Holland Taylor Pays Tribute to "The Windmill That Was Elaine Stritch"

News   Holland Taylor Pays Tribute to "The Windmill That Was Elaine Stritch"
Members of the Broadway community gathered Nov. 17 to remember late Tony Award-winning Broadway legend Elaine Stritch. Emmy Award winner and Tony nominee Holland Taylor was among those who shared memorable stories from their times with the showbiz icon.

Constructed by George C. Wolfe, the tribute featured reminiscences and/or performances by a host of theatre luminaries, including Bernadette Peters, Harold Prince, Betty Buckley, Christine Ebersole, Laura Benanti, Michael Feinstein, Nathan Lane, Lena Hall, Holland Taylor and gossip columnist Liz Smith with additional reminiscences by Hunter Ryan Herdlicka and Julie Keyes.

Rob Bowman, Ms. Stritch's longtime musical director, served as musical director for the event.

Read Playbill.com's account of the moving, music-filled event.

Taylor, who last appeared on Broadway in her solo play Ann, about Texas governor Ann Richards, has shared her speech with Playbill.com. Her tribute is published below:

* Elaine was always [a] legend from my first sighting of her when I was 22 or so. I was seated, depressed and humbled, in the midst of two hundred or so people, all of whom appeared either asleep or lost in thought. Up at the head of the room a woman stood and called out, "ELAINE STRITCH," and then, from our dull group emerged this tall, striking blonde in a smart suit the color of a creamsicle — she strode forward in an elegant slant for her appointment with the unemployment official.

Ever after that, for me, accepting unemployment insurance became a proud civic duty.

Probably a decade later I met her for real, having been introduced by very good friends at a gathering. I never worked with Elaine or saw her in any other context than our friendship, so I can't contribute to the vast collection of showbiz stories about Elaine.

Of course I saw every appearance she made in New York, said hello backstage, and at some point, we began to see theatre together and dine — and down the line, began just to have dinner and visit.

Not to say there weren't memorable moments, certain of which, for some people, would end a friendship. There was always the element of danger with her, also the possibility of actually dying from embarrassment. But she lifted everything to a level of hilarity, making any social discomfort worth it. And, of course, someday the waiter would recover — and have a great story to tell... or the producer, or the nurse, or the stuffy matron, the hotel manager, the cop, or the whoever had walked into the windmill that was Elaine.

Then there was Elaine and her shopping bags. She always carried them, for the last 25 years, anyway — or since she became diabetic.

She needed to carry medical paraphernalia, to-go coffee, orange juice, prunes, and God knows what else. Not for Elaine some tote bag, the likes of which we all happily carry... She fastened on the solution that she would forever carry heavy-duty luxury paper bags from the world's most-fashionable stores.

Hermes if she wore blue, their classic orange being so chic against navy — Bergdorf Goodman for anything pink or lavender, Chanel if in black or white.

At the theatre we always had seats on the aisle, where she could keep her shopping bags full of pharmacy and deli. In the quietest moments she needed to test her blood or take a pull of OJ. The noise was really phenomenal and heads swiveled everywhere. She was undaunted. "After all," she'd say in full voice... "Would they rather she had a hypo!!?! Christ!"

Once on the street she yanked me by the elbow into Bendel's, I think, (she must've been wearing brown)... She wanted fresh, crisp bags. Her theory was that once you bought or were given something from the store... (or if you merely wanted something) they were obliged to keep you in bags for it the rest of your natural lifetime. She unspooled this notion to a salesperson who wisely and promptly gave her two fresh bags, as instructed, one tucked deftly open inside the other. I followed Elaine out into the sunshine, dazzled by her sheer suavity.

For all the legendary tales about Elaine, none of that figures in my abiding memory of her. What stirred me most about her was not her need, her bravura trumpet, her astonishing wit — but rather her awareness of others. I never got used to her wanting to see me as much as I did her.

One might assume she had conversation only about herself, but the opposite was true. She always spoke with me as if she had been at my christening. She was kind, unfailingly sympathetic, and, unfailingly, she told me what I should be doing with my life. She saw the occasional play I did in New York, always coming alone, which I found flattering — and had more to say about my work than any other friend had ever bothered with. It was shop talk... She had strong advice and leaned on me till I complied. She was actually more encouraging, more praising, more comforting, more dependable and caring than any other friend or family in my life.

For all the chaos swirling around her, she was a constant...

The last time I spoke with her was a phone call, placed by her caretaker Fayez... Elaine's voice was quite strong, though she was dying and said so, as she might speak of a performance. "I'm dying here..." She actually wanted to know how I was, as she was aware I had been in a sticky patch for a while. She sincerely wanted to know. As she lay in the stickiest patch of them all. That she, that fabulous she...

As she is still and forever leaving... it's her talent for affection that lingers in the air. More than even her most triumphant performance.

For me, Elaine the gallant person trumps the legend.

I am glad that, as I now recall... in the three plus decades we knew one another, we never had lunch.

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