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Broadway Legend Elaine Stritch Dies At 89


Broadway has lost a legend. She's Elaine Stritch, who died yesterday at the age of 89. Even recently she was gaining new fans with a guest role on the TV series "30 Rock." But as we're about to hear, Stritch made her name on the stage. Jeff Lunden has this appreciation of a singular talent.

JEFF LUNDEN, BYLINE: When songwriter Stephen Sondheim and playwright George Furth were writing their groundbreaking, Tony award-winning musical "Company," they created the hard drinking, tough as nails character of Joanne specifically for Elaine Stritch, says theater historian Larry Maslon.

LARRY MASLON: It's not everybody who could play it. That kind of whiskey soaked, cynical, no-nonsense New Yorker was everything she was about.

LUNDEN: And they gave her a showstopper, "The Ladies Who Lunch."


ELAINE STRITCH: (Singing) Another chance to disapprove. Another brilliant zinger. Another reason not to move. Another vodka stinger. I'll drink to that.

LUNDEN: It became Elaine Stritch's signature song, and while she wasn't personally the character she played in the show, she was for much of her life a heavy drinker, as she told WHYY’s Fresh Air in 1990.


STRITCH: I loved to drink, I mean, it was one of my favorite, favorite things in the world. And also, it became a little bit too much. I took a drink to go on the stage, I took a drink before I did a scene in a movie. I was a dependent on alcohol.

LUNDEN: But even through her battles with alcohol, as well as diabetes and despite a reputation for being difficult, Stritch gave indelible performances in plays and musicals on Broadway, on film and TV. She made her first big splash in 1952 in "Pal Joey."


STRITCH: (Singing) Zip. Walter Lipmann wasn’t brilliant today.

LUNDEN: She re-created that performance 50 years later in the 2002 Tony award-winning one woman show, "Elaine Stritch At Liberty." George C. Wolfe directed it.

GEORGE WOLFE: She would go wherever it needed to go emotionally, she would go there and be there and if it was ugly or if it was complicated, she would just go there because she didn't know how to not go there.

LUNDEN: One of the last places Stritch went to was the sitcom "30 Rock," where she won an Emmy playing Alec Baldwin's feisty mother.


ALEC BALDWIN: (As Jack Donaghy) The closest you ever get to happiness is when you're criticizing something, preferably something I've done.

STRITCH: (As Colleen Donaghy) Jack, stop talking. I am not going to be around forever.

BALDWIN: (As Jack Donaghy) Oh, here it comes.

STRITCH: (As Colleen Donaghy) One of these days you're going to turn around, Jack. And I'm going to be gone. Just like that.

BALDWIN: (As Jack Donaghy) Well, this little performance is over. I may put you in a home just like that. Mother. Mother?

LUNDEN: In her television roles, in films and documentaries and on original cast recordings Elaine Stritch will be around forever. For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.


STRITCH: (Singing) I've been to Reno. I've been through Beverly Hills. I'm here. Reefers and vino, rest cures, religion and pills. But I'm here. Been called a pinko, commie too. Got through it stinko, by my pool. I should've gone to an acting school.

GREENE: What a voice. It's NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jeff Lunden is a freelance arts reporter and producer whose stories have been heard on NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition, as well as on other public radio programs.

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