Elaine Stritch’s Obscure Video Revealing Behind-the-Scenes Blunt Tales of Working with Legends

Legendary for unbridled candor charged with more four-letter words in one sentence than in an entire Sam Shepard play. There never was, and likely never will be, a brass balls diva who was also a humble artist.

Answers for Actors continues its Meet the Legends series with an obscure video of the unrivaled Elaine Stritch letting loose her opinions on the entertainment industry while sharing colorful stories of working with Noel Coward, Ethel Merman, Agnes deMille and Stephen Sondheim. Taped in 1999, when I was an ambitious casting director daring the improbable.

I was casting a staged reading of an eyes-towards-Broadway play. There was a role I believed perfect for the Tony, Emmy, and Grammy awards winner Elaine Stritch. My creative team, and producer were enthusiastic. Not so enthusiastic? The paltry actor stipend of a hundred bucks.

Stritch roared into roles with fiery animalism. Yet she was simultaneously nuanced with cool, cunning wit. A Broadway and West End leading lady icon for Albee, Inge, Sondheim, Berlin, Rodgers, Hammerstein, Coward, Simon, and Williams. 4 Tony Award nominations. 4 Drama Desk nominations, 3 wins. An inductee into the American Theater Hall of Fame. A Tony snare for her one-woman autobiographical hit Elaine Stritch at Liberty.  Her filmography is robust. 8 Emmy nomination, 3 wins. British telly and radio audiences also embraced Stritch. A remarkable carrier that of which its early years had the Elaine Stritch understudying the Ethel Merman.

“’Artist’… I use that term loosely. It always scared me to death. That and ‘Star,’”

Elaine Stritch

Stritch in 1999, I discovered then, had no representation. AFTRA (long before marrying SAG) provided me with a Long Island phone number attributed to her attorney. I called. I knew I wouldn’t get past the receptionist. After several rings, a gravelly women’s voice answered with a scooping downward growl followed by an upward declaration of “Hell-loooo.” Introducing myself, I asked for Ms. Stritch’s attorney. The woman tartly answered, “She don’t have one. Whoooo are youuuu? Talk to me kiddo. I just got up. What do you want?” The gravelly, impatient voice belonged to the Elaine f-ing Stritch! Despite my being awestruck I was quick and brief with my reply informing Ms. Stritch about the play and my intent.  Stritch answered she “loved the idea” and I should send her a script to her home in Sag Harbor which is to where I was calling. I mentioned I’d been looking for her rep to send a script to her through normal protocol. She fired back a very candid, R-rating exceeding opinion of agents. That turned into a 20 minute Elaine Stritch-Paul Russell mutual adoration of every four letter word shooting the sh*t chat. Unfortunately, the casting of Ms. Stritch didn’t work out. Schedule conflict.

This obscure video tapped around the time of my call to Stritch includes clips from the 1970 D.A. Pennebaker documentary Company: Original Cast Album. Enjoy.

Author: Paul Russell

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