21 July 2014

Loving Elaine Stritch

As a performer, as a person, Elaine Stritch held back nothing — or at least it seemed that way to those of us who watched her. Her insecurities, her stories, her opinions, her mistakes and catastrophes, her forgotten lyrics and foolish choices, her struggles with alcohol and age, the creases in her face and the limits of her vocal range: everything was right up front, along with her talent. People loved her for that.

I missed out on many of Stritch’s most famous theatrical performances, though I caught a few; happily, she left us with plenty of documentation on film and television to return to, to cling to, now that she’s gone. Still, no matter where she was working — even when she was working in London, for mercy’s sake — she was always a creature of Broadway. When she announced her retirement and left New York, not so long ago, we were aghast. The question was not so much how she would survive without New York, but how New York would survive without her. How would we define ourselves, if we were not Elaine Stritch’s chosen people?

She died on my birthday, and before I went to dinner with friends, I had just enough time to dash off a quick sketch — nothing as elaborate as the idea I’d come up with. But I knew that if I didn’t put it on paper (and the Internet), then with my luck, somebody else would. In three minutes and the time it took to scan, I posted the finished product on Facebook.

And then it began to take off: I have no idea how many people have seen it, “liked” it, “shared” it. When I checked the Facebook page for the (excellent) documentary, Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me, more than 400 people had shared the drawing; as of this writing, nearly 1,000 people have liked it, on that page alone. I’m told that it’s made its way to Stephen Sondheim and Harold Prince.

This has everything to do with Elaine Stritch and nothing to do with me — and yet it’s mine. A very curious sensation, really, to see it travel so far beyond my reach. A very odd kind of publication, for someone who’s sometimes despaired of ever seeing his work in print. I’m glad I had the presence of mind to sign the picture; I wish I’d taken more time with the damned thing. Hell, I wish I’d submitted it to The New Yorker. But I think that Elaine Stritch herself might approve of what I did and the way I did it. I put it out there, for the world to see, just the way she did.


Anne said...

The question was not so much how she would survive without New York, but how New York would survive without her.

Really. It's like the Statue of Liberty saying one day, "Okay I'm going back to France now". I think old Broadway salts knew only faltering heath would cause such a decampment .

Bill, no 2nd guesses ...Timing is EVERYTHING and thankfully you obeyed its timing of Now. This is the digital age. It would still be on someone desk at the New Yorker and its prime, blast off moment passed.

Indeed, thank goodness you signed it. Everything posted should be as each has a destiny of its own and cannot be recalled...or even claimed other wise

Great drawing! It's the idea and timing that are as important if not more than the execution of such art

Jonathan said...

BRAVO to you. You gave her a tribute for which she was worthy!

Anne said...

God sort of looks like you in your Opera wig/make up lol