ELDER MUSIC: They Wrote the Songs
60 is Not the New 40

Does Hollywood Ageism Have Anything To Do with You and Me?

In recent weeks there has been a minor flurry of media information – tidbits, mostly – about age and work in relation to female movie stars. I had been sitting on a quotation from actor Maggie Gyllenhaal, wondering what I might do with it until TGB reader Jim Hood mentioned it in an email:

“I’m 37,” Gyllenhaal said in an interview with The Wrap, “and I was told recently I was too old to play the lover of a man who was 55. It was astonishing to me. It made me feel bad, and then it made feel angry, and then it made me laugh.”

A couple of weeks later, the same website asked 69-year-old actor, Helen Mirren, about Gyllenhaal's experience:

No, you're not imagining it. Mirren did say, “fucking” outrageous. And so it is.

At the same time, however, I am a bit queasy about well-off movie stars complaining about the kind of roles they get. Especially Mirren who continues to make three or four films a year, more than most actors get at any age.

Is it wrong that 50- and 60-something male movie stars are most frequently paired romantically with ingenues? About the only time we see old male actors in movies with age-appropriate love interests are when one of the two is dying. Of recent vintage, Amour comes to mind along with Still Mine.

Okay, maybe The Second Best Marigold Hotel but what a disappointment that movie was with Richard Gere shoehorned in for no apparent reason than his good looks.

Maybe I should mention the most famous reverse age movie, Harold and Maude. But I've always thought there was something mildly creepy about it – the movie, not their age difference - and anyway, one movie in 45 years with an old woman and young man does not balance hundreds of the opposite.

This isn't a new problem for older women in Hollywood. They have been complaining forever about lack of roles in general, let alone not being cast as a romantic interest when they have passed an imaginary use-by date.

In 1972, I produced a television interview with Bette Davis (of “old age ain't for sissies” fame) in which she lamented that back then, no one was writing movies for women actors of a certain age. It hasn't changed much since then, certainly not in the realm of romance.

So is this important? Does it matter that female movie actors - especially stars who make zillions of dollars compared to most of the rest of us - don't get to kiss the leading man after age 35 or 40?

I'm only half convinced that it does – in the sense that celebrities are role models for the rest of us, especially young people who emulate their hair styles, fashion, even behavior. (Cosmetics, automobile and fashion companies don't pay movie stars to shill for their products for no reason.)

If we, the public, repeatedly see movies and TV shows in which old men only pursue 20-something women, I'm pretty sure that has at least as much effect on beliefs about who is attractive and worthy of attention as the commercials starring those same actors enhance the bottom line of the products.

And that in turn may have a great deal to do with your and my lives. If we hardly ever see, in our entertainment, older women as worthy – whether as sex objects or responsible adults – might not we, for example, be refused jobs after age 50 or 60 like those female actors are?

And if I buy this idea, I think it affects men too because for at least the past decade, more than half the movies released in the United States are about bionic, humanoid, Borg-like heroes more suited to video games than real life and against which no human male – of any age - can compete.

Based on all that, Maggie Gyllenhaal's lost movie role with a 55-year-old man might not be as funny as she thinks.

Or maybe it is. I'm not sure. What I'm trying to work out is whether the fact that Maggie Gyllenhaal, Helen Mirren and Bette Davis don't get to make love to an actor their own age on screen has anything to do with the fact that I couldn't get anyone to hire me after age 62.


My gut tells me the answer to your question is yes, yes, & yes. I'm looking forward to see what Darlene has to say. :)Dee

Perhaps the movies inform those who see them; but, when guys don't see movies, they seem more sensible - or, perhaps, it is only the males in my own family who are sensible.

Neither of my brothers attended movies after they left college. Each married his high-school sweetheart - one was a month older than my elder brother, the other was a few months younger than my younger brother. Come to think of it, my father-in-law kept company with age-appropriate women.

When younger brother's wife died at age 49, he married a woman 6 years older than was he. When elder brother's wife died at age 77, he made it clear that he was not interested in younger women. He keeps company with women in their mid-to-late 70s (he's now 79).

I'm pretty sure that my brothers don't/didn't have a corner on common sense, though. However, I cringe when I run across a TV program such as "Modern Family" that features an older idiot with a younger sexpot. (I'm absolutely positive that Elder Brother doesn't watch such TV and Younger Brother and Father-in-Law are dead.)

Geez, the sexist ageist crap that most movies spuuu is too much for me and our only works for an indy film company..She lets me know by the dvd's she sends to me what ones she really likes, most are not the blockbusters in the theaters but sweet stories of real life and yes they do have older men with older women and older women with older men and also LGBT themes and different types of human beings..We relish the fact that she has always been happy with all people and only sees their soul and their character and never judges them..guess we did something right in this world..The movies she works on are for the most part real life stories of what humans do to other humans & they are sweet and poignant..She is nearly 38 and the younger fellas are smitten with her but she is too obsessed with work and travel and her kitty cat and being with many people..Unless she meets someone like her daddy she is just a good friend to the younger fellas who swoon over her, this has been the case her whole dadblasted life, many know her wisdom and fearless and strength and want to marry but she is shy and introverted and tender hearted and cannot bear to think people get together have children and then break up and are not civil and sweet and caring, no she is a one person lady and no and's if or buts, she likes her own skin..I am kinds of like her held out to marry my hubs of over 41 years for a good long while but did marry and am happy but we are suited well he the oldest of 9 kids me the next to the last in a family whereby my mom passed early so I was the designated cook, housekeeper, etc. until my dad went to pieces! I learned that life is fragile and tennous at best!

There is a difference between the skin on men and women's faces, and it has an effect on how they look as they begin aging. As a consequence, men's faces tend to age more gracefully from 35 to around 60. This sucks, but there it is. Just my opinion, of course.

Of course we know the answer is yes Ronni - film makers keep protesting that they only reflect society - believe that if you like! But perhaps it is a two way mirror - reflecting and projecting - and the model it projects of older women - and older men! is not good - but until enough women are running film companies - it is unlikely to change.

Of course there is sexism in the movies and of course it matters. I remember some time ago, when Clint Eastwood was doing more acting than he does now, he was paired with some actress 30 years his junior. There was a scene in which he took his shirt off, and I couldn't help thinking, "Put it back on!"

Then there was the famous movie in which Diane Keaton was playing opposite Jack Nicholson and she was to do a nude scene for the first time. In the scene, his character--who usually dates young chickies--comes upon her undressed by accident and begins screaming, he's so shocked.

And I thought it would have been a lot more shocking if we'd seen him in the nude, given that he is grossly overweight and she still looks pretty good.

Anyway, one of the reasons Hollywood keeps doing this is because they want their films to appeal to a young male audience, whom they consider their biggest market, and that requires having beautiful young women star.

I think that now that the baby boomers are coming of age, there's a huge market for films about older people, and Hollywood ought to wake up and smell the coffee.

The one that got me recently was a couple of episodes of "Blue Bloods" in which Tom Selleck, now 70, has a fling with a blonde cutie half his age. He didn't do the casting, of course, but I love the show and expected better of him. Come on, producers, get real.

Discrimination based on old age has been going on so long, people don't even recognize it. I have heard it called the last socially acceptable form of prejudice.

I think it is about money and power.

Most old men --if they feel powerful and have money --they will make the fantasy of being with a younger woman a reality if possible.

Producers are men and know this and so produce for the dreamers.

We need rich old women to take younger men under there wings--Why doesn't this happen?

Maybe women are more realistic? Do those old men really believe that those young women "love" them?

I think not enough women can or want to live the lie so it would be a stretch to see see producers putting money down for such a small audience.

I believe that our society has a general misogyny, which is rarely acknowledged, adding age to that creates another dynamic, best pointed out by Meryl Streep. Streep walked the streets of London in full prosthetic make-up as Margaret Thatcher during the filming of The Iron Lady, she has revealed. "In fact you are so forgettable as an old woman. It was so interesting to see how people don’t look at you. It was fascinating and humbling. I looked a lot like Margaret Thatcher and still people didn’t give a glance. It was very interesting.”

I don't see the romance between elder men and young starlets in movies as a problem because the viewing audience know that most elder men watching are fantasizing being loved by a nubile actress, but they know "it ain't gonna' happen" anymore than they will be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. After all, they have mirrors, too.

Hollywood exists on fantasy and I think most adults over the age of 30 recognize that. I don't believe that a depiction of an elder/young person romance fools anybody into thinking that's real life. A man taking on 3 or 4 bad guys and decking all of them is just as unrealistic and no sane man would try to emulate them.

Now, ageism in the work place is another issue. It's wrong no matter what the job entails.

"Thems" mu words, Dee, and I stand by them.

I've been married three times and 2/3 of my husbands have been younger than I. I was one of those women who aged slowly until I reached menopause and it has been all downhill since then.

Now I have become my mother in looks. I am thin and more wrinkled than I ever thought I would be and it is horrible to look in the mirror and not to recognize myself at all.

And I have become very humble. Secretly I had always felt that other women worried too much about their looks, but now that I have lost mine I realize how devastating it is to my ego to know that I'll never have another man turn around to look at me as I walk down the sidewalk.

My husband, however, must have different eyesight, because he still finds me attractive and he still loves me -- even though I look like a crone.

Are the movies ageist? Of course they are. The people who read this blog are not the ones the movies are made for -- we are not the target market. We do not attend movies, we watch them on Netflix. We seldom date or spend a great deal of money on anything except healthcare -- and hospitals do not finance movies!

One of my favorite actors, Dame Judy Dench, continues to win the hearts of younger males, but I can't expect youngsters to go to see her movies.

My wife is four years older than I and still looks lovely to me. She actively discounts the sincere compliments I make. Accepting ourselves and our increasing invisibility is tough for all of us.

I will let the 37 yo women fight their own fights. 70+ women have problems that have nothing to do with how we're represented, or not, in popular culture. It's time to take that one one, Ronni.

The not funny thing is, seniors enjoy going to the movies, yet they are the last on the list audience for movie producers.

We go downtown to see foreign films that depict seniors in a positive light.

But at the local malls, most movies are aimed at teenage males.

Clothing, entertainment, are two areas where seniors are ignored.

Very few change makers have pulled their heads out of their breakfast cereal long enough to realize it.

I love the post and the discussion. I have been watching "Grace and Frankie" on Netflix, and these women are supposed to be 70. Save a few honored moments of elder-clumsiness and hearing loss, Jane Fonda has the body of someone twenty years her junior who's never had children. I don't know any 70 year olds who look like her. That has been one of the most shocking things for me. I mean, she's great in the role but I feel like there is still this untruth to the reality of getting divorced when you're 70 and starting a new life. Anyone, I digress. Yes and yes and yes - ageism is an issue just like gender inequality, racism, and body shaming. It all exists and a screamingly loud decibel in Hollywood.

It's such horseshit to say that men age more gracefully than women.
Men may have thicker skin but women take much better care of theirs from an early age.
I look around at my circle of friends and the men look much more "weathered" than the women do.
That perceived wisdom is just self serving crap perpetuated by men and it's so silly of women to buy it.

Unfortunately, while there are numerous parts written for "gnarly" old codgers, nobody wants to see a gnarly old dame. All old ladies are supposed to be sweet gray haired little things like Aunt Bea in the Andy Griffith Show.

Yes Bruce, I agree - old ladies are supposed to be Aunt Bea, and off course it would be unspeakable to let aunt Bea have an interest in any men but Opie and Andy. "Aunt Bea" was 40 something when she played Aunt Bea.

Watching this phenomena over the past two years with my 45 year old son, 14 year old grandson and 65 year old husband, I have noticed -

They do not want it to be pointed out. They get angry and want me to go away, say I am ruining the film.

My 45 and 43 year old sons, who have always watched every movie that comes out, only look at 20 ish women on the street. If I mention a woman who is say 40, and say she is pretty, they are disgusted.

So it seems that Hollywood producers know- that men are foolish, that men watch a lot of movies, and that men want to see sexy bodies - period.

I want to know these men in Cop Car's family who do not watch movies - that would be a start to having a real life.

My husband and I rarely go to the movies so I'm not the right person to speak to this.

I will say, though, that the ads that run on the network nightly news programs make me irritable. There may be old men in the ads, but the women are always young and very shapely. Even if the drug is for old people.

You know what they say about Hollywood. "Behind all the phony tinsel, you'll find the real tinsel.

I watched an awful 1980s movie the other night in which a hunky young guy falls for a mid-40-ish woman and the script lets them live as a couple through the whole thing. Then in the last scene, she tells him it just can't be, because the age difference would never work in the long run. He reluctantly gets it and drives off in a convertible with his young friends. Sob. Yeah, the movie was bad, but what did the show runners have to lose by letting the romance play out into a happy ending? The "damage" had been done.

One of my all-time favorites is a PBS Modern Masterpiece called "Reckless" in which a young doctor falls hopelessly for a mid-40s woman who looks her age and who just happens to be the wife of his chief. Lots of lovely insanity ensues with the age difference finally being only one of the issues. But by the end, the young guy wins the love of the "older" woman because basically, he loves her more than her husband does. There was even a sequel in which they got married with even better shenanigans from the still fuming cuckolded husband. The series was charming and the sky didn't fall.

What's interesting is that, to my knowledge, there has never been a film in which a man who falls in love with a woman only 15 or 20 years younger agonizes for even one minute about the age difference.

Here's a late postscript about movies I have watched that no one else wants to hear about: I was scrolling through the movies to find something I hadn't seen and came across that awful 1982 movie again. The title was---wait for it---"Forbidden Love."

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