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Elaine Stritch (1925)

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Elaine Stritch
is an American actress and vocalist. She has appeared in numerous stage plays and musicals, feature films, and many television programs. She is known for her performance of "The Ladies Who Lunch" in Stephen Sondheim's 1970 musical Company, her 2001 one-woman show Elaine Stritch at Liberty, and recently for her role as Jack Donaghy's mother Colleen on NBC's 30 Rock. She has been nominated for the Tony Award four times in various categories, and won for Elaine Stritch at Liberty.

  Biography  

 Early years
Elaine Stritch was born in 1925 in Detroit, Michigan to Mildred (née Jobe), a homemaker, and George Joseph Stritch, an executive with B.F. Goodrich. Her family was wealthy and devoutly Roman Catholic. Stritch's father was of Irish descent and her mother was of Welsh descent. Stritch was a distant niece of Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago.

Stritch trained at the Dramatic Workshop of The New School in New York City under Erwin Piscator; other students at the Dramatic Workshop at this time included Marlon Brando and Bea Arthur.

 Beginning stage career
Stritch made her stage debut in 1944. However, her Broadway debut came in the revue Angel in the Wings in which she performed comedy sketches and the song "Civilization". Stritch understudied Ethel Merman for Call Me Madam, and, at the same time, appeared in the 1952 revival of Pal Joey, singing "Zip". Stritch later starred in the national tour of Call Me Madam and appeared in a supporting role in the original Broadway production of William Inge's play Bus Stop. She was the lead in Goldilocks.

She starred in Noel Coward's Sail Away on Broadway in 1961. Stritch started in the show in a "relatively minor role and was only promoted over the title and given virtually all the best songs when it was reckoned that the leading lady...although excellent, was rather too operatic for a musical comedy." During out-of-town tryouts in Boston, Coward was "unsure about the dramatic talents" of one of the leads, opera singer Jean Fenn. "They were, after all, engaged for their voices and...it is madness to expect two singers to play subtle 'Noel Coward' love scenes with the right values and sing at the same time." Joe Layton suggested "What would happen if ...we just eliminated [Fenn's] role and gave everything to Stritch? ... The show was very old-fashioned, and the thing that was working was Elaine Stritch... every time she went on stage was a sensation. The reconstructed 'Sail Away'...opened in New York on 3 October."

Stritch became known as a singer with a brassy, powerful voice, most notably originating on Broadway the role of Joanne in Company . After over a decade of successful runs in shows in New York, Stritch moved in 1972 to London, where she starred in the West End production of Company.

 Television

Her earliest television appearances were in The Growing Paynes and the Goodyear Television Playhouse (1953–55). She also appeared on episodes of The Ed Sullivan Show in 1954. She was the first and original Trixie Norton in the pilot for Honeymooners sketch with Jackie Gleason, Art Carney and Pert Kelton. Her character was a burlesque dancer, but the role was rewritten and Trixie became a regular housewife. Stritch was replaced by Joyce Randolph. Other television credits, include a number of dramatic programs in the 1950s and 1960s, including Studio One.

In 1975, Stritch starred in the British LWT comedy series Two's Company opposite Donald Sinden. She played Dorothy McNab, an American writer living in London who was famous for her lurid and sensationalist thriller novels. Sinden played Robert, her English butler, who disapproved of practically everything Dorothy did and the series derived its comedy from the inevitable culture clash between Robert's very British stiff-upper-lip attitude and Dorothy's devil-may-care New York view of life. Two's Company was exceptionally well-received in Britain and ran for four seasons until 1979, despite being buried in the "graveyard slot" of Sundays at 10:30pm. Stritch and Sinden also sang the theme tune to the programme.

Her other British television appearances included Roald Dahl's Tales of the Unexpected. Although she appeared several times in different roles, perhaps her most memorable appearance was in the story "William and Mary," in which she played the wife of a man who has cheated death by having his brain preserved. In his introduction to the episode, Dahl observed that humor should always be used in horror stories, in order to provide light to the shade, and that was why Stritch had been cast, as "an actress who knows a lot about humor".

Stritch became a darling of the British chat show circuit, appearing with Michael Parkinson and Terry Wogan many times, usually ending the appearance with a song. She also appeared on BBC One's children's series, Jackanory, reading, among other stories, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl.

On returning to live in the United States, she was a regular on the short-lived The Ellen Burstyn Show in 1986, playing Burstyn's character's mother. She appeared as stern schoolteacher Mrs. McGee on three episodes of The Cosby Show (1989–1990). She followed later with appearances on Law & Order as Lainie Steiglitz; as Judge Grace Lema on Oz ; and as the character Martha Albright (mother of Jane Curtin's character) on two episodes of 3rd Rock From the Sun , alongside her Broadway co-star George Grizzard, who played George Albright (the names George and Martha were a play on the characters Stritch and Grizzard played in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf).

Stritch was reportedly considered for the role of Dorothy Zbornak on The Golden Girls but, as she related in her show Elaine Stritch at Liberty, she "blew her audition". The role was subsequently cast with Bea Arthur .

More recently, she was seen on One Life to Live and recurring roles on Law & Order and 3rd Rock from the Sun .

On April 26, 2007, she began guest appearances on the NBC sitcom 30 Rock as Colleen, the fearsome mother of Alec Baldwin's lead character, Jack Donaghy.

In 2008, Stritch appeared as herself in an episode during the second season of The Big Gay Sketch Show. She was spoofed during the first season as well as the second season.

 BBC Radio
In 1982, Stritch appeared on an edition of the long running BBC Radio comedy series Just a Minute alongside Kenneth Williams, Clement Freud and Barry Cryer. The show has been described by long-time chairman Nicholas Parsons as being among the most memorable because of the way Stritch stretched the show's rules. It was on this occasion that Stritch famously described Kenneth Williams as being able to make "one word into a three-act play". She also appeared as Martha in a radio adaptation of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (she understudied Uta Hagen in the same role during the show's original Broadway run, performing during matinees before taking over the role entirely).

 Later stage work
After John Bay's death from brain cancer in 1982, Stritch returned to America. After a lull in her career and struggles with alcoholism, Stritch began performing again in the 1990s. She appeared in a one-night only concert of Company in 1993, as Parthy in a Broadway revival of the musical Show Boat in 1994, and as Claire in a revival of Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance in 1996.

Her one-woman show, Elaine Stritch at Liberty, a summation of her life and career, premiered at New York's Public Theater, running from November 7, 2001 to December 30, 2001, and then ran on Broadway at the Neil Simon Theatre from February 21 to May 27, 2002. Newsweek noted:Now we see how At Liberty, the amazing one-woman show Stritch is moving to Broadway from the Public Theater this week, acquired the credit, "Constructed by John Lahr. Reconstructed by Elaine Stritch". "The reconstruction means I had the last say", she says. "Damn right I did."... In case you didn't notice, Stritch is not the kind of woman who goes in for the sappy self-indulgence that pollutes most one-person shows. In fact, At Liberty is in a class by itself, a biting, hilarious and even touching tour-de-force tour of Stritch's career and life. Almost every nook and cranny of "At Liberty" holds a surprise. Turns out she dated Marlon Brando, Gig Young and Ben Gazzara, though she dropped Ben when Rock Hudson showed an interest in her. "And we all know what a bum decision that turned out to be", she says. And then there were the shows. A British writer recently called Stritch "Broadway's last first lady", and when you see her performing her signature numbers from Company and Pal Joey and hear her tell tales of working with Merman, Coward, Gloria Swanson and the rest, it's hard to argue. Especially since she does it all dressed in a long white shirt and form-fitting black tights. It's both a metaphor for her soul-baring musical and a sartorial kiss-my-rear gesture to anyone who thinks there isn't some life left in the 76-year-old diva. "Somebody said to me the other day, 'Is this the last thing you're going to do?'", says Stritch. "In your dreams! I can't wait to get back into an Yves Saint Laurent costume that isn't mine--but will be when the show is over.

Elaine Stritch at Liberty played to British audiences in 2002-03. She reprised Elaine Stritch at Liberty at Hartford Stage in June 2008. She appeared in the Broadway revival of Sondheim's A Little Night Music, from July 2010 to January 2011, succeeding Angela Lansbury in the role of Madame Armfeldt, the wheelchair-bound mother who remembers her life as a courtesan in the song "Liaisons". The AP reviewer of the musical wrote "Devotees of Stritch, who earned her Sondheim stripes singing, memorably, "The Ladies Who Lunch" in "Company" 40 years ago, will revel in how the actress, who earned a huge ovation before her very first line at a recent preview, brings her famously salty, acerbic style to the role of Madame Armfeldt." The theatre critic for The Toronto Star wrote:"Stritch offers a sophisticated gloss on her by now patented, plain-talking woman who reveals all the home truths everyone ever wanted (or didn't) to hear about themselves. When Stritch tears into her big set-piece, "Liaisons", about all the affairs in her life, it's not just a witty catalogue of indiscretions but a deeply moving fast-forward through a life filled equally with love, loss, joy and regret.

 Cabaret
Stritch has been performing a cabaret act at the Cafe Carlyle in New York City since 2005 . Her first show at the Carlyle was titled "At Home at the Carlyle". The New York Times reviewer wrote Amazingly, none of the 16 songs she performs have ever been in her repertory, and just as amazingly, you don't miss signature numbers... etting them go has allowed her to venture into more sensitive emotional territory. Interpreting stark, talk-sing versions of Rodgers and Hart's "He Was Too Good to Me", "Fifty Percent" from the musical Ballroom, and Kurt Weill and Ogden Nash's "That's Him", she comes into her own as a dramatic ballad singer.

Between musical numbers, Stritch told stories from the world of stage and screen, tales from her everyday life and personal glimpses of her private tragedies and triumphs. She most recently performed at the Cafe Carlyle in January and February 2010, and again in March 2010 in At Home at the Carlyle: Elaine Stritch Singin' Sondheim…One Song at a Time.

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Whole or part of the information contained in this card come from the Wikipedia article "Elaine Stritch", licensed under CC-BY-SA full list of contributors here.