Older women strut their stuff on screen


I didn't buy the hype last summer that Hollywood was finally discovering the sex appeal of older actresses.

"It's about time movie-makers, who blithely pair older leading men with twentysomething actresses, got with the program," People magazine chided in a cover story.

"Some 21 million American women, who thanks to diet and exercise look and feel better than their forerunners, are now in their 40s, and they're eager to see the fullness of their lives reflected on screen."

Piffle! Hollywood will always like young flesh.

But I figured I'd ask the Colette of prime time, David E. Kelley, who has created a galaxy of smart, sexy female characters on his TV shows The Practice and Ally McBeal.

"Some say I get into the minds of women," Kelley says drily. "Others say I'm out of my mind."

The writer-producer has been on top of a lot of trends about women. The scary-thin trend, with his actresses Calista Flockhart and Lara Flynn Boyle. The fat-can-be-sexy trend, with Camryn Manheim of The Practice. The over-40-can-be-sultry trend with his luminous wife, Michelle Pfeiffer.

And now, the younger-men-can-too-find-older-women-hot trend. The boyish wonder of TV has been writing steamy tangles between December women and May men.

Not, says the 43-year-old, drawn from personal experience. "The closest I came to a May-December romance was as a teenager in a movie theatre when I saw The Summer of '42 with that old, old woman, Jennifer O'Neill," he says. "What was she, 28?

"For me, sexiness has always been as much mental as physical. If women can exude sexuality at 40, it's irrelevant to me if they do not have 20-year-old hard bodies."

He began three seasons ago on Ally with Dyan Cannon as Whipper, a judge dating Fish, the young law partner whose fetish is neck wattles. This year Farrah Fawcett did a guest shot as a sizzling client who kissed her young lawyer, Billy.

Over at the more intense Boston law firm in The Practice, Holland Taylor won an Emmy last year playing Roberta Kittleson, another sexually charged judge who can turn law clerks to jelly just by looking at them. She has been dating the younger lawyer Jimmy Berluti, and even had a semi-nude scene.

"I only wish they had shown me completely naked," Taylor says. "How hot would that have been?"

Unlike actresses such as Rene Russo and Kim Basinger, who look eerily the way they did at 30, Taylor "cooks", as she puts it, while looking her age.

"I'm 56 - I would commit an axe murder before I'd lie about my age," she says, adding that she and her friends in their 40s and 50s are "sexually active in a significant and profound way, much more so than my friends in their 20s and 30s".

Kelley recalls seeing Taylor in the film One Fine Day, playing Pfeiffer's mother: "There was a scene where Holland expressed her own animalistic intent toward George Clooney, and I thought, yeah, she's sexy. She could give that daughter some competition."

Taylor and Cannon, both single, say they date younger men and get fan mail from lustful young men - and admiring women.

"I have women following me to the bathroom, thanking me for inspiring them," Cannon says.

The 62-year-old actress, who was once married to a much older Cary Grant, now reverses the roles.

"Young men adore me," she says, with her trilling laugh. "I was just on the phone with my niece who turned 20.

"She said she would never date a younger man. I said: 'Just wait, you'll change your mind.'"

Taylor said she had a serious romance last year with a man 20 years younger that "blew apart" because she was crimped by convention.

"You think, 'It can't work, our lives won't fit,'" she says. "Then, you have a sunburst of revelation that all of that is untrue.

"Women can be glorious after their youthful jigglyness. Simone Signoret looked like the side of an old barn in Normandy, but drop-dead sexy.

"If I had Helen Mirren's bosom, I would be the happiest woman in the world."

I tell Kelley that his wife once said that, given Hollywood biases, her career would be over by the time her daughter hit kindergarten.

"She says that to me, too," he laughs. "And I say: 'Yeah, yeah.'"

The New York Times

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