A SENIOR MOMENT- why aging in Hollywood and beyond is a gift
“I am having a senior moment” is a phrase often used by people as a witty way to justify being forgetful, an excuse for odd behavior. We all know that being forgetful, is one of the many things that are associated with getting older. But what if getting older was something to be celebrated instead?
As a movie and television producer, I receive many proposals for television shows. A few months back I met a lady, who is a successful “Bliss Coach” for women that are going through the emotional psychological and physical changes of middle age, and is also a first -generation Italian American. As a way of honoring her ancestors, specifically her “Nonna”, she came up with a concept of a reality series called “In Nonna’s Kitchen”. This was not going to be a traditional cooking show, but a celebration of the women, and men, who sacrificed much to cross the pond and make a life for themselves and for their family in the United States. Having a very strong bond myself with both my grandmothers, now deceased, I immediately was inspired to put a positive spin on aging.
Nonnas, or Abuelas, or Yayas, or Grandmas, depending on where they come from, boils down to a word that is associated with comfort, safety, family, heritage and a tradition, and homemade cooking. Sadly, thanks to the food ordering apps, the tradition of the gathering of family members to share a homemade meal, whose recipe originates from the places we came from and of our culture, is fading. Interestingly enough, in film and television, the image of the “Nonna”, the grandmother has also changed, opening new avenues of interpretation and approach to getting older. With the changing of times, we age differently, thanks to a more focused effort on exercise, spiritual introspection, expanded interests and some great beauty product. Being a senior today can be a fabulous label and journey.
Twenty plus years ago, one of the most popular shows on TV was THE GOLDEN GIRLS. Some of these actresses were barely in their mid 60s and we all watched the show religiously because in spite of the white hair, and their being retired, they certainly were not retired from life. We all laughed along their adventures and the rebellion of their seniority, as they continued to search for love and fun in their daily lives. Today, a man or a woman in their 60s, is fit enough to run marathons, can date with the same verve as a 30- year old and easily run a Fortune 500 Company, as ambitiously as a 20 -year old.
Ironically, Betty White, considered a “Senior” back then, in her 60s , while doing THE GOLDEN GIRLS, is acting as a 90 plus woman in HOT IN CLEVELAND and the show is no longer marketed as a show about ‘grandmothers’ but about women who rediscover themselves after moving from Los Angeles to Cleveland Ohio, where they are considered “hot” in spite of their ages (50s through 90s).
Today, the best show on TV, to celebrate those “senior moments”, that are no longer identified with memory loss or arthritis, is FRANKIE AND GRACE, starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. To me one of the best lines representing the message of the show is : “ I gained another pound today. But I think it’s a pound of knowledge”. With age, comes wisdom, and with wisdom come better choices in life, which makes life more rewarding and enjoyable.
For film, I can see how the perception of older men and women has changed by remembering one of the first movies about Seniors, back in the mid 80s, “COCOON”. Back then, once one becomes “older”, the first thing to do is to start planning on living in a Senior Community. Might as well be Leper’s Island! Why should someone older be confined in a community where the age is the admission prerequisite, waiting to die? Even back then, in the plot of “Cocoon” there was a subtle rebellion to that message that our lives are pretty much over past 60 years old. What if the saying “Downhill from here” becomes an actually an exhilarating ride where we get to truly remember with fondness who we have been, who we are and all the meaningful moments, considered passing time back then as we all thought we had plenty of time ahead of us, by living in the present ?
In ancient cultures the elderly were considered almost God like, because they would be the ones we would naturally go to gain insight wisdom and receive guidance. It’s time to come full circle, and to celebrate the third act of people’s lives and to look forward to ours. Today, these elderly as we call them, can finally walk around with hip clothes, dressed like us, they can start new business ventures, like us, they can find their soulmates to spend the rest of their days with, and deserve their place in society just like we do
Hollywood, that mirrors often and anticipates changes in our society, has found thankfully a new movie going audience, the middle aged and seniors that pay tickets to see themselves portrayed as deserving of a place in society creatures and entitled to have fun. That audience wants to be inspired, validated, accepted, and cherished. THE BOOK CLUB was one of those movies- where we had a chance to see four terrific actresses (Fonda, Keaton, Bergen, Steenburgen) find meaning and love and hope in their 60s and 70s.
Because of those movies, and because of those shows, I have even more admiration for the elderly. It is what they symbolize and what they stand for, not what they look like or what is written on their drivers’ license, that matters the most.
My two grandmothers were very different- from my father’s side, my grandmother Emma was a true “Nonna” as we see them when we think of the “ole country”. She was earthy, not fashionable. She was quiet, not extravagant. She was most happy standing by the side of my grandfather, perhaps even a step behind him, and that was okay by her. My maternal grandmother Kiveli was the opposite. With movie star looks and going to the beach in her 70s wearing a bikini, swimming laps like Esther Williams, her most favorite ritual was getting dressed up and dolled up for my grandfather, and her favorite activity was to host the most glamorous dinner parties.
I learned much from both. Their different approach to life and their being at peace with it, allowed me to get to know myself better and what I inherited from them. Now, when I see an elderly couple walk down the street hand in hand I wish I had seen what they have seen, because I am sure they saw much and survived much. I wish I would have the love they have, enduring and courageous because the generations before ours did not bail out of a marriage with the first relationship problem. And most of all I wish them silently an easy rest of their days, filled with “Senior Moments” not defined by old age, but joyful, peaceful and connected moments that take seniority over the aches and pains of a worn out body, so they can keep teaching us what they know and they can make us feel, even for a little while, like coming home, because our blood is from their blood and our roots are from theirs and our spirit is renewed with their presence as we get to remember how precious life is and to cherish everything in it.
As for myself, I know that when I get there, I plan to be one of those grandmothers in the You Tube videos that keeps dancing as if time does not truly exist. Because age after all, is just a number and an attitude.