Hollywood Women of A Certain Age | A Review by Silver Screenings

Hollywood Women of A Certain Age

Elizabeth Taylor was never not fascinating. Image: NewNowNext

If you think of the women of a Certain Age in your life, there are probably many who refuse to let Getting Older destroy their self-worth.

These women may be mothers and grandmothers, but they might also be business owners, educators, or artists. We bet they’re smart and funny, and too busy to be hamstrung by age.

Sadly, it’s a Different Story for Hollywood actresses, especially in an era of unforgiving 4K resolution. A non-youthful appearance can sideline them, because we all know actresses are often judged by their Looks.

It’s like the old “joke” about how an actress is seen by power brokers in Hollywood:

  1. Who’s Elizabeth Taylor?
  2. Get me Elizabeth Taylor.
  3. Get me a young Elizabeth Taylor.
  4. Who’s Elizabeth Taylor?

Ageism is difficult for many actors, but it has a way of squeezing out women first. Men can be romantic leads well past middle age; not as many women have that opportunity. (But: What’s Helen Mirren’s secret?)

A new book of plays and short stories, by clinical psychologist and performer Pam Munter, explores the grim business of aging in Fading Fame: Women of a Certain Age In Hollywood.

The Doris Day Show (1968-1973): Repaying her deceased husband’s debts, à la Billie Burke. Image: Nostalgia Central

Fading Fame is a work of fiction, although some of the stories involve actual people, such as Doris DayMary Pickford, and Ethel Barrymore. The stories focus on women struggling with diminishing career opportunities.

Because this is a work of fiction, readers shouldn’t put too much stock in the details, even if they involve an actual person. Some details do not mesh with Hollywood history, which, sadly, diminishes narrative credibility.

But those are minor details, and not the goal of book, which is an exploration of women Facing Extinction. Many of the characters have similar character traits – ambition, multiple marriages, substance dependency, etc. – and aren’t as distinctive as one might like, but the stories themselves are thoughtful examinations of post-youth women.

“The women in this collection are past their prime,” writes Munter in the foreward, “trying to find their way in a world that no longer finds them valuable.” She refers to them as Hollywood “flotsam and jetsam”.

These stories are empathetic and objective, reminding us how disposable famous people can be.

The legendary Ethel Barrymore. Image: TCM

We have two favourite stories in this collection. One is about film/radio/television comedienne Joan Davis, as she struggles with alcohol and unemployment. She’s a woman desperately trying not to give up, but can’t catch a break – until a young woman befriends her and changes her life.

Our other favourite story is about the fictional “Gerry”, an actress with a wildly unexpected career path, who has learned to take life as she finds it. She’s an upbeat soul with lots of good stories, even though she’s an unreliable narrator.

The women chronicled here aren’t necessarily victims; their accomplishments are notable. We just happen to meet them during times of vulnerability, confusion, and anxiety.

Nevertheless, we recommend Fading Fame if you have an interest in – or know someone dealing with – the aging process.

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