BY MARTA HEPLER DRAHOS
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — She’s a vocalist, a quick-witted stage and screen comedienne and that feisty, sometimes foul-mouthed grandmother everyone wishes they had.
And Friday night, Michigan-born entertainer and Broadway legend Elaine Stritch showed off all those skills in “Elaine Stritch: Just Shoot Me,” a documentary about the 88-year-old entertainer's life.
"Look, I've got a certain amount of fame, I've got money. I wish I could (expletive) drive," Stritch says, in one of the movie's first lines.
Director Chiemi Karasawa introduced the film and appeared with Stritch in a question and answer session after the screening. She said she was encouraged to make the documentary by the New York hairdresser she and Stritch share.
“I can’t tell you how exciting it is to bring this film to Traverse City,” she said. “Many of you know (Stritch) is from Bloomfield, now Birmingham.”
Known for her brash humor and distinctive voice, Stritch was born in Detroit in 1925. Her Broadway career began in 1944 and included roles in “Company,” “Bus Stop,” “Show Boat” and “A Little Night Music.” In 2002 she won a Tony award for her one-woman musical memoir, “Elaine Stritch at Liberty,” which chronicles the ups and downs of her private life, including a bout with alcoholism. In 2004 she won her second Emmy for the HBO broadcast of the show.
Her TV, voice and film roles include “One Life to Live,” “Autumn in New York,” “Monster-in-Law” and “ParaNorman.” But it wasn't until she had a guest star role as the mother of Alec Baldwin’s Jack Donaghy character on TV's “30 Rock” that she was introduced to a whole new generation. In the documentary, she is shown joking with crew, chatting with Baldwin at lunch and checking fellow actor Tracy Morgan's blood sugar on the "30 Rock" set.
Stritch, who struggles with health problems including diabetes, retired to Birmingham earlier this year to be closer to her family.
Michael Earl got in the standby line at the State Theatre an hour and a half early in hopes of finally meeting his neighbor.
“She lives a few blocks away," said Earl, of Birmingham and Traverse City, who was attending the film with his wife, Brenda. "I read about her when she came back to town. She was the original Trixie on Jackie Gleason’s ‘The Honeymooners’ and I thought that was kind of cool.”
Pat Roggen bought a ticket for Friday's screening solely on the advice of a friend.
“She told me about it and said, ‘It doesn’t matter if you know her or not. She’s 87. I want to rub shoulders with her and see if some of that karma rubs off,'” said Roggen, of Interlochen.
Mary Sutherland was given a ticket for the movie by her son, Bob.
“He said, ‘Mother, as an older person you’ll probably enjoy this. It’s your era,'” said Sutherland, 83, of Glen Arbor.
"The gal I play bridge with went to school in Birmingham with Elaine’s sister,” Sutherland added.