Remembering My Friend, Elaine Stritch

Elaine Stritch arrives at the Creative Arts Emmy Awards on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2009, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello
Elaine Stritch arrives at the Creative Arts Emmy Awards on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2009, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

I met Elaine Stritch about 70 years ago. She was 19. We had gotten roles in the new Broadway production Woman Bites Dog; she played my girlfriend. During rehearsals I was shocked when they fired her. She was very talented and I liked her. Even then, she had a unique personality and that distinctive voice which she used all through her career. She became a big stage star. Then, as she got older she became a one-person performer who won a Tony Award, was the star of a documentary about her life and up until recently performed in cabarets. She was fantastic and larger than life. I always saw her when I went to New York. She lived in style at the Carlyle Hotel.

Then I got a note from her. She was retiring, she said, after so many years as an entertainer, to be near her family in Michigan. I wrote back to tell her that when I went east again I would stop in Michigan and we could lie to each other about how great we are. I didn't get there, but I did call her one Sunday last year to check in. She was very excited and we had fun talking about old times.

Last week, she died. Her death was reported on the front page of The New York Times. Inside she got an entire page with photographs of her in action. They dimmed the lights on all of the Broadway theatres --an honor reserved only for the great ones.

Why do I tell you all this? It is the curse of longevity. You lose so many of your friends. Of course you are left with pleasant memories, but that's not enough. I am beginning to number all the friends I have lost -- Jack Valenti, Frank Sinatra, Ray Stark, Tony Curtis, Burt Lancaster, Laurence Olivier.

Elaine Stritch was the latest. She had such a wonderful sense of humor. I will always remember the imitation she did of me from the stage -- she used all her teeth. The audience loved that. I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to laugh with her one more time.

Which is an important lesson for me, even at the age of 97. Keep in touch with those you care about, no matter how much distance and time separates you. Share a laugh. Share a heartbreak. Share life while you can.

What impressed me most about Elaine Stritch, my friend, was how she handled the sad moments in her life. Now, I have to handle a sad moment alone -- Elaine is gone.