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Hollywood Ageism: 'We've Got to Make More of a Fuss'

Employment * Panel urges older writers, actors and directors to confront 'rampant' discrimination.

October 07, 2000|BRIAN LOWRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Saying there has been enough talk about the blatant ageism practiced by the entertainment industry, a panel of older writers, directors and actors discussed what proactive steps could be taken to address the issue Thursday night.

Sponsored by Women in Film and held at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences in North Hollywood, the event included Daniel Wolf, an attorney organizing a class-action lawsuit on behalf of writers over 40. Wolf noted that ageism has "gotten much, much worse" in recent years, citing data for the 1997-98 TV season that showed fewer than 40% of prime-time series employed anyone over 50 on their writing staffs.

"Discrimination in age is so rampant it practically dwarfs all other forms," Wolf said, pointing out that the law places age on the same footing as race or gender.

Other speakers included Dr. Phillip Kurzner, chairman of California's Senior Workers Advisory Council, who said the perception of older people proffered within entertainment is predicated on an outdated notion, given that today's senior citizens are far more healthy and active than their parents were.

"You are looking at a totally different generation of people with respect to their health," Kurzner said.

The rest of the panel was composed of industry professionals who articulated the frustration felt by older writers, directors and producers unable to find work in television--where the emphasis is on reaching adults under 50--and movies, with teenagers increasingly dictating what sort of films get made.

Beyond the lack of job opportunities, panelists complained that older people are too often presented as feeble or silly.

"The image that is representing the older generation in this country is disgusting," said Doris Roberts, 69, who co-stars in "Everybody Loves Raymond," calling older people "the last group it's still OK to ridicule."

Roberts noted that 160 people auditioned for her role on the popular CBS comedy, largely because so few parts arise for women in her age group. "Fifteen years ago, there wouldn't have been that many people available," she said.

Roberts also wondered if many older people once employed within the industry have simply given up, saying she was disheartened by the low turnout--roughly 100 people were in the audience--at Thursday's event.

Ann Marcus, whose credits include "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman," suggested that many older people don't want to speak out for fear of further hurting their chances of securing work. "We don't want to be identified as an old [coot]. We don't want to be losers," she said.

Still, writer Fay Kanin, who moderated the panel, urged veteran writers and actors to step forward and take action politically as opposed to just accepting the status quo. "We've got to make more of a fuss," she said.

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