Elaine Stritch on Profanity, Aging and Her Documentary

Tovah Feldshuh, Elaine Stritch and Sandra
Cindy Ord/Getty Images

Broadway legend Elaine Stritch had only been in New York a few short days before managing to find herself at the center of a very perplexing controversy. A day after saying f-word on the “Today Show” to the shock of Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb, Stritch, who uses the term with great regularity, was still befuddled by the brouhaha it had caused. “I don’t know what the hell happened!” she said.

At Feb. 19’s Paley Center premiere of the documentary “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me,” many of her friends felt similarly. “I think America’s too sensitive about everything. Things that America’s been told are wrong, are forbidden, if you say them or do them, even if America doesn’t really understand why they’re forbidden or why they’re such a big deal, it’s like a horror story,” said Alan Cumming. “Actually, when you consider that America was made because some Puritans left England because that wasn’t puritanical enough, it puts everything in perspective,” he added, with a smile.

Sandra Bernhard, no stranger to controversy herself, was firmly in the anti-censorship camp. “It’s a word that everybody uses and it just comes up in funny places,” she said. “If anybody can get away with it, it’s Elaine.”

Stritch, 89, was back in New York for the week to promote the film, which followed her for over a year and featured appearances by friends like Tina Fey, James Gandolfini, Hal Prince and Cherry Jones. In April, she said goodbye to her apartment at the Carlyle Hotel and relocated to her home state of Michigan. Despite an outpouring of affection for Stritch from a crowd that included Alec Baldwin (a producer on the film), Nathan Lane, Marlo Thomas, Tovah Feldshuh, Ellen Burstyn and Jane Krakowski, there was a bittersweet tinge to the celebration. That sense of sadness echoed in the film, which documented Stritch’s struggle with diabetes and the emotions of aging.

Seeing the movie brought up mixed feelings for Stritch. “I loved the film and I loved that woman up there and I loved who I was watching but I don’t want to be her and I don’t want to be in the film,” she said, her voice breaking. “It’s just too fucking sad.”

After the credits rolled, Stritch, who was using a wheelchair and dressed in her trademark oversize glasses, tights and a Tom Ford top, addressed the audience and alluded to her recent health struggles with her characteristic sharp humor. “Every time I get up to walk, I fall. What’s that song, every time I fall in love, I what a little, what is that?” “I cry a little,” several voices responded. “Oh, well that’s a given!” Stritch offered, without skipping a beat.

A packed cocktail reception commenced in the Paley Center lobby following the screening. Stritch, ensconced in the corner, entertained a crowd of reporters. Other attendees, many theater veterans, shared industry gossip about Oscar ballots and discussed “House of Cards,” while glancing excitedly at guest Sebastian Arcelus, who plays journalist Lucas Goodwin on the show.

“Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me” opens Friday in New York. Director Chiemi Karasawa and Elaine Stritch will be doing an opening day Q&A following the 5:30 Lincoln Plaza showing and the 6:30 show at IFC.

(Pictured: Tovah Feldshuh, Elaine Stritch and Sandra Bernhard at the Paley Center reception)

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  1. Thomas Field says:

    This long ago young 89 year old male who grew up across the street (18105 Birchcrest Drive — Detroit) from Elaine and her sisters remembers her well and fondly. As a very young 10 -12 year old, I thought she was the most beautiful young girl I had ever seen and I still do. Soon she was off to a Catholic school
    and then to New York to great success there. Congratulations Elaine. !!!.

  2. richmleone says:

    If Stritch weren’t in show business, she’d be called an old battleaxe. As a Broadway legend no one would think of calling her that, at least, to her face. She needs to be the center of attention at all times and knows what to do in order to get it. Go ahead an swear, Elaine, you know what works.

  3. hannay2014 says:

    Anybody who has a problem with the great lady’s use of old English should harden the fuck up!

    David Hannay

  4. Mark Isenberg says:

    There have always been wise women performers of a certain age who speak their minds and we are just lucky to listen. Ms.Stritch is one of them.If you saw her on Broadway in At Liberty,then you had the history lesson,the great Sondheim song among others and the realization that Marlon Brando did not deserve her. So,go see the film and if her health holds up for her to appear in your area for a talk,go see her but at least listen to her wisdom and humor and be glad she is still with us in spirit and earthiness.

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