While it might still be Spring (okay, Summer…) in my life, it is Fall in the life of the fabulous Elaine Stritch. She is the doyenne of Broadway, an actress, performer, singer, raconteur without peer, in my view. She is also 88. And has not done a thing to erase the passing of the years from her incredible face. Why would she? She has talent. But she has never been merely talent in a comely face and sexy body (although she had both in spades).
She is, rather, a force…of energy, opinion, wit, life experience, struggles with alcoholism, marriage and men (lots of them)…of love with her audience. Yes, that kind of love, the kind of love between a performer and a person who willingly pays good money to go to the theatre to watch a performer relay, portray, evoke, and connote, through words and music and expression and gesture, things that we all feel but cannot express, creatively, ourselves. And so we look to those such as Elaine Stritch to express those things for us. They are our Muses, our channels for universal struggles and triumphs. They give voice to the life force within all of us.
I was lucky enough to see Ms. Stritch in her one woman show At Liberty on Broadway, and many years ago in one of her rare stints at The Carlyle, and in those live performances she took me back to my childhood, when all the powerful creative and talented women I met were older – wrinkled, gray-haired and fabulous. My dance teacher, Elizabeth Waters, whose gray hair fell in a long ponytail down her back to her waist, but who had more energy than any of the ten year olds in my class. My mother’s close friend, the artist Florence Pierce, with her silvered marcelled hair spending hours and hours and hours in her studio.
But it is rare now to encounter women with such confidence and wisdom, who wouldn’t dream of spending their time on Planet Earth erasing visible indication that they have been here, because then there would be precious little, as the years go by, to talk about, to sing about, to write about, even Yes, to dance about. Not that I have anything against youth and beauty, which are gifts, but one cannot get them back so the triumph over that reality, in the end, is to embrace their passing and to belt it out loud and clear,
“Ms. Stritch is the first to say she is 88. She is also the first to do everything but deny it. “I have nothing to do with 88,” she said. “I don’t look it. I don’t feel it.”
I thought about Ms. Stritch recently when we went to see Dustin Hoffman’s movie Quartet, about four aging British opera singers, the cast headed by the divine Maggie Smith. ‘Twould be difficult to make the American version of such a film. Women are so terrified of aging here. And therefore terrified I think of living as well. Because they go hand in hand. And if one is an artist, one must celebrate, not cover up.
If you’re at all curious about what I and so many others are so crazy about, here is a YouTube video of Elaine performing Sondheim’s The Ladies Who Lunch, a song for which she is well known. She feels every words of it. When I saw her perform it at The Carlyle she got a standing ovation (she gets a lot of those).
Here’s to Elaine. Here’s to 88. Here’s to having a thimbleful of what she has when I’m 88.
Cheerio, Elaine. Enjoy the Fall of your life. For there is no Winter wherever you are.