The Lady from Detroit desires an audience — pronto, if possible. I caved, but I added a cautionary footnote to her publicist: "Be sure to tell her I have a cold."
My last interview with Elaine Stritch started out in the backseat of her "Stritchlimo," moving uptown — like her long-time-in-coming Tony-winning vehicle, 2002's Elaine Stritch at Liberty — from The Public Theater to Broadway. After two and a half minutes of chatter, her eyes narrowed to slits and she asked the question I had been dreading.
"Do you have a cold?"
"I'm getting over one," I lamely advanced.
The screeching of brakes and the burning of rubber may have only occurred in my mind, but, with head-swimming swiftness, I suddenly found myself banished to the front seat, poking my tape recorder into the glass partition that separated the well from the unwell, picking up things like "Is it working or not? You keep looking at that damn machine, Harry. Are you getting this or not? I can't relax if I don't know it's taping or not."
Thus, even with hundreds of miles between us, I was taking no chances, but distance had made the heart grow fonder. Her voice was as warming as wood-rasping. "So nice to hear from you again at long last."
She sounds a little like a stranger in a strange land, which, in a sense, she is. After 70 years, Elaine Stritch surrendered all the bright lights and star power that generally accompany a theatrical icon and returned to her roots, swapping her posh corner pad at the swanky Carlyle Hotel for a condo in Birmingham, a smart suburb of Detroit. "It was furnished when I bought it, so I walked into a palace, but now it needs work," she assessed. "It needs my touch because, otherwise, I wouldn't feel like I live here."
She did this last year, following the advice and example of George C. Wolfe, her At Liberty director, who, departing as kingpin of The Public, said, "My mama told me, if they're riding you out of town on a rail, always grab a baton and make it a parade."
Stritch, who turns 89 this month, acted accordingly and made the difficult transition with an entire camera crew in tow, covering her momentous move back to Michigan.
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