze it on the glucose meter party.
Elaine Stritch: Stop that, Alec. Listen to me. There’s another beep beep.
Alec Baldwin: This is why you’re so glad we are not doing this on television because to see this happening is really-
Elaine Stritch: Oh, yeah.
Alec Baldwin: Unsettling.
Elaine Stritch: And we have done both of them now.
Hunter: We’ve done both of them.
Elaine Stritch: Yay.
Alec Baldwin: And what number are you at?
Alec Baldwin: And where do you want to be? South of there.
Hunter: It doesn’t have to be –
Elaine Stritch: That’s fine.
Hunter: No, that’s good.
Elaine Stritch: It’s cool.
Alec Baldwin: Okay. She’s cool.
Elaine Stritch: Oh, I know what I wanted to tell you. I wanted to tell him something, that I got the nerve to tell John Totouras.
Hunter: John Torturro.
Alec Baldwin: Now when you told John Torturro what you wanted to tell him, was it something that meant a lot to you because we will edit that you called him Totouras.
Elaine Stritch: A lot of people.
Alec Baldwin: I’ll have Alex Baldwin call John Totouras.
Alec Baldwin: What did you want to tell John Totouras?
Elaine Stritch: I wanted to tell somebody something about me and acting that sort of, I thought kind of represented something about me that I had courage to tell. And the thing was that I – oh, how can I tell you this?
Alec Baldwin: Well, you tell me about your secret and I will tell you about mine.
Elaine Stritch: All right. My secret is how can I put it to you? My secret is in Virginia Woolf, when I was playing Virginia Woolf, I sometimes I get fuzzy when I’m telling a story now and it’s –
Alec Baldwin: We have that in common. Go ahead.
Elaine Stritch: But I wanted to tell something intimate about myself to John about when he was interviewing me. I told him that when I was doing Virginia Woolf and when George and Martha had their scene together and George said, ‘Our son is dead.’
You know, that big scene? ‘Our son,’ he yells in my face, ‘is dead.’ And I went ‘No!’ At the height of my force, I said no to him. And I had an orgasm for the first time in my life.
Alec Baldwin: You did? Really?
Elaine Stritch: Yes. So this is how important that moment was on stage to me. This is unbelievable, you don’t know.
Alec Baldwin: So it’s safe to say, this is a very – I’m going to sound like I’m making a joke here but I’m only half making a joke.
Elaine Stritch: No, that’s all right.
Alec Baldwin: Honey, I just think it speaks volumes about you, about what a real creature of the theater you are that the only time that you ever had an orgasm was saying the words of a homosexual man. It was as far from a heterosexual orgasm as you could possibly get.
Elaine Stritch: Yeah, yeah. No, no. I think it’s –
Alec Baldwin: Albee is very particular about who he casts. Very. Did you have a good relationship with him? You are close with him?
Elaine Stritch: Yep. Very.
Alec Baldwin: Yeah, he’s very tough, who he puts in his plays and who he doesn’t put in his plays.
Elaine Stritch: He’s very, but he’s - And he is very fond of me.
Alec Baldwin: I got two last questions for you. And I want you to give me a simple answer to this first question. I’ve met a lot of people in this business and I’ve worked with a lot of people who were powerful. Julie Harris played my mother on a TV series. And I’ve worked with –
Elaine Stritch: Oh, my God. She’s the best.
Alec Baldwin: And I’ve worked with some great people, great, great people; some not so great but some great ones. And you are one of the great ones I’ve worked with.
Elaine Stritch: Thank you.
Alec Baldwin: But just give me a yes or a no if you are capable and that is do you realize what you mean to other people who are in this business? How much they love you and how much they admire you? Do you know?
Elaine Stritch: I’m beginning to.
Alec Baldwin: Into the mic, please. Don’t talk –
Elaine Stritch: I’m beginning to. I’m beginning to realize.
Alec Baldwin: You are. Did the documentary help put that into focus a little bit?
Elaine Stritch: I think so, yeah.
Alec Baldwin: Do you realize how – because in this business as you know, especially for people who themselves are very talented and/or successful, other talented people, that’s like an aphrodisiac to them. Talent is the greatest aphrodisiac.
And everyone basically says there’s no one more talented than you. You are an immensely, immensely, incalculably talented woman. And people – and you are a gigantic pain in the ass sometimes. You are a legendary pain in the ass.
Elaine Stritch: Yes, apparently.
Alec Baldwin: You’re a gigantic pain in the ass. But people – they joke about that because they love you. And why do they love you? Because you are so talented. You are so funny, your timing is impeccable. Now. What are you going to miss about New York?
Elaine Stritch: The personality of human beings in New York. They are so opened and they are not watching what they’re doing, they’re not – they are not watching their language, they are not watching anything. They are just going through life saying, ' what? Yeah, all right. Fuck you.'
Alec Baldwin: They are engaged by the daily event.
Elaine Stritch: They are engaged, yeah.
Alec Baldwin: Every day is an event in New York.
Alec Baldwin: Elaine Stritch says she’s going to miss New Yorkers and I can tell you that we will miss her too. But she’s not out of the spotlight yet.
Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me, a documentary about her life which I helped produce, recently premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. The film has been picked up by Sundance Selects for a wider distribution.
Alec Baldwin: Are you there?
Elaine Stritch: Alec. Yeah. Ok, I can hear you sweetheart.
Alec Baldwin: So you’re in the kitchen, honey? You’re in the kitchen.
I called Elaine up to ask her how the transition was going from New York City to Birmingham, Michigan.
Elaine Stritch: I did the right thing. Moving away from the Carlisle, you know, you get hung up on perks. You live with perks and then your perks run out because you fall and break your hip and you babababa and then you have no, you have no deal card.
You know what I mean? I’ll go down and talk to the audience for an hour every night and you give me my cleaning.
Alec Baldwin: Now that would be a funny TV show. To have you be this famous broad, this famous cabaret stage actress, award winning actress, and she moves, of course it’s a fish out of water story, she moves back with the cousins and the nieces in Birmingham, Michigan and what you’re used to is bartering with people.
You’re walking up to some dry cleaner there an saying, “Well I’ll tell you what, I want you to clean my coats for me and I’ll come sing at your kid’s bar mitzvah.”
Alec Baldwin: And they look at you like you’ve got a screw loose. They’re like, “You wanna what?”
Elaine Stritch: It’s perfect. Yeah, I think we got something here.
Alec Baldwin: The guy says “That’ll be sixty-five dollars please.”
Elaine Stritch: And Send in the Clowns is gratis.
Alec Baldwin: Well listen –
Elaine Stritch: I love it. I love it and I miss your humor like forget about it.
Alec Baldwin: Well listen, my love to you.
Elaine Stritch: I’m not sure I want to work with you again.
Alec Baldwin: I definitely don’t want to work with you ever again.
Elaine Stritch: Definitely don’t want to work with me. I think we agree, so let’s look for different leading ladies and men.
Alec Baldwin: I’ve been upstaged enough. Yeah. Talk to you later. Goodbye honey.
Elaine Stritch: Goodbye my darling. Bye-bye.
Alec Baldwin: I’m Alec Baldwin. Here’s The Thing comes from WNYC radio.