July 18, 2014

That Time I Tried To Cast Elaine Stritch

Yesterday, Broadway legend Elaine Stritch died and social media blew up (at least mine, that is) with toasts, tributes and many recollections by people in New York who knew her over the course of her long and distinctive career. Not only was I a great fan of her work both on stage (A DELICATE BALANCE on Broadway in 1996, extraordinary) and film (if you haven't seen WHO KILLED TEDDY BEAR, see it) but I also tried to cast her in a movie once. The part seemed a perfect fit for her, a boozy but wise and spunky aunt who befriends a gay man at a wedding. I mean, isn't this what she did for a living?  :)

Anyway, the producer of my indie comedy I THINK I DO called to make an offer. We were a low budget film offering scale for 5 days work. So when he called the number the casting director gave him he was somewhat surprised to find that he was talking directly to Elaine Stritch. For many years, she did not have a manager or agent and performed this role herself. Well, if you can imagine Ms. Stritch as her own agent then you can probably imagine where this story is going. She was tough, contentious, demanding and frank about what she needed. But as a low budget film, we didn't have much to offer, other than a fun role. Needless to say, after a short negotiation, she did not take the offer.

I was disappointed to hear this news and wondered if maybe a personal call to her directly might change the situation. The producer gave me a strange look, like someone who had been in battle, and said "I don't think so." I was recently watching a wonderful documentary called SHOOT ME about Elaine's last years in New York and Tina Fey talked, somewhat warily, about Elaine on the set of 30 ROCK, saying "you never knew what you were gonna get". Elaine was famously abrasive and tough and unpredictable...which is probably why she was so good too. And she was funny as hell, especially on 30 ROCK.

The TIMES has a lengthy obituary which ends with a fitting quote from her one-woman show. However, they neglected to mention her agenting herself which I think says a lot about this inimitable woman who made her own way and set her own unique course in an unforgiving business. She was an amazing actor and outsized personality whose talent and spirit, not to mention her way with a Sondheim song, will be dearly missed.