A Stritch in time
I have figured out who I aspire to be at 87, and it's Elaine Stritch.
I realized this after seeing Stritch walk through New York wearing a leopard print coat, tights and big glasses, during the new documentary, "Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me," which I had the pleasure of seeing this week with Tim Mullaney. (McKnight's staffers: They're Just Like Us!) Tim and I are long-time fans of the indomitable Stritch, who has had a legendary Broadway career but may also be known to younger fans as the mother of Jack Donaghy on “30 Rock.”
The documentary chronicles Stritch's final act of sorts, as she does performances of Stephen Sondheim songs at the Café Carlyle and in Michigan. The documentary chronicles her bouts with managing her diabetes or memory lapses, especially in trying to remember lyrics.
“It's hard enough to remember Sondheim's lyrics when you don't have diabetes,” she says in frustration during one rehearsal.
Although theater is a great activity in long-term care, we obviously can't all be fabulous actresses, much less have our own one-woman show. But the documentary has multiple powerful messages about what it's like to grow older, especially when it seems your body is still ticking through sheer force of personality.
Unlike some older people we have chronicled, Stritch hasn't had a lifestyle clean of alcohol or drugs, and in the documentary she starts having a drink a day. She's fairly plainspoken discussing this, both about how the drink is relaxing and how much it scares her as a self-identified alcoholic.
One a less controversial note, she is the living embodiment of how passion and the ability to work are powerful motivators. Stritch looks a decade younger when performing on stage. The film also reflects how necessary it is for seniors living at home to have a solid support system. In Stritch's case, her assistant and musical director are clearly in awe of her, but also are there to lend a metaphorical or literal hand when she needs them.
Toward the end, from a hospital bed, Stritch has a powerful monologue in which she talks about legacy and what hers will be. It's an acknowledgement that by the time you're about to turn 90, time is limited. But in the meantime, as Stritch has sung so memorably, she's still here, and this documentary is a must-see.
Elizabeth Newman's favorite Sondheim show is Company, and she's senior editor at McKnight's. Follow her @TigerELN.