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CNN Live Event/Special

Hearings on Ageism

Aired September 04, 2002 - 09:40   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: We go straight to Washington right now, where Doris Roberts, the very famous actress indeed, is testifying about aging.
DORIS ROBERTS, ACTRESS: We have not, however, changed our attitudes about aging or address the disabling myths that disempower us. I would like the word "old" to be stricken from our vocabulary, and replaced with the word "older." My contemporaries and I are denigrated as old -- old coots, old fogies, old codgers, old geezers, old hags, old timers and old farts.

In truth, the minute you are born, you are getting older. And the later years can be some of life's most productive and creative. For the last 100 years, the average age of the Nobel Prize winner is 65. Frank Gary designed Seattle's hip new rock museum at the age of 70. Georgia O'Keefe was productive way into her 80s. Adds to the list Hitchcock, Dickens, Bernstein, Fossey, Wright, Mattese (ph), Picasso and Einstein, just to mention a few people who produced some of their best work when they would be considered over the hill by current standards.

The entertainment industry, these image makers, are the worst perpetrators of this bigotry. We must change the negative stereotypes of aging that exists in the media. And when I was a young woman, some of the most powerful and popular actresses were women way in their 40s, women such as Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Katherine Hepburn and Barbara Stammern (ph), who continue to work, getting better and better in their craft as they got older.

And many of my friends, talented actresses, in their 40 to 60- year-old range, are forced to live on unemployment or welfare because the scarcity of roles for women in that age bracket. A Screen Actor Guilds employment survey show there are three times as many roles for women under 40 as there are for women 40 years old, and older. Even though 42 percent of Americans are older than 40. This is why some of my spectacularly talented actresses friends have been force into humiliating positions of borrowing money to just meet their mortgage payments and health insurance, or begging me to see if there is a tiny part on "Everybody Loves Raymond."

It also explains why younger an younger actresses are visiting plastic surgeons. Actresses in their 20s are getting Botox injections to prevent wrinkles from forming. Women start getting tummy tucks and facelifts in their 30s to forestall the day when the phone stops ringing.

When a woman hit the age of 40 in Hollywood, executives think she is too old. Well, I've got news for them. I've been fortunate to be one of a handful of actresses who has continued to work throughout my career, but it's not been easy. When I was in my 40s, I heard of a great part on a new series called "Remmington Steele" but I wasn't considered for it, because I was thought to be too old. And because I was very persistent and knew the casting director, I read for it and I got it.

The roles for women my age frequently show seniors in insulting and degrading ways. They make cartoons of the elderly. I recently turned down a role in a movie in order for me to play a horny grandmother who spewed fowl language, exposed herself and chased after young boys. Well, I turned that one down. But I know someone who took that part.

There is a coalition to protect the way every other group is depicted in the media. But no one protects the image of the elderly. Hollywood clearly is clueless when it comes to understanding today's seniors. They are blind to the advances in medicine and self care, and the increases in personal income have made us a force to be reckoned with and a market to be exploited. I mean 20 years ago, it was accurate to show a senior coming in for a checkup dragging his oxygen tank.

Today, he would be dragging his golf clubs. Twenty years...

ZAHN: There you have it, the Emmy Award-winning actress, Doris Roberts, in a spirited defense of the elderly and how she feels they are discriminated against today in appearing before the special committee on ageism in the media, and marketing. I think she probably repeated every single horrible phrase you could say about someone who is old.