Nei­ther phone trou­bles nor leg trou­bles stop a leg­end

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - Showtime - South Broward - - MOVIES - By Michael Phillips

I had three rough, tech­no­log­i­cally chal­lenged cell­phone con­ver­sa­tions with Elaine Stritch a cou­ple of weeks ago, one right af­ter the other, each bro­ken up by dropped calls and a lot of un­der­stand­able flus­tered im­pa­tience on Stritch’s end of the line. That day (Feb. 17) she was get­ting her hair done in New York City prior to the evening’s event: a 92nd Street Y “evening with” fea­tur­ing Stritch.

The 89-year-old Broad­way leg­end and “30 Rock” alum shared the stage that night with the di­rec­tor of the highly en­joy­able new doc­u­men­tary “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me,” Chiemi Kara­sawa and mod­er­a­tor Michael Musto. As the YouTube clips from that evening at­test, Stritch put Musto through the wringer, to the great amuse­ment of all, but with the sneaky fond­ness un­der­neath the crackly sur­face so ev­i­dent in the doc­u­men­tary.

In all phases of her ca­reer, Stritch has been known for putting her­self through her own set of wringers on be­half of her art. “Fred As­taire! That’s who made it look easy,” she says. “It seemed to come so eas­ily to him. But he worked harder than any­body in the world. To­ward the end of his ca­reer I be­gan to think of him in re­hearsal ... he had the talent to make it look easy. One of the com­pli­ments my rel­a­tives used to give me when I per­formed was, ‘Oh, Elaine! You looked like you were home in your liv­ing room up there.’ Be­lieve me, it takes work to look that way.”

In the doc­u­men­tary, there’s a mo­ment when Stritch re­calls a day when she was 7 years old, killing an af­ter­noon in the sun by ar­rang­ing her name spelled out with dead flies on the side­walk. Not quite star billing in lights, but close. It’s a great story, and she laughs re­mem­ber­ing it all over again.

Of her ca­reer highs and lows, she says: “I can’t worry about what they think of me. It took an aw­ful lot to please me about my­self.”

In the clas­sic one-hour doc­u­men­tary “Com­pany: Orig­i­nal Cast Al­bum” by D.A. Pen­nebaker, Stritch is cap­tured on cam­era wrestling, un­suc­cess­fully, with her sig­na­ture Stephen Sond­heim song, “The Ladies Who Lunch,” an No MPAA rat­ing (some pithy ep­i­thets) Run­ning time: 1:22 Opens: Fri­day. ex­co­ri­at­ing trib­ute to the boozy, be­numbed Man­hat­tan­ites of a cer­tain breed and tem­per­a­ment. Stritch has se­ri­ous trou­ble nail­ing it, find­ing the builds in the Sond­heim song with­out pum­mel­ing it. And then she does, and the sun shines.

“I don’t re­mem­ber a minute of that ex­pe­ri­ence,” she says now, re­gard­ing Pen­nebaker be­ing a fly on the wall in the record­ing stu­dio with Stritch, Dean Jones and oth­ers. “I never thought about the cam­era. I just wanted to hear me do it right. That’s a hard song to make people un­der­stand with­out hav­ing them see it.”

Then it’s time to head off to the 92nd Street Y, Stritch in a wheel­chair.

“I’m do­ing the show with my legs el­e­vated. What can you do, right? I’ve had a lot of trou­ble with my legs, one of the few things that served me well all my life. Now they’re fall­ing apart. Full cir­cle, right?” She laughs that laugh, and gets on with it.

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