The Rialto - what's left of it, corporatized, Disneyfied, and be-Lion Kinged - gleams a little less brightly tonight, for tonight one of its longtime, long lost leading ladies bade farewell.
Tammy Grimes didn't have the most massive of careers; it was one built, not on triumphs, exactly, but on eccentric flares of personal success. The Unsinkable Molly Brown is no one's idea of a great musical, but she made a sensation in it; and Private Lives is a nearly perfect play that in far too many hands proves to be nearly unplayable (just ask Mrs. Fortensky about that, sometime, why don't you?).
Not hers. She was Amanda to the core, and Elvira (in High Spirits, another iffy show she illuminated - and it's no mean feat, being just about the best thing in a show that also features Lady Peel), and yet always - even in bad sitcoms or perhaps too-late-for-perfect-artistry cabaret, Tammy Grimes, neat. She had, of course, the approval of The Master himself. Coward adored her, and while his taste wasn't flawless (he was, for a while, a big fan of Florence Henderson, after all; even so his batting average is pretty formidable). It meant something to have him like you; who is there today like that, I wonder?
A rather good profile in a local paper, when she paid a call to Our Nation's Capital a few years ago, called her "an urban unicorn...a legend, but it's hard to say exactly what kind of legend." That seems about right.
In the clip here, she's the most Ellingtonesque of Sophisticated Ladies, with more than a dash of Darling Noël thrown in as well. Her sense of stagecraft is superb (as is - a requirement of the kind of gown she wears - her back), and her phrasing recalls, among other things Dietrich, Elisabeth Welch, a particular time very early on a Sunday morning in many of our lives, and a dry Martini. I actually remember the 1984 television special of which this was a part - likely my first real exposure to Ellington, and probably to Grimes as well. Now all these years have passed, and here we are. Let's treasure, for just a moment, true sophistication and a real lady.
On the shores of Fabulon, I suspect there is a certain frisson just now; Elvira home to roost at last.