An acid tongue, a tart persona and an arch sense of humor were the hallmarks of Elaine Stritch’s career, which spanned some 60 years and hopped from stage to screen and back.
The 89-year-old Broadway legend died of natural causes Thursday at her home in Birmingham, Michigan, leaving behind a body of work that included heralded stints on Broadway in, among others, the 1952 revival of Pal Joey, Noël Coward’s 1961 musical Sail Away, and the groundbreaking 1970 production of Company.
Although newer fans might most easily recognize her for playing the mother of Alec Baldwin’s Jack Donaghy on 30 Rock, Stritch was always full of rowdy surprises.
Here are five things you probably didn’t know about the inimitable star.
1. The Tony eluded her.
Stritch never won a Tony award despite four nominations for dramatic roles (Bus Stop in 1956 and Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance in 1996) as well as musicals (Sail Away in 1961 and Company in 1970). She did earn three Emmys, including one for her turn in 30 Rock.
2. She was a 30-year-old virgin.
A strict Catholic who lived in a Manhattan convent when she first moved to New York City at age 17, she claimed to have remained a virgin until she was 30 years old.
3. But she coulda been a contender with a soon-to-be screen legend.
Newly arrived in the Big Apple from Michigan, she had a disastrous date with a boy from her acting class named Marlon Brando because, she claimed, she refused to go home with him.
4. She found comedy in romance.
In the 1950s, she dumped her then-boyfriend, actor Ben Gazzara, for Hollywood star Rock Hudson. As she related in her award-winning one-woman show, Elaine Stritch at Liberty, “And we all know what a bum decision that turned out to be.”
5. She was always memorable – even if her memory sometimes failed her.
Onstage, she was best known for her work with Steven Sondheim – though she sometimes struggled to remember all her lines. On the opening night of her final cabaret show at New York City’s Carlyle Hotel, the composer sent her this telegram: “I won’t be there, so feel free to make up your own lyrics.”
6. She was a proud drinker.
Open about her heavy drinking in her youth, she gave it up for nearly 20 years, only in recent years indulging in a few drinks here or there. She told The New York Times Magazine in January: “I’m almost 89, I’m gonna have a drink a day or two. I know how to handle it, so there. I’m proud of the fact that I can handle a couple of drinks.”
Sign up for our newsletter and other special offers: