Jul 31, 2009
The announcement of Bea Arthur’s death today made me think about actresses that we think of as kind of grandmotherly types. Obviously, they didn’t always look like nanas. Here are five ladies that we know and love(d) for their portrayal of older women, but I think the pictures will make you see them in a different light. They made me see them in a different light, at least!
Betty White has been on the screen – small and silver – since 1945 when she had a part in Time to Kill, a George Reeves movie. But she was modeling before that, which I totally believe looking at that picture. Who knew Betty White was such a stunner? By the mid-50s she had her own sitcom called Life With Elizabeth (clip below) and ever since then she’s been in high demand, starring in shows such as Date with the Angels, Mary Tyler Moore, The Betty White Show, Mama’s Family, and, of course, Golden Girls. Her latest work is The Proposal, a movie due to be released in June starring Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock.
Anyone who associates Angela Lansbury with Jessica Fletcher – and let’s face it, who doesn’t? – is probably pretty shocked by how gorgeous she was in her younger days. I know I was. She and her mother and brother moved to L.A. in the early ’40s when her mother, actress Moyna Macgill, decided to seek work there. A former resident of England, Angela’s mother often held parties and get-togethers for British actors and actresses who had come to L.A. to make it big just like she had. It was at one of these little shindigs that she met an actor who introduced her to a casting director who ended up putting Angela in The Picture of Dorian Gray and Gaslight. Both performances earned her Oscar nominations, so Angela was a sought-after actress right from her debut in Hollywood. Since then she’s done everything from playing a singing baker who specializes in people pies (Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd) to voicing an animated tea pot (Mrs. Potts in Beauty and the Beast. And there’s obviously her Murder She Wrote streak – 12 Emmy noms in as many years. The picture is from 1943’s Samson and Delilah, which starred Hedy Lamarr. She would have been 18 or 19 at the time.
I’ve only ever known Jessica Tandy for her roles as elderly women – Fried Green Tomatoes and Driving Miss Daisy to be exact. I love Alfred Hitchcock films and have been enjoying The Birds for years without realizing that she played Lydia Brenner – I didn’t recognize her at all. But I really didn’t recognize her in this amazing picture from Life magazine. She was only 16 when she started acting in London, starting her career out with the likes of Laurence Olivier. But when she and actor Jack Hawkins divorced, she picked up and moved to the U.S. to pursue a career there instead. She won a Tony for A Streetcar Named Desire in 1948, but lost the movie role to Vivien Leigh. Convinced her movie career wasn’t really going to pan out, she mostly stuck to Broadway for the next 30 years or so (except for couple of movies here and there, like The Birds). She returned to movies in the ’80s and started working with her husband, Hume Cronyn. She won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1989 for playing Miss Daisy Werthan – she was 80 at the time, making her the oldest actress to ever win an Oscar. She was also nominated for Fried Green Tomatoes in 1991 but was beaten by Mercedes Ruehl for The Fisher King. Jessica died in 1994 at the age of 85.
These days, 98-year-old Gloria Stuart is best known for playing the older version of Rose in 1997’s Titanic, but she made her movie debut more than 60 years earlier. She graduated from Santa Monica High School in 1927 and immediately took up at the Pasadena Playhouse, where she was “discovered.” She was selected as a WAMPAS (Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers) Baby Star in 1932 along with Ginger Rogers. She played Flora Cranley opposite Claude Rains in The Invisible Man (and received top billing!) and was a founding member of the Screen Actors Guild. By the end of the ’30s she had been in more than 40 films and was ready for a break; she took up oil painting and was good enough to book one-woman shows in galleries in New York. Gloria didn’t come back to the industry until the 1975 made-for-TV movie The Legend of Lizzie Borden – the one with Elizabeth Montgomery as Lizzie. It wasn’t until she played Rose in Titanic, though, that she really came back to light as an actress. She became the oldest person to ever be nominated for a non-honorary Oscar, but she lost out to Kim Basinger for L.A. Confidential. She’s still around today and is good friends with Olivia de Havilland – she, Oliva, Joan Fontaine, Shirley Temple, Maureen O’Hara, Deanna Durbin and Luise Rainer are the last of the big female stars from the ’30s.
We can’t forget the other surviving Golden Girl, Miss Blanche Devereaux herself. Rue hails from Healdton, Oklahoma, and headed to New York to make her name on Broadway after she graduated from the University of Tulsa in 1957. She starred in a couple of B movies during the ’60s but really gained notoriety as Caroline Johnson on Another World in 1970. She and Bea Arthur first teamed up in 1972 on Maude and was on the first few seasons of Mama’s Family with Betty White, the Girls were all familiar with one another by the time Golden Girls rolled around in 1985. She’s still quite active today, appearing in various Broadway roles and TV guest spots. And she’s still pretty!