No, I’m not talking about myself! J I can only hope that those are a few of the words that come to mind when someone describes me 67 years from now. Yup, that’s the head start actress Elaine Stritch had on me until she passed away on July 17th at the age of 89 years old.
To be perfectly honest, I didn’t even know who Elaine Stritch was until this year. I needed a film credit for a class I was taking, and a friend and I figured that her self-titled documentary, Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me was the lesser of the evils in our campus movie theater. I grew more skeptical as we entered the theater among hoards of elderly women accompanied by nursing professionals. Once the lights went out and the film started rolling, though, I was mesmerized.
This tiny, pale, hunchback of a woman fills the screen. Her face is almost entirely covered by her insanely large glasses. Her frail body is wrapped in a ginormous fur coat. As the camera pans down, it becomes clear that she isn’t wearing any pants.
I found myself giggling constantly. Stritch is unbelievably sharp-witted, filling the dialogue with zinging one-liners. She isn’t afraid to insult anyone – male, female, old, young, big, small – if they deserve it. She is brutally honest. Her body is surprisingly limber as she dances around in her signature black tights and white men’s button-down. (It becomes clear early on that pants just aren’t Elaine’s thing.) Her outlandish fashion sense makes a statement in every scene.
But it’s not all laughter.
Stritch isn’t above human struggles. Sure, she can make a hilarious joke about the demons she is battling, but the demons don’t go away. She talks about her life-long battle with alcoholism, saying that “drinking” is her biggest fear but then sipping a martini in the next scene. Drinking is a “warm, inviting escape” from her plethora of health issues, presumably all brought on by her Type 1 diabetes. As a Type 1 diabetic myself, I couldn’t help but get teary-eyed when she practices for her comedy show and suddenly can’t get her lines out. Her toe-tapping stops and she fumbles for the words. Her piano man helps her test her blood sugar. In an instant she goes from animated to so frustrated that she is near tears. The audience suddenly sees a seemingly invincible woman crumble into pieces in front of their eyes.
In a later scene, Stritch can’t get out of bed. Her team tries to convince her to get up, but as a fellow diabetic I know it’s not that simple. She ends up in the hospital and has to cancel her performance. She talks to the camera about the constant back-and-forth thought process in her head. She knows that the end is coming and that her performances will come to a stop. But she doesn’t quite know how to stop.
Despite her struggles, or more likely because of them, Stritch lived the entirety of her life glamorously but honestly.
Personally, I don’t need to live to 89. In fact, that’s a stretch for any person, let alone a diabetic.
But as long as I live my life with half as much passion, humor, style, and strength as Stritch, I’ll be doing pretty damn well.