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Influences: Call them inspirations for Elaine Stritch

Actress and singer Elaine Stritch, who'll be performing Sondheim classics at Disney Hall on Saturday, counts Bette Davis and John Gielgud among the most stirring of performers.

May 15, 2012|By Scott Timberg | Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • Elaine Stritch will be be performing Sondheim classics at Disney Hall.
Elaine Stritch will be be performing Sondheim classics at Disney Hall. (Robin Marchant, Getty Images )

While getting started for her debut in Culture Monster's Influences column, brassy Broadway veteran Elaine Stritch, 87, wanted to make one thing clear: She's never been influenced by anyone.

"I am not influenced by other human beings," she says. "But I am inspired. If I see a great performance on television, onstage, in the movies, I go to work the next day with a renewed energy and less fear. These great artists take me out of my life and make me want to go there. But I never imitated anyone. I walk out onstage and I'm my own performer."

OK, so call these Stritch's Inspirations rather than Influences. The actress and singer — known for numerous stage performances dating back to the 1940s, her Tony-winning autobiographical show "Elaine Stritch at Liberty" and her role as Jack Donaghy's mother on NBC's "30 Rock" — comes to Walt Disney Concert Hall on Saturday for an evening of Sondheim. (Perhaps her single most famous performance may be "The Ladies Who Lunch" from his musical "Company." Though a close second might be"I'm Still Here" from Sondheim's "Follies" that has become her own anthem of sorts.)

We spoke to her about her, um … well, here they are.

Bette Davis: As a child growing up in Michigan, she was probably my favorite actress. I was going to the movies every Saturday afternoon, and she convinced me that she was, say, Jezebel. "Now, Voyager" was one of the most dramatic movies she made — and she did it so beautifully. She made me want to be an actress; it looked attractive and exciting. She was an artist. The escape to a make-believe world was something I couldn't wait to do.

Doris Day: She was up, she was honest, she was forthright — I could tell she was scared, but she got over it. She was brilliant in the movie she did with James Cagney, "Love Me or Leave Me."

John Gielgud (with whom Stritch acted in the Alain Resnais film "Providence"): I'm a high-class actress. I do rough material, but I play with the best of them. It's a joy to work with those artists because they're inspirational. There's no better favor you can do than to put me in a play, or a movie, with a great actor. That's influential and inspiring.

Theater director George C. Wolfe: With "Elaine Stritch at Liberty," I turned my life over to him and he handled it with such understanding. He didn't try to tell me how I felt — he listened. I loved telling the audience about how it really was.

Noel Coward: A great inspiration to me. I had more fun with him than anybody in the world. That makes you skip down the street to a rehearsal; he was my upper. He shared his talent with you. So he got a good performance out of me. OK, he influenced me — I can say it now.

RELATED:

Happy 85th birthday, Elaine Stritch

Elaine Stritch and the Town Hall: They're still here

Review: 'Follies' is a source of heartache and razzmatazz

"Elaine Stritch Singin' Sondheim … One Song at a Time," 8 p.m. Saturday, Walt Disney Concert Hall, downtown Los Angeles, (323) 850-2000, http://www.laphil.com.

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