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.

Sir Derek Jacobi on Stage vs. Screen – Meet The Legends series

In the first of an ongoing series Meet The Legends at Answers for Actors is featured Sir Derek Jacobi. He appears in a Q&A 2017 interview at Oxford Union. An international star, Jacobi offers actors insight on the differences and challenges an actor faces working the mediums of both stage and screen.

Paul Russell
PaulRussell.net

“Laurence Olivier? Richard Burton? Elizabeth Taylor? Yvonne DeCarlo? These aren’t real people! You’re making them up!” Often I heard this aggravated accusation, and alike, from collegiate acting training program seniors soon to graduate as professional actors. The frustrated wails would come when playing Celebrity. (I had names of famous actors in a hat. A team leader would pull a name from the bowl and have to describe the actor by career, or otherwise, without mentioning the actor’s name to teammates who had to guess who was the actor being described.)  University after university the same accusations of my creating fictional actors was hurled at me. I quickly discovered that many soon to be professional actors were ignoring who came before them at an alarming epidemic rate.

To better understand who we are, and what we desire, we must know who and what came before us.

In the first of an ongoing series Meet The Legends at Answers for Actors is featured Sir Derek Jacobi. He appears in a Q&A 2017 interview at Oxford Union. An international star, Jacobi offers actors insight on the differences and challenges an actor faces working the mediums of both stage and screen.

Knighted in 1994. Nominated for nearly every major performance award internationally. Jacobi is the winner of Emmys, the Tony Award, Laurence Olivier Award, British Academy Television awards, Screen Actors Guild Award, and a many more prestigious honors. Starting as a stage actor Jacobi was hand picked by Laurence Olivier to join England’s National Theater. He later starred often on both West End and Broadway stages. With over 150 screen credits both in the U.S. and U.K.  he’s most modernly recognizable to broader audiences for his roles in Vicious, Tomb Raider, Murder on The Orient Express,  and I, Claudius. 

“Television makes you famous. Movies make you rich. But, the theater is what it’s all about.” Sir Derek Jacobi

Sir Derek Jacobi | Oxford Union

Paul Russell’s career as a casting director, director, acting teacher and former actor has spanned over thirty years. He has worked on projects for major film studios, television networks, and Broadway. Paul has taught the business of acting and audition technique at NYU and has taught master classes at acting programs at over two dozen universities including Hofstra, Elon, Yale, Temple, LSU, Wright State University, and Rutgers. He is the author of ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working Actor.

For more information on Paul’s projects, visit www.PaulRussell.net