Elaine Stritch: Goddess of Zero F***s

Portrait of Elaine Stritch: Goddess of Zero F***s

I don’t have a lot of women I look up to who are my age. Or women that are alive anymore.

That’s not a good intro. Let’s try that again.

Who the fuck is Elaine Stritch? (Short answer: Alec Baldwin’s mom on 30 Rock.)

One more time.

The first time I ever saw Elaine Stritch was when she won the Tony Award for her one woman show, Elaine Stritch: At Liberty. This was her first Tony despite being nominated multiple times before, including originating Joanne in Stephen Sondheim’s Company.

She started the speech with a two sentence story: “A young girl once told me she wanted to follow in my footsteps. I told her to wear comfortable shoes.”

In the middle of her thank you speech, they orchestra began playing loudly. It’s a nice way award show teams like to say, “Get the fuck off the stage so we can keep the show going or cut to commercial.” And instead of finishing up quickly, Stritch shouted into the microphone, “OH DON’T DO THIS TO ME!”

From that moment, I became obsessed.

As a society, we’re constantly posting memes about how little fucks or bothers we give, or how we can’t stand the world’s bullshit, or that an authority can fuck off if they don’t like something about us. It’s empowering for us to post those things, and we get a rush from those quotes. Even celebrities are giving sound bites about how they succeeded in Hollywood because they stopped giving a fuck and did what they wanted. It’s a message that we need.

But here’s what I love about Elaine Stritch: she cared so little and cared so much at the same time, and she was incredibly open about that. She wasn’t a superhuman who shrugged it off, and she wasn’t someone who was going to lie about her insecurities just because a camera would capture her flaws. Elaine Stritch was broadcasting this dichotomy all the time while refusing to wear pants. (You say you don’t want to wear pants—LOOK AT THIS FASHION ICON.) 

Her palpable frustration with herself during the documentary Original Cast Album: Company is the notorious. It’s been referenced in comedy avenues, most recently in Documentary Now episode “Co-Op.” Honestly, what’s more attention-grabbing than a woman holding a cigarette, listening to herself sing, and then screaming, “I’M JUST SCREAMING?”

But Stritch wasn’t masking anything. She made it known to everybody how angry she was at herself. Then she went home, got some sleep, and came back in to give the perfect recorded performance.

Elaine Stritch had the kind of authenticity that was effortless and impossible to contain. She was open about her struggle with alcoholism. She talked about her husband and what the grief over his death did to her. And she shot a documentary that captured her ailing health due to diabetes while also performing cabarets.

This brash honesty is why everyone burst into laughter when she won an Emmy and proclaimed that she was glad that no one else in her category won. She also learned from that Tony Award moment where she was cut off, telling everyone in the Emmy audience to stop clapping because “It takes time!” 

I think that’s what giving zero fucks actually means. Not that you don’t care about something. It means that you care a lot, and the only thing you’re tired of is keeping it secret.

All hail Elaine Stritch, the Goddess of Zero F***s. My hope is that she sees this post from the after life and says, “What the hell is this broad talking about?”

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