Film, TV and Broadway actor John Turturro is one of many fellow performers Elaine Stritch is captured chatting with in the wittily titled documentary “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me,” opening here Friday.
Stritch tells him about the time she replaced Uta Hagen in the fabled original production of Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” In the plays’s big dramatic “reveal” (as movie folks like to call them) from co-star George Grizzard, Stritch matter-of-factly informs Turturro that she actually had her first orgasm on stage at that moment.
Turturro blinks a bit, but that’s about all. We barely do, either. We register the outrageousness of it (True or untrue? Who the devil knows with Stritch?) and wait for what comes next.
“The Incomparable Broadway Legend” is how she was billed when doing her show “Elaine Stritch: At Liberty” with just a pianist.
And while we’re involving the Lord of the Underworld here, who the devil would argue with her billing, either?
Here is the woman who first hit Broadway in 1944; introduced the song “Bongo Bongo, I Don’t Want to Leave the Congo,” on stage; starred in Noel Coward’s “Sail Away,” which was written for her; introduced Stephen Sondheim’s “The Ladies Who Lunch” in his show “Company”; got no action from John F. Kennedy on their second night together (he told her he didn’t want an evening ending with Glenn Miller records and scrambled eggs); starred in Albee’s “A Delicate Balance” and calls it “one of the best things I ever did”; played the mother of Alec Baldwin’s character on “30 Rock”; and affectionately refers to the actor’s penchant for drama by calling him “Alec Joan Crawford Baldwin.” (In return, he lovingly croons profanities at her and was the executive producer of this film.)
“We never know what to expect” from Stritch, says Tina Fey. They didn’t on “The Today Show,” either, when she came on the show to promote this documentary about her life and legend – a kind of collaborative self-portrait a la Madonna’s “Truth or Dare” – and dropped taboo expletives all over the place.
“Woo!” says Fey succinctly about the experience of working with Stritch.
To understate considerably, Nathan Lane deadpans to the camera: “on a personal level, she’s very, very truthful.” When she meets fellow diabetic Tracy Morgan at a “30 Rock” rehearsal, her first question to him is “Hello, darling, how’s your blood sugar?” To an old friend, she says on reuniting with her: “Your hair looks good for a change.”
Everybody loves her to pieces, and why would they not? As she admits, “It’s wonderful to be 87. You can get away with murder.” Like, for instance, telling the cameraman shooting the film, “Don’t you think you’re awfully close to me? I don’t know whether this is a skin commercial or not.”
When she runs into the late James Gandolfini (to whom the film is dedicated), he says something and she replies, “Don’t condescend to me.” After which Gandolfini immediately confides to the camera, “If we both met when we were both 35, I have no doubt we could have had a torrid love affair, which would have ended very badly.”
The ancient and now politically incorrect term fits her perfectly: Stritch is what used to be known as one of the truly “great old broads” – probably the greatest now living. In other words, she’s hilariously candid, displays her vulnerability, talent and bravado with complete equality, and is adored to pieces just about everywhere she goes. She’s state-of-the-art Broadway star flamboyance, senior female division.
Seconds after she gets on the elevator at the Carlyle Hotel (where she lived until recently), the elevator man joins her in a duet chorus of “There Will Never Be Another You.”
“This is the time in my life when I’m going to behave like an elegant human being or not,” she confides hopefully at one of her more vulnerable moments. “It’s almost post time.”
As good a time as any to see one of the great living show business figures in a way she doesn’t mind being seen.
I wouldn’t miss it if I were you.
Elaine stritch: shoot me
Starring: Elaine Stritch, Alec Baldwin, Tina Fey, Stephen Sondheim, James Gandolfini, Nathan Lane
Director: Chiemi Karasawa
Running time: 81 minutes
Rating: No rating, but R equivalent for profanity.
The Lowdown: Documentary follows around outrageous Broadway legend Elaine Stritch in her 87th year.