Elaine Stritch--A Great Life Force Passes On.(But She's Raising The Roof Someplace Else, Right Now!)

"SHE WAS very much Elaine, right until she died this morning."

This is Elaine Stritch's nephew Chris Bolton calling me from Birmingham, Michigan Thursday, a.m. "She never really got over the operation she had when she moved back here recently."

Elaine will be buried with John Bay, her husband, in Chicago. There are no other details right now.

When I saw William Inge's play Bus Stop, long before it became a movie, I never forgot seeing an actress named Elaine Stritch mount the stairs wearily onstage, playing a pal to the lead, Broadway's great star Kim Stanley. I met Elaine shortly after this and we remained friends ever after.

• MORE STRITCH: It's divine coincidence that tomorrow, and through most of July, Michael Riedel's lively Theater Talk show on various PBS stations will reprise one of its most popular episodes -- "Elaine Stritch's Birthday Bash." It was Elaine celebrating her 88th and she talks up a hilarious storm -- everything from Sondheim to Bela Lugosi. Check local listings. This is one for the ages. So glad it's being re-run.

• "O Happy Dagger!"

So says Juliet toward the end of Shakespeare's tale of star-crossed teen-age lovers. (And we think today's popular culture is too violent/depressing?)

• SPEAKING OF Romeo and Juliet, Harlem Summer Shakespeare celebrates its 10th season of free shows at Riverbank State Park in NYC. A new production begins July 23 through August 17.

This continues the company's tradition of making Shakespeare more accessible to young modern audiences. The language is intact, but the physical designs of these versions of The Bard's classics employ modern costumes, props, etc. Romeo and Juliet will be presented, says artistic director Alexa Kelly -- "Like a crime story in the manner of Law & Order." Interesting! (Don't fuss. Franco Zeffirelli's wildly popular screen versions of R &J and The Taming of The Shrew took tremendous liberties with the stories, as did Laurence Olivier in his acclaimed Hamlet.)

Stella Heath and Jordan Bellow will star as the two mixed-up kids whose passion is blighted by family feuding. Call 212-695-1596 for tix info. And "feel free to bring a pillow" they say.

• "I QUITE enjoy being cranky and cantankerous!" That's the divine Maureen O'Hara interviewed for Vanity Fair's Proust Questionnaire.

Maybe she does, but in her recent interview with Turner Classic Movies maestro Robert Osborne, O'Hara was feisty, but hardly cantankerous. And she is still a beauty.

We mentioned Maureen recently, and said she lived in Ireland, where she was born. But in fact, she now resides in Idaho, surrounded by family.

It has been Maureen O' Hara month on TCM and I caught two of the lady's most enjoyable adventures the other night -- Sinbad the Sailor with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. (camping it up like mad!) and "At Sword's Point with Cornel Wilde, which was a kind of sequel to The Three Musketeers. Maureen dresses up in men's clothes in this one, and there is some hilarity when the other characters are not supposed to recognize that "he" is really very much a "she." Miss O' Hara had certain attributes that could not be disguised.

Maureen did quite a few of these Technicolor swashbucklers. She enjoyed them; did her own stunts and fencing. But she was so convincing as a pirate or a musketeer or a flame-haired rough and tumble lady in distress, that Hollywood didn't take her as seriously as it should have. She was an excellent actress, who, even in black and white, seemed on fire with emotion.

Oh, and in that vein, when VF asked Maureen her most marked characteristic, she answered -- "The hell and fire in me -- they came as a set!" Long may she sizzle.

• P.S. on Turner Classic Movies. How good that they have included Marilyn Monroe's Bus Stop as one of their "Essential" films. This 1956 entry has not aged well, and today's audiences are turned off by the aggressive macho antics of Don Murray. But it endures because of Monroe's exquisite performance as the tattered "chanteuse" Cherie, who dreams absurdly of Hollywood fame. (Monroe's deliberately bad rendition of "That Old Black Magic" alone should have nabbed her an Oscar nomination.) MM went for broke here, looking messy and pale, and Josh Logan's amazing close-ups of her are classic. Few moments onscreen are as tender as when -- after Cherie has confessed her "wicked life" to her cowboy (who believes she is Virginal!) he says, "I love you the way you are, I don't care how you got that way!"

Back then, promiscuous women onscreen were usually expected to suffer. If Bus Stop seems regressive today, that one aspect of it bucked the morality of the time.