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The Reasons Why Jamie Lee Curtis Inspires Women Like Me

What the actor does (that I love) as she grows older.

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Brian Bowen Smith
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It can provoke anxiety for an older woman to reenter the workforce with the hope of landing a job. That's why Jamie Lee Curtis’ best supporting actress Oscar win for her role as eccentric and unkempt IRS inspector Deirdre Beaubeirdre in Everything Everywhere All at Once is so inspiring. She was able to portray a character who was alluring and interesting without having to give a thought to whether she looked sexy and glamorous.

In this film Curtis played anything but a knockout. The versatile star, now 64, just did her usual excellent job, which clearly paid off.

Clutching her statuette, she thanked a long list of persons she worked with, plus her own family, exclaiming, “We just won an Oscar.”

Although this child of successful actors — the late Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis, both Oscar nominees — called herself a “nepo baby” at the 2023 SAG Awards, she clearly went on to come up from under her parents’ fame. She is Hollywood’s scream queen, the star of many horror films beginning with Halloween, then the lead in movies such as A Fish Called Wanda, Trading Places and True Lies, for which she won a Golden Globe Award.

As she gets older, Curtis continues to conquer ageism, resurrecting her character Laurie Strode in the horror sequels Halloween Kills and Halloween Ends, released in 2021 and 2022, respectively. Aside from her numerous acting accolades, Curtis is also a children’s book author and an activist for the rights of LGBTQ communities. Married for nearly 40 years to writer-producer Christopher Guest, and the younger of their two children identifies as transgender.

Although her emotional acceptance at the Academy Awards was very moving, what got to me more was what she said after her nomination was announced, in an interview with AP Entertainment: “I’m 64 years old. I’ve been an actor since I was 19. I made horror films and sold [Activia] yogurt that makes you s---t. I never thought I would hear my name at the Oscars.”

This is highly relatable for anyone who’s had a solid career with its share of recognition and praise but never nabbed the brass ring — as is my case. For 18 years, I was a stay-at-home mother and freelance writer, raising our children Luke, now 28, and daughter, Meg, now 25. My previous career had been 15 years on staff at New York City ad agencies. I switched to long-form writing around 2004, with essays published in magazines, newspapers and websites.

In 2013, when Meg was a high school sophomore, I decided it was time to freelance as well as throw my hat in the ring if a full-time job at a woman’s glossy should rear its head. I was 54 at the time, considered youngish as women now live longer than ever. I figured I’d be able to re-enter the workforce with ease. But then my 90-year-old mother’s health began to fail.

Years earlier, she had moved from my childhood Bronx home to Manhattan to help care for our children. My ambitions got put aside, and my title switched from job hunter to stay-at-home daughter. I remained so until recently, after my mother passed at age 100. I am now the same age as Jamie Lee Curtis, and until her victory at Hollywood’s biggest night, I had low hopes that anyone would want to hire me, regardless of my plethora of professional experience and decades of volunteer work. Even though a federal law has been on the books since 1967 prohibiting ageism in the workplace, it still persists.

In 2020, the National Council on Aging reported that the average monthly unemployment rate for older workers was 7.5 percent. Things started to change in mid-2022, when nearly 24 percent of the civilian labor force was made up of people 65 and older.

Back in 2014, Jane Fonda admitted in a Toronto Star article titled TIFF: Even Academy Award winner Jane Fonda auditions sometimes: “I have no choice — most people my age are dead. Most of the directors I work with now could be my children.”

A year later, she and Lily Tomlin were very much alive and visible in the 2015 debut of their hit show Grace and Frankie, which ran for seven seasons. When the series ended in 2022, both Fonda and Tomlin were in their 80s.

The unstoppable octogenarians paired up again with two other ageless wonders, Rita Moreno, 91, and Sally Field, 76, in this year's football-themed movie, 80 for Brady, produced by retired quarterback Tom Brady.      

And this year, Jamie Lee Curtis renewed my faith that my best days could still be on the horizon. In fact, I got a double whammy of hope when her costar Michelle Yeoh, 60, earned the best actress Oscar for her role as laundromat manager Evelyn Wang in Everything Everywhere All at Once.

Yeoh declared in her acceptance speech, “Ladies, don’t let anybody tell you you are ever past your prime.”

I feel emboldened to try my best to make sure that never happens. As for the impact of Curtis on me, what a gift to see someone who looks like me (silver-haired, lined-face) getting recognized for a job well done and representing those of us who need to know that our best work can still be ahead of us.

I feel part of the “we” from her powerful Oscar acceptance speech: “We just won an Oscar.”

What older actors inspire you? Let us know in the comments below.

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