Kim Novak, Liza Minnelli, and June Squibb at the Oscars: How Hollywood treats aging actresses.

Look, babies. Nothing to be frightened of. This is how we grow old gracefully. I give you Gladys Cooper. From bombshell of the teens to Henry Higgins’s mother in “My Fair Lady” (with one short stop in middle-age in between).

gladys coopermiddle aged gladys cooperNPG x40068; Dame Gladys Cooper as Mrs Higgins in 'My Fair Lady' by Cecil BeatonNPG x40071; Dame Gladys Cooper as Mrs Higgin's in 'My Fair Lady' by Cecil Beaton

The whole furor over various older actress at the Academy Awards has got me steamed. This Slate article is an excellent commentary. And I might add (thank you, Amanda Hess) that the pressures to appear young (I think “taut” is actually a better term, but…) are almost impossible to ignore. I might even further suggest that almost ALL the women mentioned, with the notable exception of Ms. Squibb, have had subtle work done, while Sandy B. (who I adore, and if my face were projected 20 ft. tall I’d do it to) has had major work done.

So how ought an actress age? Throughout the evening, 67-year-old Sally Field (who appeared as a presenter) and 64-year-old Meryl Streep (nominated for August: Osage County) were compared favorably to Minnelli and Novak for daring to age “gracefully” and “naturally.” But we don’t know what Streep and Field do to maintain their looks—all we know is that they have successfully navigated Hollywood’s dual requirement to look amazing post-60 while never signaling that they’ve worked at it. That means avoiding obvious plastic surgery, but it can also mean spending your life investing in the habits, trainers, diets, creams, and treatments that add up to a “natural” look in old age. (Dodging illness and disability—Novak survived breast cancer in 2010—surely doesn’t hurt.)

Kim Novak, Liza Minnelli, and June Squibb at the Oscars: How Hollywood treats aging actresses..


  1. George Kaplan

    Feh, Rivers! Her attempts to make those who *don’t* have cosmetic surgery appear to be cowards when they are, in truth, *strong* is pretty pathetic. Not funny but sad.
    Thank you for this piece, Vickie, and for the link to Slate. Excellent and thought-provoking! If parts of the culture weren’t so silly and moronic and “youth”-obsessed then the pressure to go under the knife or laser repeatedly (and often to detriment) would not be so overwhelming. I think those people purely *ridiculing* Ms Novak (particularly considering her various health problems and the fact she’s *81*!) instead of taking into account all the factors involved are shameful. Although – not being perfect – Liza with a “Z”‘s sad and doomed attempts to look Thirty make me cringe…

  2. Discussing this very issue today with my hairdresser, early 30’s male, who is investigating laser treatment already for rejuvenating the face . . . . My bottom line, for what it’s worth, the once stunning Miss Novak fell into bad surgical hands early on in the piece, when plastic surgery was drastic. Same for poor Liza and we all know that what goes up eventually has to come down which is why earlier surgeries require further pick-ups down the years and counting. Meryl and Sally are younger (I think, I’m too lazy and tired to google who came first etc etc) and possibly going the gently, gently treatment without the radical surgery of yore. Where that puts Melanie Griffith I don’t know but at least Joan Rivers has always been extremely upfront about her many dates with the knives, and manages to pull it off without the camera bouncing back to the back of the room.

    • I think one of the problems is that the quest for youth can be never ending (please caution your hairdresser) and can result in looking like an android in later years. You are right, gently, gently, and then stop.

  3. George Kaplan

    “…manages to pull it off without the camera bouncing to the back of the room”, well, I guess that’s a matter of opinion, either that or the cameras are nailed down… *winks* Ms Rivers arguably had no choice to be upfront about it unless she claimed her parents were Mattel Toys! Ouch!

      • Joan, never a pretty face, has always been up front about not being a classic beauty, and love or her or loathe her, she has managed to keep that mouth of hers working her schtick. She works the stage at her age like a dream, to the point where it’s not about the looks but all about her energy. She would die to see me with me all my lines etc because I am reserving my surgical energies for involuntary (life-saving) procedures but they are her issues, not mine. We laugh, we cry. Oh, and Kim Novak will always be beautiful.

        Please know dear Vicki, I cautioned my hairdresser with what little energy I had left after all the waiting, consultation, washing, waiting . . . and happy “winks” to Mr Kaplan!

  4. I really appreciate your take on this. The Slate article is accurate, righteously and deservedly bitter. But I particularly appreciate bloggers like yourself who talk about the pressures to stay “taut” with both realism and empathy. If I was Sandy B. I’d do it too, too.

    • It’s a bizarre situation where the norm is based on something that is completely artificial, and you’re damned no matter what you do. I understand more and more why Ms. Garbo chucked it all and left town.

  5. Jen

    “…the norm is based on something that is completely artificial…”


    It is sad, really. I think many of us really feel for these stars, because even those of us not IN Hollywood can see and understand the pressure to remain flawless. Yet the ones demanding perfection then attack women, especially, for trying to attain and maintain it however they can.

    Of course, to attack someone like Kim Novak is just cruel. Some people are savages at heart; things like this bring it to the surface, with social media & the like merely serving to spotlight it.

  6. Thanks for this. I feel badly for people in Hollywood who have to face such pressure to look young if they want to keep working there.

    Gladys Cooper truly looks fab in ALL those photos.

    • What I love about Gladys Cooper is that she looks human, cosmetic surgery that make us look robotic is insane. And, the irony is after all the pain and downtime from surgery people don’t look younger, they just look altered.

  7. Well written and thought-provoking article, and thank you for highlighting Gladys Cooper, who looks wonderful!

    I myself am adamantly opposed to cosmetic surgery, which cruelly compounds the predicament of women worldwide who are relentlessly pressured into self-loathing by the “need” to appear ever-young.

    And so I raise you Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, and Rachel Weisz, founders of the unofficial “Anti-Cosmetic Surgery League” – those are brave and admirable (and very beautiful) ladies!

    • “Women who wear high heels daily might be signing up for more than a little foot pain. Habitual high-heel wearing can lead to changes in the calf muscle and tendons, according to a new study.

      So much so that these women actually experience discomfort when they walk around sans stilettos.”

      I know there’s a corollary here to plastic surgery… that could explain the cycle of multiple facelifts?

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