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2:16 pm
Sat May 31, 2014

In Hollywood, 50 Is The New 80: What Happens When 'It Girls' Get Old

Originally published on Sat May 31, 2014 8:56 pm

There's no shortage of "it girls" in Hollywood — there's 31-year-old Lupita Nyongo, 24-year-old Jennifer Lawrence, 21-year-old Shailene Woodley, and even 16-year-old Elle Fanning. But what will become of their careers when they're older?

The industry is notoriously young; acting roles for women often dry up by the time they're 40. And in her new book I See You Made an Effort, Annabelle Gurwitch shares "compliments, indiginities, and survival stories" from the other side of 50.

"I'm 52, which is actually 82 in actress years," she says. "Being a woman over 50 in Hollywood I could commit any crime with impunity, because I'm completely invisible."

In the book — which features a photo of frilly granny panties on the cover — Gurwitch writes about things many women her age can relate to:

"I'm going through menopause while my son is going through puberty," she laments. "He has too many hormones, I don't have any hormones. He's mad at me, I'm mad at the world. It's clash of hormones."

She complains about reading glasses and those pesky chin hairs. She worries about getting tracked down by AARP and receiving their complimentary pill container. ("I really want to use it, but I'm afraid it's like a libido killer," she says.)

At the home she shares with her son and husband, Gurwitch admits she's completely unaware of who the newest "it" girl may be. Then again, she says her book is not for younger generations.

"If you tell people in their 20s about anything I'm writing about in this book, they can't hear it. It's like a high-pitched dog whistle. Only people over 40 can hear," she says.

Actress Amy Brennamen is a longtime friend who starred in NYPD Blue and Judging Amy, and is currently on the HBO drama The Leftovers. Brennamen is turning 50, and, like Gurwitch, she says she's learned to produce her own interesting work.

"It was a joke to me that Hollywood would provide me with a great role. So I created it, with Judging Amy," she says. "I mean, somebody who's funny and messed up and sexual and smart. Let's just see if we can do it."

These days, Gurwitch finds herself having to audition for grandmother roles, and she aspires to play what she calls "forgettable, expositional roles," like judges and generals, that male actors with craggy faces get.

"Maybe one day I will get to be in a uniform saying 'Mr. President, there's been an incident in sector 14,'" Gurwitch says.

When she started, fresh out of N.Y.U., Gurwitch was cast as a 14-year-old Holocaust survivor. From avant garde theater and off-Broadway, she started getting TV roles.

"I was Betty White's secretary, I was Candice Bergen's secretary, Treat William's secretary," she recalls. "I played a lot of hookers on old shows like Miami Vice and The Equalizer."

Gurwitch graduated to playing attorneys on Boston Legal and Dexter. For seven years, she co-hosted the TBS show Dinner and a Movie. She was hoping for a big break in a Woody Allen play, but "saw that entire dream crumble" when she got fired from the play.

She turned the experience into a book and a documentary about lots of people getting canned, cancelled, downsized and dismissed. In her new book, Gurwitch writes about being what she calls "Hollywood adjacent" — not only because she once lived next door to George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, but also because she's worked with so many actors who are now household names:

"I live in the shadow of the industry that I once toiled in," she says.

Gurwitch says it's a youth-obsessed industry, that only has room for a few older actresses.

"It's just like corporate America, right?" she explains. "So Meryl Streep is like a CEO, [or] Julianne Moore. So you do have some women headlining things, then everything else underneath that. ... [The roles for women include] just a couple of lines and they don't want to pay you anything. So a lot of people have just dropped out of the industry."

Gurwitch says supporting roles are few and far between for older actresses on film and in television. While her own experience has been in Hollywood, Gurwitch says a lot of her readers tell her they can relate.

"It is a business where you get to be a certain age having not attained a level of celebrity that others have," she says. "People will actually say things to me like: 'What happened to you? I really thought you were gonna be something.'"

Writing about all this may be the best revenge. Gurwitch's book I See You Made An Effort is now on the New York Times bestsellers list.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ARUN RATH, HOST:

The latest Hollywood it-girl, depending on who you ask, is 31-year-old Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o or 24-year-old Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence. Twenty one-year-old Shailene Woodley is an it-girl, so is Elle Fanning, who's only 16. But what will become of their careers when they're older? The industry is notoriously young. Acting roles for women often dry up by the time they're 40. NPR's Mandalit del Barco met up with one actress, who's written a hilarious new book about turning 50.

MANDELIT DEL BARCO: We meet Annabelle Gurwitch at a hip coffee shop in the Los Velas neighborhood of Los Angeles.

ANNABELLE GURWITCH: I'm 52, which is actually 82 in actress years. Being a woman over 50 in Hollywood, I could commit any crime with impunity because I'm completely invisible.

DEL BARCO: Gurwitch's new book is titled "I See You Made An Effort: Compliments, Indignities And Survival Stories From The Edge Of 50." The cover features a photo of frilly granny panties. Gurwitch writes about things many people her age can relate to.

GURWITCH: I am going through menopause while my son is going through puberty. He has too many hormones. I don't have any hormones. He's mad at me. I'm mad at the world, you know. It's like clash of the hormones.

DEL BARCO: She complains about reading glasses and tweezers for those pesky chin hairs. She worries about getting tracked down by the AARP and receiving their complementary pill container.

GURWITCH: I really want to use it, but I'm afraid. It's like a libido killer.

DEL BARCO: At the home she shares with her son and husband, Gurwitch admits she's completely unaware of who the newest it-girl may be, but, then again, she says her book is not for younger generations.

GURWITCH: If you tell people in their 20s about anything I'm writing about in this book, they can't hear it. It's like a high pitched dog whistle - only people over 40 can hear.

AMY BRENNEMAN: I know she's the funniest person ever.

DEL BARCO: Actress Amy Brenneman is a long-time friend who starred in "NYPD Blue" and "Judging Amy" and is currently on the HBO drama "The Leftovers." Brenneman reads an expert from her friend's book - a chapter titled "Marauding Through The Middle Ages."

BRENNEMAN: (Reading) Comparing where you were in your career at 30 to where you are in your career at 50 is not advisable in any profession. But it's especially a bad idea when it's midnight, and you're emailing pictures to a Hollywood casting director to prove that you can easily pass for a middle-aged woman from the Middle Ages.

DEL BARCO: Brenneman is turning 50, and, like Gurwitch, she says she's learned to produce her own interesting work.

BRENNEMAN: It was a joke to me that Hollywood would provide me with a great role. And so I created it with "Judging Amy." I mean, somebody who's funny and messed up and sexual and smart - like, let's just see if we can do it.

DEL BARCO: These days, Annabelle Gurwitch finds herself having to audition for grandmother roles, and she aspires to play what she calls forgettable, expositional roles like judges and generals that male actors with craggy faces get.

GURWITCH: So maybe one day, I will get to be in a uniform saying Mr. President, there's been an incident in sector 14.

DEL BARCO: When she started, fresh out of NYU, Gurwitch was cast as a 14-year-old Holocaust survivor. From avant-garde theater and Off Broadway, she started getting TV roles.

GURWITCH: I was Betty White's secretary. I was Candace Bergen's secretary, Treat William's secretary. I played a lot of hookers. On old shows like "Miami Vice" and "The Equalizer," I was hookers.

DEL BARCO: Gurwitch graduated to playing attorneys on "Boston Legal" and "Dexter." For seven years, she cohosted the TBS show "Dinner And A Movie." She was hoping for a big break in a Woody Allen play, but...

GURWITCH: I saw that entire dream crumble when he said don't ever do that again - not even in another play. I thought, OK, this isn't going well.

DEL BARCO: So after Gurwitch got fired from the play, she turned the experience into a book and documentary about lots of people getting canned, canceled, downsized and dismissed. In her new book, Gurwitch writes about being what she calls Hollywood adjacent, not only because she once lived next door to George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, but also because she's worked with so many actors who are now household names.

GURWITCH: I live in the shadow of the industry that I once toiled in.

DEL BARCO: She says it's a youth-obsessed industry that only has room for a few older actresses.

GURWITCH: It's just like corporate America, right. So Meryl Streep is like a CEO. Julianne Moore - so you do have some more headlining things. And then everything else underneath for women is just a couple of lines, and they don't want to pay you anything. So a lot of people have dropped out of the industry.

DEL BARCO: Gurwitch says supporting roles are few and far between for older actresses on film and in television. While her own experience has been in Hollywood, Gurwitch says a lot of her readers tell her they can relate.

GURWITCH: You know, it is a business where, where you get to be a certain age, having not obtained a level of celebrity that others have, people will actually say to me things like what happened to you? I thought you were really going to be something.

DEL BARCO: Writing about all this may be the best revenge. Annabelle Gurwitch's book "I See You Made An Effort" is now on the New York Times Bestsellers List. Mandalit del Barco, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.