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by Katrine Ames
Four years ago, audiences at the Winter Garden gasped at Hal Prince's bittersweet spectacle, Follies. The reaction was due, in part to a evocative score and provactive book in which glittery ex-Follies girls confronted their ghostly pasts. But the loudest cheers and whistles came when Alexis Smith, all fire and ice, stalked, slithered, and high-kicked her way across the stage. Incredulous theatregoers mobbed the lobby and rushed the phones, transmitting the stunning news that the equally stunning Miss Smith was forty-nine years old.
That Broadway had been conquered by a glamorous, gifted and mature performer should have surprised no one, for it has traditionally been a showplace for established actresses. This season, however, there have been not one or two of these stars, but nine, ranging in age from 36 to 59, easily obfuscating any ingenue in the theatrical firmament-in revivals and new works, dramas and musicals. The reasons for their being here are as many and diverse as the women themselves. But it is clear that with Ingrid Bergman, Deborah Kerr, Gwen Verdon, Julie Harris, Angela Lansbury, Ellen Burstyn, Maggie Smith, Diana Rigg and Liv Ullmann, Broadway is celebrating and cultivating its best natural resource.
For some time, however, particularly during the frantic decade of the 1960s, that resource was regarded with a certain complacency, and even ignored.  Much of the American public was turning its attention to and expending its energies in an every-escalating war against growing older: 30 was a tragic age and every wrinkle a transgression.
But the 1970s have brought with them social, cultural and political changes that include a lessening of interest in the futiles battle for eternal youth. And Follied, in its way, may have helped to jolt its audience in the realization that perhaps youth isn't so interesting after all-that aging is not necessarily a seering transmogrification, that time bestows not just a patina but an edge, and experience may win out over innocence. It was no accident that in Follies Alexis Smith was swathed in scarlet and her ingenuous, younger mirror-image was wrapped in black and white. 
The human eye is kinder than the camera;s, and the theatre goer seems more willing than the moviegoer to accept-in fact even to welcome-age for what it is. Or as Ingrid Bergman, who in The Constant Wife portrays a woman some 20 years younger than she, puts it, "theatregoers don't care what age you are, so long as you can convey an illusion." Says Diana Rigg, the quicksilver-tongued heroine of the newly updated Misanthrope, "i'm not interested in chasing youth. I'm honest  
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