New York Times features writer and cultural critic Jacobs makes her book debut with a biography of the glamorous, outspoken entertainer Elaine Stritch (1925-2014).
Stritch’s career spanned nearly seven decades, ending in an acclaimed one-woman show that earned her the Tony Award she had long coveted. As an actress and singer, she had middling success, usually hired for a part when a bigger name was unavailable, or when a show went on national tour, or for summer stock. Often, she lost out to Angela Lansbury, who won many of the roles Stritch wanted: as Auntie Mame, for example, which made Lansbury “a definitive star of the musical theater,” and as Madame Rose in Gypsy. “I’m sick of Angela Lansbury,” Stritch once remarked. “I’m sick of people doing parts that I should be doing.” In 1961, her performance in Noel Coward’s Sail Away won accolades: She turned the play “into a one-woman show,” one critic wrote. “Let’s keep the busy Miss Stritch busier.” But there were problems in keeping her busy: a reputation for “being tiresome, over-full of suggestions and not knowing a word” of her lines, as Coward noted; and, increasingly, alcoholism. “They all love Elaine,” Lee Israel discovered when she worked on a feature story about Stritch. “But along the way lots of people have ceased to trust her,” Israel wrote. “She drinks, they say.” Stritch defended drinking as “a wonderful thing for social communication,” but theater critic John Lahr saw a deep vulnerability. She was “the most panic-struck person I ever knew,” he observed, “a hysteric, and completely terrified.” In an engaging, thoroughly researched narrative, Jacobs chronicles Stritch’s career, boosted by working with Stephen Sondheim and Woody Allen; her half-hearted attempts to get on the wagon; her friendships, romances, and marriage; kleptomania and refusal to pay restaurant tabs; and brazen money-grubbing. Put up at a Florida hotel for an event, for example, she brought her entire winter wardrobe for dry-cleaning “at the production’s expense.”
A sharply drawn portrait of an ambitious, fierce, and complicated woman.