Saturday, July 26, 2014

And one for Mahler! -- I mean... Elaine!!

There are certain gay genes I just did not get.  I don't have a compulsive desire to live at the gym and as a result do not have abs of steel.  I may have abs of at least copper, but if I do, they are buried under a protective layer of fat for safe keeping.  I also do not follow theater or musicals - for the most part...though I have been known to burst out into song at work - much to the dismay of my co-workers.

I was however devastated to learn of the passing of Broadway legend, Elaine Stritch, who took her final bow on July 17, 2014.  Though I had never seen her live on stage and knew very little of the actual theatrical performances for which she is best known, I got to know her through television and Internet. I developed an immense love and admiration for this woman's bold personality and contagious laughter.

The only stage performance of hers that I can say I have seen in its entirety was her one woman show Elaine Stritch at Liberty which comprised of her telling (and singing) her life story.  I saw it some time around 2003 when it aired on HBO.  I was channel surfing and came upon this program of a woman on stage wearing little more than an over-sized men's button down shirt and black tights.  Within five minutes of listening to the monologue about theater life in the 1940s and 50s, I was hooked.  This woman sure knew how to tell a story!

 Miss Stritch would make appearances in movies and television shows and I'd roar with laughter at her amazing comedic timing and unsurpassable  whit.  I actually tried to get into the series "30 Rock" in which she had a recurring role as Alec Baldwin's mother, Colleen.  After a few episodes I stopped watching and instead watched the "best of Colleen" clips on YouTube.  Hell, I was only watching it for Stritch, so I might as well focus on the clips she was in.  Look them up sometime.  They are hysterical!  As for the rest of the show?  I was less than impressed.

To me, Elaine Stritch represented a link to the era I have loved so much all my life.  The classic age of Hollywood and Broadway - most notably the 1940s and 1950s.  To see Elaine walking down the streets of New York (which I sadly had only done through clips and documentaries) was to see style personified.  Her billowing fur coats, her classic oversize glasses and modest, yet fashionable hats.  "Does anyone, still wear a hat?".  She was the complete opposite of the stained tshirt and pants down around your ass ensables and treated everyday as a chance to look and BE your absolute best.

The loss of Miss. Stritch was yet another reminder of the loss of that amazing generation and many of the values, styles and attitudes of their era.  Thankfully there will always be young fogies like myself to keep some of those trends alive, but there is no substitute for the original.... and Elaine Stritch was as original as they come.  Her determination, straight shooter, take no bull shit approach to life -- all while laughing -- stays at the back the mind. Once in a while I like to draw some strength from Elaine Stritch, whose persona has joined the many personalities that make up the chorus of voices in my head.  I think we all need a little Stritch to keep it real and keep ourselves (and those around us!) on our toes.

Through watching Elaine Stritch at Liberty on television and later online, I came to learn of the character for which she is perhaps best known: Joanne from Stephen Sondheim's musical comedy: Company.  Her signature song Ladies Who Lunch remains on my Iphone play list -- and my friend Bryan and I will randomly reference the lyrics to this classic in our many online chat sessions and text messages.  Our phrase of approval?  "I'LL DRINK TO THAT!"

As the entertainment world mourns the loss of this amazing talent, I must thank her for the lessons she taught her audiences --- not just through the characters she portrayed on stage and screen, but through the intimacies of her life which she shared in a very open way in numerous interviews and documentaries.  From discussing candidly her own fears and hangups -- how she constantly had to work to overcome them -- to her life long struggle with alcoholism (though she admits she had a great deal of fun thanks to the booze!), to boldly sharing her feelings on aging and diabetes.  She let the world know that everyone - no matter who they are or what they do -- has to deal with fear.  You just have to move on.  "As my husband used to say, everyone has a sack of rocks to carry."

So here's to the Ladies who Lunch -- and to Elaine Stritch!  Everybody rise!!