Elaine Stritch's edible Chicago connection

Elaine Stritch's death on July 17 at age 89 sparked tribute tweets from fellow actors, Facebook posts of video clips of her performances and, surely somewhere, the lifting high of a vodka stinger — a knowing reference to a line in her signature song, "Ladies Who Lunch," from Stephen Sondheim's 1970 musical, "Company."

Chicagoans looking to salute the theatrical legend can go one step further: Raise a Bays English muffin in tribute.

Stritch, you see, was married to John Bay, an actor, whose father founded a bakery making English muffins in the Loop back in 1933. Bays Corp. is still making English muffins, still family-owned, still based in Chicago and is currently celebrating its 80th anniversary year.

"Aunt Elaine certainly loved our product," said George Bay, company president. (His brother, James, is corporate secretary.) "Being a diabetic, she had a muffin every morning and it helped her keep track of her carbohydrates."

Bays makes four varieties of English muffin. Did Stritch have a favorite?

"Aunt Elaine really liked our sourdough," Bay replied. "I think she liked them toasted and buttered and, possibly, some apricot jam — but not too much."

Stritch would send a case of English muffins to friends and colleagues every Christmas. The list, updated annually, is a closely-guarded company secret, Bay said.

"It was a Broadway's who's who,'' recalled Bay. "Paul Newman, Hal Prince, obviously Stephen Sondheim, Arthur Laurents and Arlene Dahl. Elaine had befriended Elton John and sent him some muffins while he was on tour in the United States. My brother got a call from Elton John's social secretary asking us to send him a case in London."

Stritch's allegiance to Bays English Muffins was certainly no secret. In a scene from the 2013 documentary "Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me," she was shown bantering during a lunch break on the set of NBC's "30 Rock" television series with Alec Baldwin, who played her TV son, Jack Donaghy. Baldwin makes reference to the Carlyle Hotel in New York City where Stritch lived for years before moving last year to Birmingham, Mich.

"Now what do you have every night there at the Carlyle?" he asks her. "What are you having? Caviar and toast points? What do you have?"

"Oh, yeah. No. No. Get rid of that image," replies Stritch, who happens to be standing there in a fur coat. "I have a salad. OK? Caesar, maybe."

"Right," Baldwin says.

"And then I have half an English muffin with maybe some ..."

Baldwin interrupts. "Is it a Bays English muffin?" he asks, turning to smile mischievously at the camera.

"Of course," Stritch replies.

Bays Corp. posted the video clip to its Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=802074573154330) with the heading: "What does Hollywood eat? Bays English Muffins of course!"

Elaine Stritch was married to John Bay for about a decade , until his death at age 53 from brain cancer in 1982.

"It was just the blackest, blackest, blackest," she said of that time in a 1987 interview published in the Chicago Tribune.

"She and Uncle John were very much a love match,'' Bay recalled. "So she felt close to our family. It was always nice to have that connection with her and with Uncle John."

How will the Bay family remember her?

"Many times the characters she would play would have a very worldly way about them, a salty character," Bay replied. "She had such a wonderful soft heart. She was such a loving person. I will remember her as a person with a wonderful sense of humor. I will always remember her laughing and enjoying her life."

Bay said the many tributes to Stritch have been very touching.

"She was really a great lady and we loved her a lot and we're going to miss her,'' he said.

Stritch is to be buried near her husband, the New York Times reported July 18. Funeral arrangements are being handled by Donnellan Family Funeral Services in Skokie; details were not available yet July 18.

wdaley@tribune.com