Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Byr): Vroom! by Barbara McClintock

Still Here: The Madcap, Nervy, Singular Life of Elaine Stritch

Maybe she never threw a television out a hotel window, but in terms of drinking, swearing and making outrageous personal demands, Broadway legend Elaine Stritch could have held her own against any rock star. No wonder Still Here: The Madcap, Nervy, Singular Life of Elaine Stritch, the first book by writer-editor Alexandra Jacobs, is such a carousing entertainment.

Born in 1925, Stritch was raised in a Detroit suburb too small to hold her: "I wanted to be a nurse, a doctor, a whore, and a queen," she later told the press. "The only way I could think of to accomplish all of those endeavors was to go on stage." A convent girl, Stritch moved to Manhattan in 1943 to attend a Catholic finishing school and take acting classes, which led to parts suited to her low voice and older-than-her-years presentation. She understudied Ethel Merman and, in a feat of sublime casting, played tippler Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Stritch's reputation for alcohol-abetted irascibility cost her some choice parts. (Jacobs makes droll use of the fact that Angela Lansbury kept getting them.) Following an unfocused decade, Stritch was handed what would become her career-making signature role: Joanne in Stephen Sondheim's 1970 musical, Company. Jacobs is so adept at situating her subject in her place and time that when Still Here covers Stritch's final days--she died in 2014, at age 89--the reader can feel golden age Broadway and old New York slipping away. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer