Sunday, June 22, 2008

Jamie Lee and Aging in Hollywood

My girl is at it again. She's on the cover (and looking beautiful, as usual!) of the July/August 2008 issue of More - her fifth such appearance in the popular women's magazine. Haven't gotten a hold of the actual magazine yet, but read her interview online today. My beloved former scream queen continues her ongoing discussion on aging well that she began with her recent AARP interview and the accompanying brouhaha over the "topless" cover photo that set her off during a spirited appearance on Oprah.

Jamie Lee has never been one to have a casual opinion - even her most casual of comments become a crusade – and she tends to speak passionately and in absolutes. But there’s an inherent danger to speaking in absolutes, and Jamie Lee has run afoul of the talking-out-both-sides-of-one’s-mouth syndrome on several occasions over the course of her career that’s gotten her into the occasional spot of trouble with the press and the public in the past. Case in point: she makes a big point in the AARP article - and then repeats it on Oprah - to emphatically state how she now only wears black and white as part of the simplification process she's living and advocating. A few weeks later, she ends up being photographed at a garden party she hosted for friend and jewelry designer Cathy Waterman in a slinky tan number and shows up this month on the cover of More in a flashy red dress (!).

And while her philosophies on growing older and paring down have been cheered by the masses, she's starting to experience a bit of backlash over what some see as her taking self-awareness to a new level of inflated self-importance. Yikes! Her outlook on aging in the context of her Hollywood career, in particular, is being taken to task by some."I have watched, my whole life, people age and become buffoons," Jamie Lee tells More. "When you crest in your thirties or forties and then you don't pull out of the public eye, you become a caricature. You have to have grace and dignity and gratitude, and walk away kind of slowly, like you're walking away from a bear. I'm going to go now, bear. Don't kill me, don't rip my fucking face off."

Is Jamie Lee actually implying that women in Hollywood are supposed to fade away as they age because they're past some arbitrary "sell by" date? Double yikes!

Jessica over at Jezebel seems to think so and counters by pointing out the thriving careers of Dame Judi Dench and Helen Mirren, suggesting that "maybe if, instead of going on TV to talk in vague terms about empowerment and living a stripped down, un-materialistic life, she crusaded for better parts for older women in Hollywood, she'd actually make a quantifiable difference. Because as it stands now, her continued blathering about her self-actuality is getting almost as tired as the audience for AARP magazine."

Those is fightin' words indeed, Ms. Jessica.

But you've got a somewhat valid point.

Could you imagine if Curtis and wonderful aging actresses like Meryl Streep and Sigourney Weaver and Susan Sarandon and Kathy Bates and Olympia Dukakis and Diane Keaton and Sally Field and Julie Christie and Jessica Lange and Sophia Loren (I can go on, but you get the point) all stepped out of the Hollywood spotlight at 50, 55, or even 60? What a tremendous loss that would be to the audiences who grew up and raised families and aged themselves watching these amazing actresses or to the younger generation of actresses who look to them as role models. What a disaster this would spell for the fight against ageism in Hollywood. Can't very well rally against something if you're not even in the game, can you?

Come on ladies and gents, thoughts? Bow out gracefully, or age gracefully for the entire world to enjoy and derive inspiration from? Hide away our age from the caustic public eye or wear it proudly as a hard-earned coat of armor?

Footnote: To frame this in the proper context, Jamie Lee has been consistently talking down her acting career over the past ten years or so. Even in this latest chat with More, she says, "I've done movies I didn't care about my entire life. The quality ones are an accident. That's the luck of the freakin' draw." Although she was a bonafide box office draw by the age of 20, she dismisses her thespian achievements and chalks up her show business career as “becoming famous for doing nothing.” Ouch. Love her to bits, but even I can see this as perhaps a little disingenuous to snub the career that gave her the public platform she enjoys today – especially in light of the hardworking professional actors who’ve chosen acting as their craft and who struggle every single day to perfect that craft and strive to achieve half the career that Curtis has had. I can imagine more than a few of my actor friends smarting from that sentiment. That said, in this context, one can almost see why the focus of her positive aging mantra doesn't include - and actually dismisses - acting as an important vehicle for doing such. Not sure I agree and can actually see how this reinforces the Hollywood mentality that focuses on youth.


Anonymous said...

She can always give all the money back...


Sarah Langan said...

I think she's cool, if only for not trying to look like a twenty year old. But obviously insulting to women in the field, who see acting as a career/art, and not a ride.

ARBOGAST said...

Given that she's had a career of one sort of another for over 30 years, I'd say Jamie Lee is entitled to her opinion. Most of the people calling foul over this haven't been alive for 30 years and want not to believe that the industry they've bought into/aspire to join could be so cut-throat. And holding up Judi Dench and Helen Mirren as examples of how ageism can be countered is like singling out William Hung to show how having absolutely no talent isn't a barrier to success... these are exceptions to the rule and the reality.

Jon said...

This is an interesting post. I can’t imagine what the pressure must be like in a profession that places such a high premium on public image. And I think the pressure must be even greater for actors such as Jamie Lee Curtis who are given such iconic status for reasons that really are quite arbitrary and partly a matter of luck. There are thousands of actors, musicians, and performers who have as much talent as Curtis, and who work very hard, but never achieve that kind of celebrity or cult status. And then they’re criticized if they are outspoken and activist, and equally criticized if they simply want to bow out of the public eye quietly, which is what Curtis seems to be suggesting. I think she’s pointing out that in either case, Hollywood tends to devour its celebrities whole.

Lisa said...

Jamie Lee and I are close to the same age, and although I obviously can't begin to claim her level of success I can relate to a lot of what she's saying.

The film biz is spectacularly unpleasant. It routinely chews up talent and spits it back out as garbage. I can look back at my career (with a number of produced feature screenplay credits) and see very little I care about. When she talks about bowing out gracefully, I'm thinking maybe she's just a little fed up. It's why I'm writing fiction these days, after all.

And yes, the industry IS worse off without Sigourney Weaver and Sally Field and all the other fine actresses who've passed their ingenue years. But what do you expect from any industry that makes a star out of Jessica Alba? It's clearly about youth, not talent. There's no room for a Weaver in a movie like THE INCREDIBLE HULK or THE LOVE GOD, after all.