Thursday, February 19, 2009

Older Women on TV

Ahhh, the Golden Age of television. We late Boomers were weaned on the first televised appearances of Leonard Bernstein and Arturo Toscanini, high-culture opera (Amahl and the Night Visitors) and ballet (The Nutcracker)!

Mixed in with all that high culture commercial programming was, well, the junk we consumed.

In the '50s & '60s, we children ate off our TV trays a large helping of home-style comedy and there was always sure to be a menopausal woman in there just to keep it real.

This was all before the dawn of rejuvenation surgery. Even Joan Rivers didn't get her first facelift until the mid-1970s (more about her later).

Pre-dawn, menopausal women on TV came in two two flavors: lonely-loony spinsters or old wives whose beleaguered old husbands put up with them. Both asexual.

Is there a Boomer alive who can't sing the theme song for The Beverly Hillbillies? Probably not. Irene Ryan at 60-years-old showed us how delightful aging could be.

Miss Hathaway epitomized the hopeless spinster, thanks to Nancy Kulp who was a mere 42 at the time. Her physical attractiveness was always disguised with scripted self-humiliation and ugly glasses.

Frances Bavier as Aunt Bea kept Opie and Andy in line with home-cooking and housekeeping on The Andy Griffith Show. She was 58 years old when she took the role as Aunt to Andy Griffith's 34-year-old sheriff and 6-year-old Ron Howard.

Childless Gladys Kravitz risked being throttled on a weekly basis, she was such an annoying Bewitched neighbor. However, cancer got her first and chinless Alice Pearce (age 47) was replaced by Sandra Gould (age 48).

Vivian Vance collected the rent on I Love Lucy, playing over-the-hill Ethel Mertz when just 42 years old. When Lucille Ball (40) found middle-age reality conflicting with the storyline, it was rewritten just enough to make baby Desi Arnaz, Jr. plausible in the second season.

Bea Benaderet was 57 when she lost out on playing Granny or Ethel, but starting in 1963 she succeeded in running the Shady Rest Hotel in Petticoat Junction. As Kate Bradley, she mediated the crises of the owners of the three petticoats hanging on the side of the large junction water tank (all of which is so outdated as to mean nothing to someone under 50 today).

Sylvia Field at 58 portrayed Mrs. Wilson, the kindly grandmother-type next door who always had a smile and a plate of cookies ready for little Dennis the Menace. We all recognized the archetype as the next generation of Beaver's mom.

Rose Marie Mazetta and her little black bow provided spinster comedy at age 38 on The Dick Van Dyke Show. The wisecracking comedy writer and designated typist, Sally was always on the lookout for a husband.

Hazel kept Mr. B doing things her way by withholding desert– an interesting application of child rearing pedagogy, given that Shirley Booth (then 63) played the maid to an ostensibly grown man, corporate lawyer George Baxter.

Television will never be the same.

Old ladies on TV? They've all been operated on! Surely this explains why Generation X infotainment journalists don't see it when composing inane online articles titled "Stars in Their 60s Are Sexy!" – yet eight of the nine white women featured have had face work done. Goldie Hawn's (63) abdominoplasty and facelift scars are visible from Hawaii!

At about the same time that tube television sets became obsolete, the true face of menopause began disappearing from our screens.

Solid-state televisions in the '70s ushered into American living rooms a whole new age, pun intended. Fewer shows starred older women characters and when the parts were cast, none of these women actually looked like our grandmothers. The top two such shows from the mid-80s are illustrative.

Angela Lansbury (59) starred as Jessica Fletcher in the Murder She Wrote series from '84-96. It doesn't take much sleuthing to know she had facial surgery in between solving crimes. In this scene, aging becomes a series of clues about what parts of her face have previously had the most surgery.

Bea Arthur (63), Betty White (62), Rue McClanahan (51) and Estelle Getty (62) played the Golden Girls with facelifts from '85-92. Strangely enough, Estelle Getty needed the help of goofy glasses and a wig to portray the mother of Bea Arthur's character. Arthur, of course, was older than Getty. Here are 'the Girls' from June 2008 (Getty suffered from dementia for the past two decades and was not seen in public).

The effects of earlier surgical alterations are even more obvious when their faces are animated: check out the YouTube video concerning Estelle Getty's death this past July.

These are not aging faces found in nature.

According to Joan Rivers' (75) new book, plastic surgery is all about men. Specifically: luring them in with surgically-created beauty and youth so one isn't alone in old age.

She practices what she preaches. In her February 10, 2009 interview on The View, her neck and lips are still stiff with swelling from her latest procedure and Whoopie looks demoralized. Rivers' best work is behind her (at right, March of 2007). Her present look is a stiff caricature of womanhood.

My personal favorite, Margaret Rutherford (1982-1972), looks and acts just as I remember my own grandmother. In her early 70s Dame Rutherford starred in four made-for-tv Agatha Christie mysteries, wearing her own clothes and her own husband (Stringer Davis). I guess she didn't need Joan Rivers' advice.

Join us Thursday @ 10am to hear Anne flesh it all out with Kevyn Burger on-air. Can't make it? Use this link to find the FM107.1 audio archive of Knifestyles broadcasts by date (second hour). Step one: select the date shown on the blog posting; step two: click on Kevyn Burger; step three: click on second hour. Add your comments below!

1 comment:

martinkorben said...

Thank you Anne !

You rule.