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Broadway remembers and honors the amazing Elaine Stritch

Liz Smith

"ELAINE Stritch gave me a wonderful birthday present; a beautiful photograph of a baby girl -- herself!" joked the great actor Nathan Lane at the memorial to his fellow actor in New York. He noted that she was "a force of nature."

Nathan and producer Harold Prince opened the two-hour tribute to Elaine, who died on July 17 in her hometown of Birmingham, Michigan. The memorial happened in the Hirschfeld Theatre on West 45th Street, in a deluge of cold rain, with masses of umbrellas clogging the streets.

Many others spoke tellingly, humorously of Elaine as "a national theater treasure, the likes of who we won't see again. She was a talented genius of acting and song and comedy." Bernadette Peters followed Nathan, singing one of Elaine's famous songs from an early triumph -- "Bongo, Bongo, Bongo, I don't want to leave the Congo -- oh no, no, no, no. Bingle, Bangle, Bungle, I'm so happy in the jungle, I refuse to go!"

I used to, in our friendship beginning in 1953, beg Elaine to sing this for me over and over again. But like her great song, "Zip" from "Pal Joey," Elaine just wanted to attack something new."

The memorial offered Stritch gems sung by the gifted likes of Betty Buckley, Christine Ebersole, Michael Feinstein and Laura Benanti.

There were films of Alec Baldwin, Elaine's co-star from "30 Rock," and from the much-praised actress Cherry Jones.

Elaine's lawyer, Joseph Rosenthal, came on to tell us what serving the star was really like and he said she had left half a million bucks to the Actors Fund and a big bequest to Juvenile Diabetes and to many friends and those who had served her. (This was good to hear as Elaine always behaved as if she were starving to death. She could appear stingy.) There was an acute tribute from one Julie Keyes, who found herself helped by Elaine when they both lived in Sag Harbor.

Holland Taylor, the star of both "Ann" and "Two and a Half Men," reminded us of Elaine in the prime of her life when she collected shopping bags from Bendel, Bergdorf's and other fashionable stores and wouldn't use anything else. (Miss Taylor is a really gifted writer, as well as an actress, and she nailed Elaine as we all remembered her.)

The program also offered actor Hunter Ryan Herdlicka from Elaine's last stage appearance in "A Little Night Music" and Lena Hall, Tony winner from "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," who sang "Broadway Baby."

There were wonderful film offerings of Elaine singing "Everybody Rise" and other songs, Elaine barking orders, "doing over" and just being Elaine! I loved especially a stage fragment from "A Delicate Balance," where Elaine is drinking in the Edward Albee play, crawls on her knees with glass in hand and collapses adroitly without spilling a drop! I always thought she deserved the Tony for THAT acting role. We did see small sketches from her Tony-winning "Elaine Stritch: At Liberty."

Her nephew, Chris Bolton, told us about having her back in Michigan in her last days and it all ended with heartfelt feelings for Elaine's longtime accompanist Rob Bowman.

It was a privilege to be backstage with the famed director George C. Wolfe, Hal Prince, Nathan, and all the rest of the talent. Not to mention all the famous folks out front with the prized tickets.

Thanks to the Jujamcyn Theaters and HBO Documentary Films and sponsors Terry Hekker and Lyn and Norman Lear.

If you want to be a part of remembering Elaine Stritch, you could send a contribution to stritch(at)shpnyc.com for the Stella Adler Scholarship Fund.

THE wonderful Barbetta on West 46th Street's "Restaurant Row," is just about the only family-owned such spot in NYC. It is 108 years old!

Now Barbetta is taking the cream, 10 percent of its business, off the top every night and collecting it for Doctors Without Borders. This is a really good way to fight Ebola and I wish more businesses would do the same.

This is a great warm and friendly place to have Thanksgiving turkey and you'll be doing a good deed in the bargain.

(E-mail Liz Smith at MES3838@aol.com.)

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