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Elaine Stritch

Actress.

Born: February 2, 1925; Died: July 17 2014

ELAINE Stritch, who has died aged 89, was an actress celebrated for her deadpan comic timing, her brusqueness, her ability to put over a showstopper and her reputation as the "ne plus ultra" of the straight-talking, hard-drinking broad.

Her greatest triumph was perhaps in Stephen Sondheim's groundbreaking Company (1970) with The Ladies Who Lunch, a drunken, sarcastic toast to Manhattan's socialites by a cynical member of the breed. Sondheim later wrote that "the character of Joanne was not only written for Elaine Stritch, it was based on her, or at least on her acerbic delivery of self-assessment".

John Lahr, who co-wrote her retrospective Elaine Stritch: At Liberty (New York, 2002, London, 2003), concluded in his review of her performance in Cakewalk (1993) that "part of the fierce intensity which she brings on-stage is a sense of woundedness and a refusal to capitulate to it".

She once said: "I love booze so much it scares the hell out of me". She eventually gave up in her sixties. Her strongest addiction, however, was always to audiences, and in her one-woman shows two other Sondheim numbers, I'm Still Here and Broadway Baby, became staples.

She was born in Detroit, Michigan, into the well-to-do family. One uncle was Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago. At 17 moved to New York to study acting at the New School and after graduating made her professional debut in Philadelphia, before appearing on Broadway, in Loco (1946).

By 1950 she was understudy to Ethel Merman in Irving Berlin's Call Me Madam. She was a huge hit in the revival of Rodgers & Hart's Pal Joey (1952), singing Zip!, then took over from Merman for the tour of Call Me Madam.

She was in On Your Toes (1954) then nominated for a Tony in 1955 for her role in Bus Stop; two years later she appeared on the big screen, as Rock Hudson's nurse, in A Farewell to Arms.

She was the lead in Goldilocks (1958) and in 1961 took a supporting role in the Broadway production of Noel Coward's Sail Away.

But during the tryouts in Boston, Coward became unhappy with his leading lady and, noticing that "Stritchie" stole the show whenever she appeared, rewrote the musical to give her character, Mimi Paragon, all the main numbers.

Aged 47 she married the actor John Bay and lived in the UK.

She was a TV hit as an abrasive American crime novelist opposite Donald Sinden as her uptight butler in Two's Company, which ran for four series between 1975 and 1979.

After her husband's death in 1982 she returned to America and made an enormous impact in the concert staging of Follies at the Lincoln Center (1985). She received an Emmy for a guest appearance on the TV show Law & Order in 1993 and another, in 2008, for her role in 30 Rock.

Her solo stage shows were triumphs and confirmed her popularity and reputation.

Films included Woody Allen's September (1987), Cocoon: The Return (1987), Small Time Crooks (2000) and 2005's Monster-in-Law.

A few months ago, she moved to Birmingham in Michigan, where she intended to "hang out with the rich ladies and enjoy them". She had budgeted two drinks a day, because "you can't enjoy them sober".

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