One night, midway through my run in Cat, I was leaving the Morosco after a performance and ran into Kim Stanley, who was standing in front of the Music Box Theater and talking to a woman I didn’t know. It was Elaine Stritch. They were appearing in William Inge’s Bus Stop. I knew that Kim was probably the best actress around but I knew nothing about Elaine. Nevertheless I liked her right away. Elaine was outgoing and had an exuberant smile. She suggested we all have a drink at Downey’s, a favorite meeting place for actors. These ladies were friendly, they were charming, and they sure knew how to drink.
From that night on, Elaine and I saw quite a bit of each other. She was older than I was and had been acting longer, too. She was determined to have fun, in the process teaching me a lot about the best champagnes, scotch whiskeys, and how to avoid thinking long about anything too serious. Although she was ribald, Elaine was never vulgar. She was loud without being pushy. Gay guys and gals were mad about her, and so was I. [Emphasis added.]
She lived in an apartment in an upscale part of the East Side. The place had a forest-green rug, green drapes, a bedroom lined with bookshelves, but few books. Instead they were filled with expensive-looking dolls of every shape and color.
Her bar, on the other hand, was well stocked. There was scotch, bourbon, gin, vodka, brandy, sherry, and dry vermouth. The refrigerator held at least three bottles of French champagne at all times. We were in the happy, drinking days when booze would simply loosen your tongue, make you talkative, charming, expansive, and amusing, when getting drunk was thought to be truly comical and smoking “didn’t” cause cancer.
I spent a good deal of time in that apartment, but I didn’t move in. My clothes remained at my place. I did, however, invest in a new razor, a comb, and a toothbrush. And although I slept there regularly we made love only on rare occasions. Being a good Catholic girl, Elaine struggled with a lot of sexual hang-ups, as did many of the Irish Catholic girls I grew up with.
The first time we lay together embracing and kissing, slipping and sliding on her expensive silk sheets, I was very excited. She was nude, except for her panties, which I, of course, tried to remove. The dialogue went something like this,
—I don’t think so.
—I think so.
—I have to go to confession tomorrow.
—This is not a sin, it’s a pleasure, believe me.
—I know. That’s my problem.
And that’s more or less the way it went.
The sex when it happened was terrific, but who knew how long it might be until the next time? Here was a woman who loved sex but was afraid of it. Slowly it became less and less improtant to our relationship. I often thought of those overheated times with another Irish Catholic girl—my childhood sweetheart, Margie Sheridan. She allowed me to kiss and hold her until both of us were puffing and panting, but then she put a stop to it. This was exciting torture. Inside the grown-up Elaine Stritch was a young girl frightened of going all the way. I guess I enjoyed the challenge. Besides, Elaine kept me laughing.