Earlier this month I celebrated my 50th birthday, one of those milestone events that feels important even if the pandemic kept me from doing much to mark the occasion. Several years ago, when I was 42, I wrote a post about 42 year old classic movie actresses and the films they made at that age, so this seems like a good time to revisit the idea and think about stars who enjoyed significant moments in their careers when they were 50. Of course, being 50 in 2022 is quite a bit different from being 50 in 1952, and Hollywood actresses in the studio era faced tremendous age discrimination. The women who managed long careers did so through versatility, perseverance, talent, and sheer determination. Here are a few of my favorite classic movie actresses and the films they made in their 50th year.
Hepburn's Desk Set costar, Joan Blondell, was a year older, but she also enjoyed a long career. In 1956 the 50 year old star appeared as part of the ensemble cast in The Opposite Sex, a remake of the 1939 hit, The Women. Although she's best remembered today for her dozens of Pre-Code and other 1930s films, Blondell went right on acting until her death in 1979.
Bette Davis, born in 1908, was mostly doing television work in 1958, with a couple of guest spots on different series over the course of her 50th year. Even top stars like Davis and Crawford found big film roles harder to come by as they aged, especially if they wanted to avoid playing supporting characters like mothers to younger leading ladies. Davis, however, would eventually lean into horror roles and make the most of her lifelong ability to transform herself into extreme characters. Like Blondell, she would continue acting right up until her death in 1989.
Of course, some actresses fared better after 50 than others, with comic character actresses being some of the best at maintaining their careers. Long-legged Charlotte Greenwood made Down Argentine Way (1940), Mary Wickes appeared in Cimmaron (1960), Marjorie Main made seven films in 1940, and her friend Spring Byington took on ten roles in her 50th year in 1936. They had never been famous for their glamorous youth and beauty, and they trooped along through the decades in supporting roles that allowed them to keep working long after the starlet types had been forced into retirement.
When I look at modern actresses who are turning 50 this year, I see Cameron Diaz, Rebecca Romijn, Toni Collette, Jennifer Garner, and Gwyneth Paltrow, all of whom are still working and even thriving with their careers. I doubt they'll have to resort to hagsploitation roles like Davis and Crawford, and it's encouraging to think that we see 50 differently now than we did during the classic movie era. Personally, I'm feeling pretty good about being 50, and I plan to celebrate with several special blog posts in the weeks ahead.
If you're turning 50 this year, too, happy birthday, and remember, Jessica Tandy won an Oscar at 80, so you're definitely not too old to accomplish something big!