International Day of Older Persons is real. Just about 10 years ago in 1990 (because we all think that was just a decade ago, admit it), the UN General Assembly voted to institute this holiday to be observed on October 1st. The holiday is celebrated by raising awareness about issues affecting the elderly, such as senescence and elder abuse. It has also become a day that we can appreciate the contributions that older people make to society. As a lifelong movie and television buff, I know so many movies and shows that would not be complete without older characters portrayed by such phenomenal actors.
Ninny Threadgoode (Fried Green Tomatoes)
If you have never seen Fried Green Tomatoes but you’ve eaten them then shame on you! That’s like taking communion from a crusty hooker in Las Vegas before skydiving over the Grand Canyon; it makes absolutely no sense at all! The movie (and book by Fannie Flagg) is one I remember watching as just a wee child and it is one that stays with you forever. Jessica Tandy is incredible in her role as Ninny Threadgoode opposite Kathy Bates in the nursing home. She tells the most incredible stories, lets beauty school students dye her hair purple, and I just love the way she says “Whistlestop Cafe.” Conspiracy theorists at work: There has been a lot of speculation among viewers of the film about the final scene, in which it seems apparent that Ninny Threadgoode and Idgie are the same person. I have always thought so, myself!
[insert brief intermission while I go watch Fried Green Tomatoes before coming back to this post]
Rose DeWitt Bukater (Titanic)
Or you can call her Rose Dawson if ya nasty! Even though we are still furious at this woman for dropping the Heart of the Ocean necklace back into the open water, we can’t help but love her still. Another master story-teller, Rose (portrayed by Gloria Stuart) as an older woman embodies so many things we want in a grandmother. Her life didn’t end when the Titanic sank; it had just begun. And enough is enough! If Jack got on the driftwood they would have both died and she didn’t let go of him just… because she… let… go… of him… whatever. Rose, WE LOVE YOU!
Dumbledore (Harry Potter series)
We all know and love Professor Dumbledore as the eccentric headmaster of Hogwarts. It is his presence in the world of wizardry and his embodiment of the force for good that calls to us. Now, I am only referring to Dumbledore from the first two movies as portrayed by Richard Harris. He was kind and soft-spoken. The second Dumbledore, or shall I say GRUMBLEdore, was an asshole! Always yelling and being all creepy.
Opheila (How To Get Away With Murder)
Breaking away from movies, I want to look at Cicely Tyson’s role from the hit TV show How To Get Away With Murder. She plays Annalise’s mom and in less than a minute of screen time, we know that she’s the real deal. I am surprised she was not nominated for an Emmy for her brief role! Ophelia knows how to deliver those smack-you-in-the-face blunt truths like no one’s business. At the end of the episode, you realize her love for her daughter is in fact present and she did things for her that Annalise never knew at the time (“Sometimes you do what you gotta do, even if all you have is a long match and a very flammable hooch.”) Watching her comb Annalise’s hair was so moving and I can’t imagine that scene without Cicely Tyson and Viola Davis. Can you believe she is 90 years old?!
Aunt Bethany (National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation)
Words cannot sum up the love for this woman! She’s definitely getting up there and does not make a whole lot of sense, but you can absolutely tell she has a good, pure heart and that she wants to be there for her family. She is the embodiment of “that family member” at all the holiday get-togethers. From her jello mold to her cat wrapped in a box to her pre-dinner speech on Grace (the blessing, not her friend who passed away 30 years ago), Aunt Bethany is one for the history books! Mae Questel does a great job in this role. Did you know she is also the voice of Betty Boop? Boop-boop-be-doop!
Carl Fredricksen (Up)
This movie literally breaks my heart. Well, at least the first few minutes. During that brief time, we see the most emotionally moving and boldly brilliant four and a half minutes of animated movie-making ever. Then we meet the real Carl: grumpy, cranky, and old!
Daisy Werthan (Driving Miss Daisy)
So I kinda have a thing for Jessica Tandy’s acting skills. And why shouldn’t I? She snagged an Oscar for this one while the movie itself won Best Picture in 1990! While winning four of its nine Oscar nominations, this is the turbulent story of the lifelong friendship that blossoms between an elderly Jewish woman and her African-American chauffeur, Hoke Coleburn, in the 1960s South. Whoa. That’s heavy! This is yet another story that changes you and how you see the world. From the first ride in the car to the nursing home at the end (bring Kleenex, omg), you can’t help by falling in love with Daisy and Hoke.
Who are some of your favorite older characters in movies, television, or books?
I will leave you in peace with “Growing Up” brought to you by the Care Bears (of which I totally do not know every word to…):