Elaine Stritch

Elaine Stritch, born February 2, 1926,[1][2] is an American actress and vocalist. She has appeared in numerous stage plays and musicals, feature films, and many television programs. She is known for her performance of “The Ladies Who Lunch” in Stephen Sondheim‘s 1970 musical Company, her 2001 one-woman show Elaine Stritch at Liberty, and recently for her role as Jack Donaghy‘s mother Colleen on NBC‘s 30 Rock. She has been nominated for the Tony Award four times in various categories, and Elaine Stritch at Liberty won.

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Stritch was born in Detroit, Michigan, the daughter of Mildred (née Jobe), a homemaker, and George Joseph Stritch, an executive with B.F. Goodrich.[3] Her family was wealthy and devoutly Roman Catholic.[4][5] Stritch’s father was of Irish descent and her mother was of Welsh descent.[1] Stritch was a niece of Samuel Stritch, a former Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago.[6]

Stritch trained at the Dramatic Workshop of the New School for Social Research in New York City under Erwin Piscator;[7] other students at the Dramatic Workshop at this time included Marlon Brando and Bea Arthur.[8]

Stritch made her stage debut in 1944. However, her Broadway debut came in the revue Angel in the Wings in which she performed comedy sketches and the song Civilization (song). Stritch was also understudy to Ethel Merman for the Irving Berlin musical Call Me Madam and, at the same time, appeared in the 1952 revival of Pal Joey, singing “Zip,” a pivotal number. Stritch later starred in the national tour of Call Me Madam and appeared in a supporting role in the original Broadway production of William Inge’s play Bus Stop. She was the lead in Goldilocks and then was hand-picked by Noel Coward for one of the leads in Sail Away. Before the show got to Broadway, Coward had become disenchanted with the romantic lead, and, dismissing her, he rewrote the show to combine the romantic lead with Stritch’s role so that Stritch, triumphantly, brought the show to New York as its star.

Stritch became known as a singer with a brassy, rough voice who could portray brash characters, most notably originating on Broadway the role of Joanne in Company (1970). After over a decade of successful runs in shows in New York, Stritch moved in 1972 to London, where she starred in the West End production of Company.

“Here’s To The Ladies Who Lunch”

Her earliest television appearances were in The Growing Paynes (1949) and the Goodyear Television Playhouse (1953-55). She also appeared on episodes of The Ed Sullivan Show in 1954.

Stritch was also the original Trixie in the pilot for Honeymooners sketch with Jackie Gleason, Art Carney and Pert Kelton, but she was replaced.[7] Other television credits, include a number of dramatic programs in the 1950s and 1960s, including Studio One.

In the 1960-61 season, she costarred with Shirley Bonne, Jack Weston, Rose Marie, Raymond Bailey, and Stubby Kaye in the short-lived CBS sitcom My Sister Eileen. Stritch played magazine writer Ruth Sherwood, who shares an apartment in New York City with her younger sister, Eileen, an aspiring actress.

In the 1965-1966 season, she was Daniel J. O’Brien’s (Peter Falk‘s) secretary in the short-lived CBS drama The Trials of O’Brien, which also starred Joanna Barnes and David Burns.

In the 1970s, Stritch decided to stay in London to work on stage and in British television, having married John Bay, an actor she had met there.

In 1975, Stritch starred in the British LWT comedy series Two’s Company opposite Donald Sinden. She played Dorothy McNab, an American writer living in London who was famous for her lurid and sensationalist thriller novels. Sinden played Robert, her English butler, who disapproved of practically everything Dorothy did and the series derived its comedy from the inevitable culture clash between Robert’s very British stiff-upper-lip attitude and Dorothy’s devil-may-care New York view of life. Two’s Company was exceptionally well-received in Britain and ran for four seasons until 1979, despite being buried in the “graveyard slot” of Sundays at 10:30pm. Stritch and Sinden also sang the theme tune to the programme.

Her other British television appearances included Roald Dahl‘s Tales of the Unexpected (19781989). Although she appeared several times in different roles, perhaps her most memorable appearance was in the story “William and Mary,” in which she played the wife of a man who has cheated death by having his brain preserved. In his introduction to the episode, Dahl observed that humor should always be used in horror stories, in order to provide light to the shade, and that was why Stritch had been cast, as “an actress who knows a lot about humor.”

Performed in honor of Stephen Sondheim’s 75th Birthday on July 8, 2005 at the Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles.

Stritch became a darling of the British chat show circuit, appearing with Michael Parkinson and Terry Wogan many times, usually ending the appearance with a song. She also appeared on BBC One‘s iconic children’s series, Jackanory, reading, amongst other stories, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl.

On returning to live in the United States, she was a regular on the short-lived The Ellen Burstyn Show in 1986, playing Burstyn’s character’s mother. She appeared as stern schoolteacher Mrs. McGee on three episodes of The Cosby Show (1989-1990). She followed later with appearances on Law & Order (1992, 1997) as Lainie Steiglitz; as Judge Grace Lema on Oz (1998); and as the character Martha Albright on two episodes of 3rd Rock From the Sun (1997, 2001).

Stritch was reportedly considered for the role of Dorothy Zbornak on The Golden Girls but, as she related in her show Elaine Stritch at Liberty, she “blew her audition.”[9] The role was subsequently cast with Bea Arthur (who had appeared with Stritch in 1956 in the television series Washington Square).

More recently, she has been seen on One Life to Live and recurring roles on Law & Order and 3rd Rock from the Sun. Recently she has also appeared as the mother of Jack Donaghy, Alec Baldwin‘s character on 30 Rock.

In 2008, Stritch appeared as herself in an episode during the second season of The Big Gay Sketch Show. She was spoofed during the first season as well as the second season. In 1982, Stritch appeared on an edition of the long running BBC Radio comedy series Just a Minute alongside Kenneth Williams, Clement Freud and Barry Cryer. The show has been described by long-time chairman Nicholas Parsons as being among the most memorable because of the way Stritch stretched the show’s rules. It was on this occasion that Stritch famously described Kenneth Williams as being able to make “one word into a three-act play.”[10] She also appeared as Martha in a radio adaptation of Edward Albee‘s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (she understudied Uta Hagen in the same role during the show’s original Broadway run, performing during matinees before taking over the role entirely).

Delightful comedy turn from “A Tree Grows In Brooklyn” originally written for TV’s Hazel, Shirley Booth. Performed here by Elaine Stritch on the PBS Series “Song by Song: Dorothy Fields”.

After John Bay’s death from brain cancer in 1982,[11] Stritch returned to America. After a lull in her career and struggles with alcoholism, Stritch began performing again in earnest in 1990. She appeared as Parthy in a successful Broadway revival of the musical Show Boat, a one-night only concert of Company and as Claire in a revival of Edward Albee‘s A Delicate Balance.

Her one-woman show, Elaine Stritch at Liberty, a summation of her life and career, began at New York’s Public Theatre in 2001 and ran on Broadway from February 21 to May 27, 2002. Newsweek noted:

Now we see how At Liberty, the amazing one-woman show Stritch is moving to Broadway from the Public Theater this week, acquired the credit “Constructed by John Lahr. Reconstructed by Elaine Stritch.” “The reconstruction means I had the last say,” she says. “Damn right I did.”… In case you didn’t notice, Stritch is not the kind of woman who goes in for the sappy self-indulgence that pollutes most one-person shows. In fact, At Liberty is in a class by itself, a biting, hilarious and even touching tour-de-force tour of Stritch’s career and life. Almost every nook and cranny of “At Liberty” holds a surprise. Turns out she dated Marlon Brando, Gig Young and Ben Gazzara, though she dropped Ben when Rock Hudson showed an interest in her. “And we all know what a bum decision that turned out to be,” she says. And then there were the shows. A British writer recently called Stritch “Broadway’s last first lady,” and when you see her performing her signature numbers from Company and Pal Joey and hear her tell tales of working with Merman, Coward, Gloria Swanson and the rest, it’s hard to argue. Especially since she does it all dressed in a long white shirt and form-fitting black tights. It’s both a metaphor for her soul-baring musical and a sartorial kiss-my-rear gesture to anyone who thinks there isn’t some life left in the 76-year-old diva. “Somebody said to me the other day, ‘Is this the last thing you’re going to do?’ ” says Stritch. “In your dreams! I can’t wait to get back into an Yves Saint Laurent costume that isn’t mine–but will be when the show is over.[12]

Elaine Stritch at Liberty played to British audiences in 2002-03. She reprised Elaine Stritch at Liberty at Hartford Stage in June 2008.[13]

She is appearing in the Broadway revival of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music, as Madame Armfeldt, starting on July 13, 2010. She replaced Angela Lansbury in the role.[14][15] Stritch has been performing a cabaret act at the Cafe Carlyle in New York City since 2005 (she is a resident of the Hotel Carlyle). Her first show was titled “At Home at the Carlyle.” The New York Times reviewer wrote that “Amazingly, none of the 16 songs she performs have ever been in her repertory, and just as amazingly, you don’t miss signature numbers… Letting them go has allowed her to venture into more sensitive emotional territory. Interpreting stark, talk-sing versions of Rodgers and Hart‘s “He Was Too Good to Me,” “Fifty Percent” from the show Ballroom, and Kurt Weill and Ogden Nash‘s “That’s Him,” she comes into her own as a dramatic ballad singer.[16] Between musical numbers, Stritch told stories from the world of stage and screen, tales from her everyday life and personal glimpses of her private tragedies and triumphs. She most recently performed at the Cafe Carlyle in January and February 2010, and again in March 2010 in a program titled “At Home at the Carlyle: Elaine Stritch Singin’ Sondheim…One Song at a Time”.[17]

This is a HILARIOUS selection from Elaine Stritch’s one woman show “At Liberty”! In this clip she is talking about how she was casted in Pal Joey, while still understudying for Ethel Merman and the hectic schedule she had to take up on account of it!

Her late husband, John Bay (Chicago, Illinois), was part of the family that owns Bay’s English Muffins, and Stritch sends English muffins as gifts to friends. Said John Kenley: “Every Christmas, she still sends me English muffins.”[18][19] When she was based in London, instead of renting or buying a property Stritch and her husband lived at the Savoy Hotel.[7] She is good friends with gossip columnist Liz Smith.[20]

Stritch has been candid about her struggles with alcohol. She took her first drink at 13, and began using it as a crutch prior to performances to vanquish her stage fright and insecurities. Her drinking worsened after Bay’s death, and she sought help after experiencing issues with effects of alcoholism, as well as the onset of diabetes. Elaine Stritch at Liberty discusses this topic at length.[5]

Stritch’s voice and vocal delivery are spoofed in the Forbidden Broadway songs “The Ladies Who Screech” and “Stritch,” parodies of “The Ladies Who Lunch” and “Zip,” songs she performed in the musicals Company and Pal Joey. In 2009, a parody by Bats Langley entitled “How the Stritch Stole Christmas” (loosely based on “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”) appeared on YouTube.

On The Big Gay Sketch Show, she was spoofed as a Wal-Mart greeter who’s still a theater gal at heart. (“I’m heeere. I’m still heeeerrre.” “Here’s to the ladies who shop… at Wal-Mart!“) This draws inspiration from footage of D.A. Pennebaker’s documentary film, Company: Original Cast Album, in which she says “I’m just screaming,” self-critiquing during recording “The Ladies Who Lunch.” The sketch also spoofs Elaine Stritch Live at Liberty in which she refers to her feat, as a young stage actress and understudy for Ethel Merman in ‘Call Me Madam’, where she had to check in with Ethel Merman at half hour to curtain in New York, then commute to Connecticut for the out of town tryout of ‘Pal Joey,’ and on some days make the round trip twice when there was a matinee and evening performance of both shows. In a subsequent episode of The Big Gay Sketch Show, Stritch is spoofed as an airport security guard, who’s still “on” and isn’t able to tone down her over-the-top antics. In yet another episode, “Stritch” (played by Nicol Paone) is promoting her self-titled perfume, “Stritchy,” in dramatic fashion when she’s confronted by the real-life Elaine Stritch, who makes a cameo appearance.

Elaine Stritch studied acting with Marlon Brando when she was 17 years old, in 1943. She describes here just how badly the date went.

Stritch has been nominated for the Tony Award four times:

  • Best Featured Actress in a Play for Bus Stop, 1956
  • Best Actress in a Musical for Sail Away, 1962, as Mimi Paragon
  • Best Actress in a Musical for Company, 1971
  • Best Actress in a Play for A Delicate Balance, 1996

In 2002, her one-woman show Elaine Stritch at Liberty won the Tony Award for Best Special Theatrical Event and the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding One-Person Show. In Elaine Stritch at Liberty she shared stories and songs from her life in theatre and observations on her experiences with alcoholism. The D.A. Pennebaker documentary of Elaine Stritch at Liberty (2004) combined rehearsal elements and her stage performance to win several Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Achievement in a Variety or Music Program. In 2007, at age 81, she began guest appearances on the NBC sitcom 30 Rock as Colleen Donaghy, mother of Alec Baldwin‘s lead character, Jack Donaghy. She received an Emmy Award in September 2007 for Best Guest Actress in a Comedy Series for her appearance on 30 Rock.

on “The Dino Vino Show”!
This is a hysterical skit from the Dean Martin Variety Show.


  • Loco (October 16 – November 16, 1946)
  • Angel in the Wings (December 11, 1947 – September 4, 1948)
  • Yes, M’Lord (October 4 – December 18, 1949)
  • Call Me Madam (October 12, 1950 – May 3, 1952) (understudy for Ethel Merman) (replaced by Nancy Andrews when on national tour)
  • Pal Joey (Revival) (January 3, 1952 – April 18, 1953) (replaced by Betty O’Neil)
  • On Your Toes (Revival) (October 11 – December 4, 1954)
  • Bus Stop (March 2, 1955 – April 21, 1956)
  • The Sin of Pat Muldoon (March 13 – March 16, 1957)
  • Goldilocks (October 11, 1958 – February 28, 1959)
  • Sail Away (October 3, 1961 – February 24, 1962)
  • Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (October 13, 1962 – May 16, 1964) (replacement for Uta Hagen starting in 1963)
  • Company (April 26, 1970 – January 1, 1972) (replaced by Jane Russell in 1971)
  • Love Letters (October 31, 1989 – January 21, 1990) (replacement for Kate Nelligan)
  • Company (April 11 and April 12, 1993) (concert staging)
  • Show Boat (Revival) (October 2, 1994 – January 5, 1997) (replaced by Carole Shelley)
  • A Delicate Balance (Revival) (April 21 – September 29, 1996)
  • Angela Lansbury – A Celebration (November 17, 1996) (benefit concert)
  • Elaine Stritch at Liberty (February 21 – May 27, 2002)
  • Endgame, Brooklyn Academy of Music, (April 25 – May 17, 2008)
  • The Full Monty, Papermill Playhouse, (June 10 – July 12, 2009)
  • A Little Night Music (Revival), (July 13, 2010 – not announced) (replacement for Angela Lansbury)


Stritch performed in more than 30 feature films and TV movies, including A Farewell to Arms, Woody Allen‘s September, Screwed, Out to Sea, Monster-In-Law, and Autumn in New York. She has also been seen in such documentaries as Broadway: The Golden Years, by the Legends Who Were There (2003) and The Needs of Kim Stanley (2005).

Quick Bio Facts

Elaine StritchBorn: 2-Feb1925

Birthplace: Detroit, MI

Gender: Female
Religion: Roman Catholic
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Actor

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Two’s Company

Boyfriend: Gig Young (actor, broken engagement)
Boyfriend: Marlon Brando (dated briefly)
Boyfriend: Ben Gazzara (actor, cohabited two years)
Husband: John Bay (Irish actor, m. 1973, d. 1982)

University: New School for Social Research

Tony 2002 for Elaine Stritch At Liberty
Emmy 2003 for Law & Order
Emmy 2004 for Elaine Stritch at Liberty
Risk Factors: Diabetes

The Trials of O’Brien Miss G (1965-66)
Two’s Company Dorothy McNab (1975-79)
The Edge of Night Mrs. DeGroot (1984)
One Life to Live Wilma Bern (1993)

Romance & Cigarettes (6-Sep-2005)
Monster-in-Law (6-May-2005)
Autumn in New York (11-Aug-2000)
Small Time Crooks (19-May-2000)
Screwed (12-May-2000)
Krippendorf’s Tribe (27-Feb-1998)
Out to Sea (2-Jul-1997)
Chance of a Lifetime (18-Nov-1991)
Cadillac Man (18-May-1990)
Cocoon: The Return (23-Nov-1988)
September (18-Dec-1987)
Providence (25-Jan-1977)
Who Killed Teddy Bear (Oct-1965)
The Perfect Furlough (21-Jan-1959)
A Farewell to Arms (14-Dec-1957)
Three Violent People (Dec-1956)
The Scarlet Hour (Apr-1956)

Official Website:

Author of books:
Am I Blue (1984, memoir)

Sources: YouTube, elainestritch.com, wikipedia, imdb.com, nndb.com

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