On May 29, HBO premiers Elaine Stritch At Liberty, the documentary film about Broadway legend Elaine Stritch and her legendary Tony-winning Broadway show, Elaine Stritch At Liberty. Um, OK, that is the same title, do they know that? Stritch is, as Liz Smith has been known to say, an old Broadway broad, with a résumé as long and fabulous as the Great White Way itself: Call Me Madame, Show Boat, Pal Joey, A Delicate Balance, Company. . . . The film, a portrait of Stritch both on and off stage during the New York and London runs of her At Liberty show, will preview to an invited audience this Tuesday night at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences in Los Angeles. The screening will be followed by a conversation between Stritch and the night’s hosts, Stockard Channing, Megan Mullaly, and Lily Tomlin. Yes, we’re all going.
Over this weekend, WOW’s Randy Barbato got Stritch on the phone and sent us this report:
John Hoffman, the producer from HBO for Elaine Stritch At Liberty, arranged for me to have a phone chat with the star. John said, “The later you call her the better!” When I said, “What about 10:00 Friday night,” he seemed a little disappointed. “Is that the latest you can do it?” What can I say, I’m a morning person. We agreed to 10:30.
I called at 10:30 on the dot and Elaine answered on the first ring. “Hi, sweetie, how ya doin’?” Actually, I was tired. She asked if I could do her a favor and call her back in seven minutes, she was just finishing up her insulin. (I’ve had a sneak preview of her film, and I promise everyone, especially all you queens, her insulin scene at the Savoy hotel is an instant classic!)
Seven minutes later I called. She answered on the first ring again, but this time she called me sweetheart. I love this woman! Because all of Hollywood is expected at Tuesday’s screening, I asked her if there was anything she hoped Hollywood might offer her after seeing the documentary. She laughed. “Hollywood is a strange place to me,” she said. “In Hollywood, it’s hard for me to feel important, contrary to what people might believe. I had a shot with a studio when I was 21, but then they said something frightening to me. They said that they were going to groom me to be the next Eve Arden. I said, I don’t want to be the next Eve Arden, I want to be the first Elaine Stritch. So that didn’t work. Now, though, I would really love to be given a wonderful part in a motion picture. I would like to get over my fear of cameras. It would be fun to be directed by Mike Nichols. But I don’t think about what’s gonna happen, and if it does, it’s Christmas morning.”
I suspect there are going to be a number of Christmas mornings after people see the documentary. It’s an amazing film that weaves Elaine’s performances with backstage antics and behind-the- scene peeks at this Broadway icon. But is Hollywood finally ready for Elaine? “My life is the best part I ever had,” she said, “so the only thing I can say about the next part I’m offered is, Top this!”
Finally, I got up the courage to ask what had been on my mind the entire phone conversation. “Elaine, what tips would you give to drag queens aspiring to do you?” Some more laughter, then, “I wouldn’t go there for a million dollars,” she said. “Actually, I would let them do what they will, and then I would tell them what they did wrong.” She went on to talk about her gay fans, who “are the best audiences and the hardest audiences, ’cause you can’t fool them. I respect their opinion because they are very smart, sensitive, and hip.”
You go, Elaine!