Haggard In Hollywood

Written by Catherine Seipp on . Posted in Breaking News, Posts.



“Oh,
come on,” I said.


“Okay,”
she snapped, “name one you’ve seen lately.”


She had
me there; I thought for several moments and couldn’t. She smiled grimly
and said: “Small film parts they used to call someone like me for, now
they call Frances Fisher. Oscar-winning actresses are duking it out with each
other for 20 minutes on screen.”


This poisonous
atmosphere has a pernicious way of spreading beyond performers, which is why
I’m saving up to get rid of my eyebags. If I don’t, I can see myself
starting to lose work. You think I’m being paranoid? Maybe so. But really,
who wants a 40-year-old freelance writer? I can’t say I would. God knows
it’s appalling enough just being one.


A few years
ago I interviewed Jerry Seinfeld and asked if he thought women have a harder
time in New York or Los Angeles. “Los Angeles,” he said, “because
women are commodities here.” The thing about interviewing celebrities is
that every now and then they say something not terribly original that nevertheless
sticks in your mind forever as piercingly true. Probably that’s just the
fame factor working, but thus spake Seinfeld and who am I to argue? Plus, he
was very charming to me during the interview. My eyebags were smaller then.


Not that
men always have it easy here, especially men who have enjoyed an exceptionally
handsome youth. Lance Loud came over to have lunch and prune my lime tree last
week, and he recounted a traumatic experience he’d had while attending
a movie premiere in Westwood recently. “Are you a celebrity?” some
UCLA students standing on the sidelines asked. Actually, Lance is sort
of a celebrity. He couldn’t use “LanceLoud” as his AOL moniker
because it was already taken by some pop culture parasite, and there’s
a band in San Francisco who’ve named themselves the Loud Family. But he
just joked good-naturedly, “Oh, sure, I’m a big celebrity.”


“Yeah,
right, Grandpa!” the students said rudely.


Still, it’s
worse for women. My friend Sandra Tsing Loh just finished a four-part radio
commentary about her own excess undereye luggage in which she noted that there
are only two jobs where eyebags don’t count against you: President of the
United States and Vulcan crew member on the Starship Enterprise. A few
months ago I accompanied her on an eyebag research expedition to a plastic surgeon.
We leafed through a thick binder of the surgeon’s work in the waiting room
and were shocked to see how many girls (and even a few guys) in their 20s were
getting this done. The difference was exquisitely subtle. Sometimes the “bags”
in the pre-op photos looked more like slightly heavy circles.


“You’re
Persian!” Sandra yelled to the pictures of one young patient. “Get
over it!”


A week later,
however, she’d snapped up one of the surgeon’s few available spots
and was quickly eyebag free. Personally, I didn’t think she’d had
a huge problem to begin with, but Sandra said she was beginning to see martial
arts star Sammo Hung whenever she looked in the mirror. If that had been merely
my situation probably I would have joined her then under the laser. But since
I’m a few years older and a few shades paler, not only do I see Sammo Hung
under my eyes, but an apparition of Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi is beginning
to form on top. So my operation would be twice as expensive. As I said, I’m
saving up.


Part of
my trouble is that, although I live in a humble, barrio-adjacent neighborhood,
I’m often over on the moneyed west side of town and find myself surrounded
by women I know are several years my senior who have begun to appear,
mysteriously and unfairly, markedly younger. The rich, they are different. Because
they can afford to be surgically altered.


Here in
Silverlake, it’s easier to look relatively good. The day after I’d
been to a party in Beverly Hills I went to a meeting at my daughter’s school
and felt fairly dewy fresh compared to the other parents. I scrutinized everyone
around the table as the meeting droned on: eyebags…eyebags…

jowls…big mole…eyebags…

After you’ve been among your cosmetically improved betters, you stare at
ordinary people and think, why don’t they just get rid of that?


On my right,
the principal had arranged his features into an expression of long-suffering
martyrdom as he doodled little pictures of airplanes and daisies on a notepad.
Hard to tell if he’s older or younger than I am, since he started the school
year at around 300 pounds and has since gained 80 more. So eyebags really aren’t
his problem.


After my
conversation with the over-40 actress at the bus stop I took the dog for our
usual morning hike through the Silverlake hills. On my route is a house where
the upcoming Paramount feature The Next Best Thing was on location for
a couple of weeks this summer. In the film Madonna gets impregnated by her gay
best friend, Rupert Everett, after a night of drunken abandon. The production
has also been in the news because Madonna’s entourage reportedly has been
addressing her as “Hatsumomo” on the set; apparently, Madonna is campaigning
to be cast as a geisha in the film version of Memoirs of a Geisha, and
this helps her keep a positive attitude.


The street
was congested that day because they were shooting exterior scenes in front of
the house, but dog-walkers and neighbors were allowed through. I picked my way
carefully over the lighting cables and was lost in thought about the usual–how
many good years I have left, with eyebags and without–when a production
assistant came running after me.


“Excuse
me!” she yelled, huffing and puffing to catch up. “But would you be
an extra in our movie?”


“Well…”
I really had a lot to do that day.


“Oh,
please!” she insisted. “The assistant director told me to catch you
because of your cute little outfit and your cute little dog.” I was wearing
green socks, yellow leggings and a red t-shirt–apparently this fit in with
their color scheme–but what got me was the flattery about my dog. I did
like the idea of seeing Linda immortalized on screen. Also, Madonna is exactly
my age and therefore I’ve watched her closely over the years. My mother
used to do the same thing with Angie Dickinson in the 70s, tuning in to Police
Woman
every week just to keep tabs on Angie’s figure. I was curious
to see how my age doppelganger looked in real life.


By the time
they called me to the set my daughter was back from camp, so she played with
Madonna’s two-and-a-half-year-old and wrote in her notebook as Linda and
I, “background action,” walked down the street for about 15 takes
while Madonna acted out a fight with her boyfriend in the driveway. This scene
is what instigates the crying-on-the-shoulder, rebound sex with Rupert Everett.


“I
don’t love you! I never did! Take another lap around your self-discovery
track!” Michael Vartan as the caddish boyfriend yelled at Madonna as Linda
and I walked by, over and over, with me (as directed) doing a little nosy neighbor
stare each time. One of the producers whispered to my daughter explanations
about what was going on as she watched. Later I saw she’d copied down the
dialogue in her notebook with this addendum: “Extra word: ‘Asshole.’
Man said, Madonna added word because she’s a really good actress.”


Like many
stars, Madonna is remarkably tiny in real life. “She’s your
age?” said my daughter, shocked. “She looks like she’s in her
20s!” No doubt about it, Madonna looked great, but I don’t think this
is just because she’s several inches shorter and many pounds lighter. Up
close, I would say that the weirdly serene expression she’s been wearing
ever since entering her spiritual phase is probably due to Botox. Plus her undereye
area is remarkably smooth. And of course, she stays out of the sun. Between
takes her muscular bodyguard hovered over her with a big umbrella, like a Nubian
slave.


Being a
big star, Madonna was standoffish, although she did say hello to my daughter
when her own little girl insisted on introducing her. Michael Vartan, who was
Drew Barrymore’s cute love interest in Never Been Kissed, was quite
friendly, asking my daughter and another 10-year-old girl standing around if
they’d liked that movie and happily giving them his autograph.


“Aren’t
you a bit young to be playing Madonna’s boyfriend?” I said, as he
signed their

notebooks.


He smiled
and shrugged. “I don’t write ’em!” he said tactfully.


I shouldn’t
have been so catty–blame it on the eyebags–because it’s refreshing
to see someone Madonna’s age working at all on screen. Hatsumomo, you go,
girl! There was talk a while ago that the success of The First Wives Club
would loosen things up for post-ingenue actresses, but that hasn’t happened.
First of all, remember that while the stars in that movie were all at least
50, the characters were in their (oh, sure) 40s. Still, it made enough money
that a sequel is in the works and so are a lot of knockoff projects. But this
being Hollywood, naturally there’s a nauseating twist.


A friend
of mine, a 48-year-old actress-turned-writer, got a lot of interest in a vaguely
First Wives-ish treatment she wrote, about three over-40 friends reentering
the dating world. But when she actually met with the producer, an over-40 woman
herself, the news wasn’t good. “These women cannot be in their 40s,”
the producer announced flatly. “They have to be 38.” Why? “Because
we have to believe they have a chance at a future life.”


And actually,
even 38 may not be young enough. Because then an executive said that the studio
was only interested in the project as a starring vehicle for Sandra Bullock.
And Sandra Bullock is…well, let’s see–either only 35 or only 31,
depending on which reports you believe. With true foresight, Bullock began fudging
her age several years ago, although she seems to have stopped, after Vanity
Fair
called her on it.


Not that
men are immune to this sort of thing. After Albert Brooks’ character’s
cri du coeur that he was a 40-year-old man in Mother a few years ago,
I couldn’t take my eyes off the then-49-year-old Brooks’ jowls. Still,
they have it easier, both on screen and off.


Some time
ago, my father and I were sitting on a bench outside a Los Angeles courtroom.
We’d just finished testifying for my ex-husband in his custody trial with
his #2 ex-wife. “She’s a horny broad,” my father remarked, about
the #2 ex-wife’s lawyer.


I could
feel a headache coming on. “Why do you say that?”


“Because
when she asked me a question I didn’t want to answer, I said, ‘Well,
you know, I’m 70 years old, and my memory isn’t quite what it used
to be.’” Technically this is true–he is 70, and his memory isn’t
quite what it used to be–but it’s still better than the memories of
99 percent of people half his age.


“Then
she stared at me and said, ‘Hmm, you look pretty good for 70.’”


I closed
my eyes, wishing I had a Tylenol. “Yeah, Dad, she wants your bod,”
I said. Obviously, she just wasn’t buying his Clintonian answer. But then
my eyes snapped open again with a sudden thought. That lawyer looked like she
was in her mid-50s. And the man shortage at that age being what it is… Probably,
I realized, she did want his bod. And why should he not think so, given
how Hollywood encourages this attitude? So far, he’s seen As Good As
It Gets
three times.


I could
see my future, and it wasn’t pretty. I think that’s when I started
my eyebag fund.


On the other
hand, there is hope on the horizon. I saw the actress mom at the bus stop the
other day and she was much more cheerful. She’d gotten some work, on the
tv show Star Trek: Voyager. There are roles for over-40 actresses after
all. “I spent all last week as a Klingon,” she said happily.


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