Informant: “And then the last story is supposedly from Tallulah Bankhead who was in a play with a fairly snippy young actress who was basically telling her that she was old and irrelevant and that the world belonged to the young. At to which Mrs. Bankhead replied: ‘Honey, I can out act you and not even be on the stage.’ And the next night, in one of the scenes there was a party scene and prior to Mrs. Bankhead’s exit she was blocked* to put down a champagne glass on an end table as she exited. And she put her glass down and she set her glass so that it was like this, slightly more than half off the table and then she made her exit. And over the course of the scene the audience became aware miraculously balancing glass on the edge of the table and everyone was wondering when it would fall, and murmurs and rustlings were going through the audience. And then at the end of the scene when the stage crew struck* the glass they discovered a little piece of toupee tape under one edge of it to keep it from falling over.”
My informant’s story reflects an unfortunate custom that is prevalent in Hollywood, which is that the entertainment industry discriminates against people of an older age. An aspect of the entertainment industry is escapism, and there is a desire to create a beautiful world in their films in which the audience can escape into and forget the troubles in their lives momentarily. In the entertainment industry’s desire to do this, there has been too much emphasis put on young beauty and the sensuality that comes with it. Therefore in this drive to create sensuality in films, older actors often have a harder time getting casted for production roles. This has created a stereotype that older actors are not as important as their younger colleagues.
My informant heard this story from one of his colleagues at USC. The popularity of this story suggests that the audience of this tale is revolting against the idea that only young actors are good actors. This change in values of the entertainment industry can be seen in the currently popularity of actress Betty White who is 90 years old. People today do not respond as well to the idea of a sensual Hollywood than they had in the past, which is part of a shift in cultural values that rejects the notion that beauty is only skin deep. Thus the custom of shunning older actors is an idea that is currently changing, which reflects a more accepting Hollywood when it comes to age.
My informant was born in 1961, Connecticut. He has more than 30 years of experience in theater and has worked on over hundreds of productions. He continues to work on theater productions today, and serves as the associate professor of theater practice and technical direction at the University of Southern California. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.
*Blocked: The past tense of a term used in theater which means that an action has been planned. When an actor moves on stage, their actions have been rehearsed prior to the performance and planned or ‘blocked’ in rehearsal.
*Stuck: The past tense of a term used in theater which means that a prop or object is being removed from stage. At the end of every performance or during intermission, stage hands remove or ‘strike’ props or furniture that has been left on stage in preparation for the next performance.