RIP Elaine Stritch
In the early 90s I played Ermengarde in Thornton Wilder's "The Matchmaker" at The Roundabout Theater in New York. Broadway diva, Dorothy Loudon (Annie), played Dolly Levi but the production was plagued (maybe cursed) by problems -- the death of the director's mother, violent outbursts by Kenneth Mars (The Producers, Young Frankenstein, What's Up Doc?) who had to be replaced, and a brief, ill-fated reunion with my mother.
Interestingly, it had been Tyrone Guthrie (founder of the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis where Mother met my stepfather Oliver Rea and ran away with him) who saved the play from a premature death after a diasterous Broadway production by Max Reinhardt. Then, the play was called The Merchant of Yonkers. It ran thirty-nine performances would never have never have been seen again if Guthrie hadn't picked it up fifteen years later and convinced Wilder to rewrite it and take the then minor character of Dolly Levi and move her to the center of the piece. It ran in the Edinburgh festival and then the West End in London at the Drury Lane Theatre and came back to Broadway in triumph in 1955. It was made into a film and then of course adapted as the musical Hello Dolly!.
Anyway, in addition to working with some wonderful actors and some crazy ones (Dorothy Loudon used to push me off stage as soon as or before I finished delivering my lines), the highlight of our ill-fated run of The Matchmaker for me was a phone call from Elaine Stritch -- the Elaine Stritch or as Noel Coward called her, Stritchey. It was either a late morning or early afternoon. My fiancee was at work. It was summer and very hot and we didn't have air conditioning so I was vacuuming naked when the phone rang. I picked it up and it was the unmistakable voice of Miss Stritch...
"Hello. Is Wendy Lawless there? It's Elaine Stritch calling. I went down to the Roundabout last night to see my dear friend Dorothy Loudon in that horrible production of The Matchmaker. That Joe Bova is about as funny as a dead baby's open grave. But I wanted to tell you that you were great, kid. That thing you're doing up there is hard. Making people laugh in a turkey like that isn't easy. I would have told you last night but I couldn't stay. I'm diabetic you, know and I had to run home and stick myself in the arm. You've got it, kid. Just keep doin' what you're doin'."
The brief conversation remains what I consider to be one of my greatest reviews as an actress.