It may not have come with months of buzz or a live television audience, but another award program rolled out the red carpet this week and a more than respectable group of A-listers rolled in -- Robert De Niro, Jeff Bridges, Sean Penn and Morgan Freeman among them.
The big names showed up for "AARP the Magazine's 9th Annual Movies for Grownups" gala Tuesday night at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel. These are stars big enough to acknowledge they are of a certain age and unperturbed to be feted by a magazine whose most recent issue covered long-term nursing care and fun alternatives to being called Grandma or Grandpa. ("Granzilla!")
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, February 23, 2010 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 55 words Type of Material: Correction
AARP: The On the Media column in Saturday's Calendar section, which reported on celebrities appearing on the cover of AARP the Magazine, said that AARP was formerly known as the American Assn. for the Advancement of Retired Persons. The organization for those over 50 used to be known as the American Assn. of Retired Persons.
Still in the flush of the Tuesday night triumph, magazine editor Nancy Perry Graham told her own magazine: "We are the 'Little Engine That Could' of awards events."
But only a day after the awards, Graham and other AARP-the-Mag editors were meeting with reps for other Hollywood types. And it was clear the engine still has a hill to climb.
The editors heard more than once that stars, particularly women, virtually break into flop sweats at the idea that their face would appear on the front of that magazine.
"It's still a tough sell to get them to be on the cover of the magazine," said Meg Grant, the magazine's entertainment editor at large. "They are worried that the movie industry then classifies them as over the hill."
In a recent essay and in an interview this week, Graham has become more aggressive about calling out the Industry's big names (though not by name, this still is Hollywood, after all) for giving in to old stereotypes.
"It's a big stigma still for some in this business," said Graham, 54. "It's one brick at a time, trying to build that foundation, of trying to build that better image of aging."
I'm here to root on AARP the Magazine, its truth in gerontology movement and all those who have not hit its editors with the ubiquitous opt-out line: "I'm not ready."
Isn't it about time for a small dose of reality in Fantasyland?
The luminaries at the Beverly Wilshire on Tuesday night seemed to get it. Among those coming out to celebrate the over-50 crowd were a glowing Maggie Gyllenhaal, who presented the best actor award to her "Crazy Heart" costar Jeff Bridges, and Jeremy Piven, 44. The "Entourage" star got into the spirit by sporting what appeared to be a new rug.
Although AARP dropped its old name -- American Assn. for the Advancement of Retired Persons -- a few years back, some of the stars were still using it. De Niro, 66, made it clear in accepting the Lifetime Achievement award that he is very much not retiring.
"It's very special that this award comes from America's fastest-growing demographic," De Niro said, "even if many of you don't pay full price and most of you talk loudly during the quiet parts."
It's not without cause that performers worry they will prematurely be drummed out of the leading man-ingenue corps. "Hollywood's aversion to aging is real," said one publicist for actors, who didn't want to be identified, lest his clients be perceived as being represented by someone who talks about old people.
But AARP-the-Mag has a significant tractor beam pulling against the industry's youth gravity -- it's massive audience. With a circulation of 24 million and readership estimated up to 50% more than that, the six issues annually appear before more eyeballs than any other American magazine.
"There was a time when there was a stigma, that you just wanted to kind of ignore the elephant in the room," said Stan Rosenfield, a veteran publicist who represents De Niro and actress Helen Mirren, among those who have appeared on the AARP cover. "Every person on those covers or [who have won] awards has gotten a lot out of it. They are all very contemporary, active people in the entertainment business. And they all have their teeth."
Among those with the guts and/or good sense to take the AARP cover plunge have been Sally Field, Goldie Hawn, Richard Gere, Katie Couric and the most recent issue's cover-man, Michael Douglas.
The magazine's editors always have their eyes out for stars creeping up on the AARP membership age of 50. When will it be the right moment to approach Madonna, now 51?
I wondered if they would have to be outfitted with full body armor for that encounter.
"No, you just go to her publicist," Hollywood editor Grant demurred. "She might do it, you know. And Sean Penn is turning 50 in August. We would love to have him on the cover."
A regular back-of-the-book feature, "The Big Five-Oh," keeps track of those who are aging up and doesn't require the full cooperation required for a cover spread. The Big Five-Oh also notes big names who are turning 60 and 70.
Which prompted me to ask Grant whether AARP-the-Mag couldn't make a nice little profit by charging stars a fee to stay out of the DOB file. OK, I was kidding.
The old folks magazine is focusing, instead, on creating more moments of rapture like the one last fall, when Bruce Springsteen stood before a crowd at Giant's Stadium in New Jersey and proclaimed: "I used to be on the cover of Rolling Stone, but now I'm on the cover of AARP the Magazine!"
"If the Boss turns 60, how bad can it be?" Graham said. "We need more people to be proud of their age and their experience. If more of them could quit being afraid and step out and see what happens, I think the results could be a lot better than they would expect. But somebody has to go first."