When Hollywood Ageism Hits Close to Home


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Christoph Niemann

For years, a college friend (in her 50s) has forbidden me from telling anyone we went to school together. Since moving to Hollywood, she deducted 10 years from her age (some of it with cosmetic surgery) to preserve her writing career, she claims. She is afraid that my salt-and-pepper hair will “bust” her. Lately, she has been mostly out of touch. But the implication that I look so much older than her has rankled for years. When I confided my hurt feelings to her, she was unapologetic. Blame the industry and ageism, she said, not her. Do I have a right to feel hurt?

ANONYMOUS

Age, as fantasists have long told us, is just a number. But patterns of numbers have meaning. If 50-year-old leading men routinely win the hearts of 30-year-old actresses in Hollywood films (as demonstrated by a totally nonscientific survey of movies watched on a recent cross-country flight), what happens to 50-year-old women? Who knows if this invisibility also pertains to writers? In any event, your friend is living in never-never land: It takes about three minutes to learn anyone’s age these days.

As for your hurt feelings, they seem reasonable. Personally, I would be less hurt by her assessment of my looks (until I inspected her cosmetic surgery, anyway) than by her shame at associating with me. Still, you have shared your honest feelings, and she rejected them. If you are committed to this friendship, I would never dissuade you from trying again. But as my (brutally efficient) nana used to say: “No use watering dead flowers.” And don’t out her as 50-something. Two wrongs. …

Release the Date?

I am the eldest of five adult children. While packing up the family home after our father died (our mother predeceased him), I came across a copy of my parents’ marriage certificate. They celebrated their anniversary on Jan. 12, so I was surprised to see the actual date was Jan. 6. But I was even more surprised to see the year: 1962 — after the first three children were born. I’m smiling just writing this. Good on them! Question: Should I tell my siblings?

K. J.

Pay dirt! As reward for the dreary labor of clearing out the family digs, you were given a morsel that will enliven family gatherings for years to come. Was there a ceremony years before the state certificate was issued? Did they take sly pleasure in their secret? Was a Montague-and-Capulet drama afoot? Your parents have underscored the wonderful mystery of mankind, even for folks we think we know inside out.

Absolutely share this tidbit with your siblings. You are one of five equals; keep it that way. Your parents had more than 50 years to destroy this public document if they wanted to. And you probably couldn’t stop yourself from telling your brothers and sisters even if you tried. (I couldn’t.)

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