We are honored to have been invited to excerpt this interview with Elaine Stritch, now a year into retirement, which appeared in The New York Times Magazine, January 31, 2014.
After years of vowing to retire, you gave up your cabaret act at the Cafe Carlyle and your apartment at the Carlyle Hotel and moved to Birmingham, Mich. What made you finally take the leap? I wasn’t getting the quality of work that I wanted to get. I’m a funny age — funny ha-ha, funny peculiar, funny, funny. I could hardly open my mouth on the stage without getting a laugh. That’s a pretty sensational thing to brag about, but it’s also dangerous. I had a great time, and I’m very glad it’s over. Oh, my God, it’s hard. Entertaining is hard.
Now that you’ve been settled in Michigan for almost a year, do you find yourself missing New York? No, I don’t miss places. I really don’t. I get up in the morning, the sun is out, I’m a happy clam. I’m not unhappy because I’m not in this bedroom or that bedroom, or this living room or that living room. I’m going to make it work wherever I go.
You’re the subject of a new documentary, “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me,” which was filmed before you left New York. Did you find it all awkward to share so much of yourself on camera? A little bit, but I enjoyed it. I wanted the public to know about me. I want them to know about my diabetes, I wanted them to know about what I had been through all my life in order to make them happy. I just love making an audience happy, I just do.
James Gandolfini is in it. I didn’t know you were friends. What an actor oh, my God, what an actor. I burst out crying when he died. I couldn’t believe that he was gone. When I think of the work left in him. . . . No, no, no, that shouldn’t have been taken away from us.
We see you rehearsing “I Feel Pretty” in the documentary, and at times it’s a fight for you to perform it. Does it frustrate you when the lyrics are hard to recall? I mean, who forgets Sondheim’s lyrics? They’re the easiest things in the world to remember because they’re so brilliant. But sometimes that head of mine gets so full, oh, it’s just overloaded.
As you’ve asked so many times in your signature Sondheim number, “The Ladies Who Lunch”: Does anyone still wear a hat? Yes, very much so, including me. I love hats! They save a wealth in hair salons. About $100 a week.
You were completely sober for more than 20 years, but you’ve since allowed yourself to drink again. I’m almost 89. I’m gonna have a drink a day or two. I know how to handle it, so there. I’m proud of the fact that I can handle a couple of drinks.
That’s not at all dangerous? No. I’m not going to have three drinks, I’m not going to have four. I’m going to have two, and that’s it, folks. I just want to enjoy life and relax a little bit and go out with the rich ladies in Birmingham and enjoy them. And you can’t enjoy them sober.