Elaine Stritch (1925-2014)

Elaine Stritch

Picture by: Allan Warren

I first became aware of Elaine Stritch on The Cosby Show. She had a recurring role as Rudy’s long-suffering teacher, Mrs. McGee. What I loved about her performance on the show was that she perfectly captured the simmering burnout that was just peeking at the surface. She was a dedicated teacher and loved her students, but her patience was always tested. She had an especially wonderful chemistry with Deon Richmond who played Rudy’s best friend, Kenny. Kenny was a typical kid – good-natured, but hated school, and Mrs. McGee was one of those saintly teachers who did her best to make sure that he got an education. There’s a scene in which the two are dancing – the class was learning about manners, and Kenny was left alone without a partner to dance with.

“Mrs. McGee?” Kenny asked.

“Uh, yes, Kenny, what is it?”

“I can’t dance.”

“What do you mean, you can’t dance,” McGee asks, “what’s the matter?”

“All the girls are taken” is his simple response.

A look washes over her faces as she takes off her glasses and strolls to the middle of the makeshift dance floor. She then stretches her arms wide (she had an incredible wingspan) and drawled, “No, Kenny…Not all of them.”

With a pained look Kenny steps up and the two do a simple box step, during which Stritch starts to croon “The Man I Love” with Ella Fitzgerald, getting another grimace from Kenny. Quickly Stritch breaks character, laughing and grabs her little costar and dance partner in a big hug. It was such a great, honest moment.

I always thought Elaine Stritch was just fabulous. I loved everything about her: her attitude, her looks, her voice. I played her At Liberty CD over and over again. She was a born story teller, and she had a lot of stories to share.

Whenever I think of Elaine Stritch I always go back, though, to that day in the AMC River East Theater. She was making an appearance to promote the documentary Just Shoot Me, which chronicled her life and work. During the brief Q&A the host veered strangely onto the topic of Angela Lansbury, and before long, Stritch bristled and barked, “Can we stop talking about Angela Lansbury?”

Rest in peace, Elaine Stritch – a woman who personified the words “irascible” and “talented.”

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Filed under Celeb, movie, music, Sitcom, Television, Writing

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