Elaine Stritch: The Creative Soul

Elaine Stritch, recording the cast album of Company (1970).

Interview with Tennessee Williams
Conducted by James Grissom

I've lived the better part of my life relying on a deep-seated instinct that always knew to place me in the vicinity of people who would help me, pull me through the rocky terrain that is my natural habitat.

Truman [Capote] talked about God gives us a gift, and along with the gift comes a whip, but I've never felt that way: I always felt that along with whatever gifts I've been given, God also threw in a generous helping of friendship and humor--both of which are essential for getting along.

Every once in a while, I meet someone who seems to me the perfect person to understand my particular melodramatic scenarios; someone who will listen to my fantasies and not take me too terribly seriously because they've seen deeper wells than I've ever dreamed of digging.

An example that comes to mind is Elaine Stritch, an actress who did Leona [in Small Craft Warnings] years ago in London, and would be ideal as the Princess [in Sweet Bird of Youth] if anyone would finally do the play as it was intended. She strikes me as intrinsically honest, and absolutely unafraid of her talent. She seems to just ride its back to whatever destination it has planned for her, and I imagine she's scared to death a lot of times, but she's a trouper and she laughs a lot while she's soiling her panties and thinking of an escape.

I heard she found an escape--for which I envy her. I can spend the rest of my life never craving another cigarette, but I absolutely cannot lick this addition to alcohol--or pills. I wake up mornings thinking of that first drink, and I play these games with myself, as in, 'Shall I have a claret this morning? That would be unique,' or 'I haven't had a brandy Alexander in years; today is the day to break the trend.' The games, you see, remove me from the idiotic self-destruction I have fashioned for myself as carefully, as artfully, as I once crafted plays and stories. I seem to have no control whatsoever over this power. I have dreams of swimming in tubs and rivers and streams of alcohol. I wake up in a panic wondering if I will ever have another drink again. I once phone up a liquor store in Key West and ordered an ungodly amount of booze, and they asked me if I was stocking a fallout shelter. I was just afraid there would be a shortage of gin and Scotch.

I don't know if it's true that the creative soul is driven to drink more so than others. I somehow doubt it: it sounds like the excuse of a drunk to say 'I am afflicted with the artists' disease,' when in fact all  booze does is keep you from being anything but overemotional and worthless. I obviously don't have the answer: talk to someone who licked it and who still bears the title of artist. I would imagine that Elaine is an even better actress now than when she was in that amber haze that I always associate with the best benders.

She's dear and gifted and open, and you must give her my best and ask her to offer you the advice that will keep you out of this boring swamp I've led you to.


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