Monday, August 10, 2009

New Math

Here - just in case you weren't sure - we have film star Joan Crawford. In a photograph taken in 1956.

Looking at this photograph, keep in mind that there are still ten years or more left in which the worldwide media machine will, marveling, natter on with some level of sincerity about her "agelessness", her "enduring youthfulness."

She is 51.

Today, 51 is for pikers. At 51, actresses are expected to look pretty much like they did at 30. Michelle Pfeiffer is 51. "Youthful", here in the 21st century, is, give or take a couple of years, 70. Cher is youthful. Tina Turner is ageless. People make fun of Liza Minnelli for a certain amount of visible aging, and at 63, she could easily be 15 years younger than Joan, who here at least by 2009 standards could pass for 75.

What do you suppose has changed? Plastic surgery, of course, and all the routine little maintenance peels and pokes and plumpings recent advances have made possible. The overall quantities of nicotine and alcohol, both factors in speeding up the aging process, are likely down for today's average sexageneradiva. I can't help thinking, though, that an awful lot of it is attitude. Age, in Joan's world, was a subject for dread, for ignoring; today, we haven't quite got around to celebrating real aging, but we're at least entirely happy to welcome the idea that it can be almost indefinitely postponed.

Oh - yes, the hat. Oh, dear. I've seen Joan wearing some truly horrid headgear in the past, but this is the first I can recall that actually looks as if it were trying to escape ("maybe if I'm quiet enough, I can just slip off the back of her head and rappel down the shoulder veil-first..."). It's not so much a hat as some designer's idea of a punishment. Punishment, perhaps, for growing older, faster than she was meant to.

Looking into her eyes, you realize the saddest thing: whoever else was taken in by the legend of her eternal youth (or rather, that very different concept, youthfulness), Joan is not among them. She knows, no one more, how much work goes into being Joan Crawford. Even she wonders, from time to time, if it's worth it.


  1. i just wrote an autobiography(!) here & it didn't stick! WAAAAAAA!

  2. Why she looks like she is a refugee of...Romania! Yes, thats it. She's on the run...from Cluj. Thats the has to be something like that...

  3. Miss Crawford in this photo is younger than I am right now and I would be hard pressed to say which of us looks better. Still, at least I haven't turned to sporting a chiffon wimple.

  4. Great post! (As always, darling!)

  5. Norma: no one is more devastated than I. When you have the resolve, do write it up again!

    ATCC: In my experience, Rumanian refugees wear a great many more pearls, but then again I'm thinking pre-revolution (aren't I always?). I suppose she could be on the lam from Ceauşescu...

    MrP.: Although I do think that if anyone could carry off a chiffon wimple...

    T: My blushes. I think Joan brings out the best in all of us, no?

  6. oh my, i wrote a long dissertation about 51 year old celebrities, such as michelle, sharon stone, holly hunter, ellen degeneres and how good living hasn't kept them looking youthful, a surgeon has. probably, all have had work done. some have great doctors that knew exactly what to do early so that they don't now look like jessica lange.

    i wondered about joan's face lift. we know she had one, did she have many? of course, face lifts done back in "bedrock" were quite different than what they do now.

    also spoke to the harshness of crawford's look & how that didn't help her cause. also mentioned how i thought joan always had bad taste. don't get me wrong, for me, joanie is the bomb, but oy vey...the things she chose! of course, this makes all those old photos all the more delicious.

  7. According to Joan herself, she was only 48 in 1956. But maybe she wasn't good at math-the old or the new kind.

  8. I do have to put this out there, though: that isn't it 10x more interesting to look at a 51-year-old Joan Crawford than a 51-year-old Michelle Pfeiffer? I mean, really.

  9. Well, yes, of course. Although I do think MP is looking both good and relatively natural. I think what I was rather incoherently groping for is how odd the phenomenon of emphasizing the "agelessness" of stars like Crawford (and Davis, and even Dietrich), starting at about 45, seems to modern eyes because their contemporary peers actually do have an eerie, mostly artificial, "agelessness."