Hollywood’s Specialty – Older Guys with Younger Gals: Age is Only a Number in Tinseltown

Hollywood has never let something as silly as an actor’s actual age get in the way of a good story. If a person is right for the part, then their age can be worked around in Hollywood. If the story is good enough, most people won’t take the time to think, “Hmmmm, I wonder what the age difference is in real life between that couple?” Hollywood is counting on the fact that you don’t really dig too deep into this aspect of a film, because in more cases than I can count, once you discover the actual ages of the participants in the film, your reaction is likely to be, “Ewwwwwwwww!”

I am not going to trot out a bunch of unknown movies to use as examples; I will go right to the Hollywood classics. Going down the list of the American Film Institute’s Top 100 Movies, at number two we have “Casablanca”, starring Humphrey Bogart and his love interest, Ingrid Bergman. The beloved Hollywood melodrama focuses on Humphrey Bogart as a cynical cafÃ?© owner, caught between doing the right thing and his own personal interests.

Ingrid Bergman plays his former lover and Paul Henreid her husband. Shot in Hollywood in 1942, Bergman was 27 at the time, Henried was 34, and Bogart was 43. With the 16 year age difference, perhaps Bogart’s famous line should have gone something like this, “Here’s looking at you, kid. Just don’t look that closely at me.”

In “Gone with the Wind”, number four on the AFI list of Hollywood treasures, we have the love triangle of Clark Gable, Vivian Leigh, and Leslie Howard. This is an isosceles triangle if you base it on the actors’ ages, as they are not equal by any means, at least not outside of Hollywood. Vivian was 26 at the time the movie was made in 1939. Gable was 38 and Howard was 46. If you want to throw in Olivia de Havilland to make the triangle a square, good luck with that. She was 23 in 1939, and her character wound up being married to Howard’s Ashley Wilkes. “Frankly folks, Hollywood really didn’t give a damn about that age difference.”

It shouldn’t have been hard for Hollywood to get the ages in line in 1967’s “The Graduate”, the number seven flick on the AFI roster of the greatest. After all, it called for a big difference in age between Dustin Hoffman’s character and his married seductress, Anne Bancroft. How did they do? Let’s just say that I had a bigger age differential in my first marriage- seven years- than Hollywood managed for this comedy.

Hoffman was born in 1937, making him 30 at the time of his “graduation”; he must have been graduating with a doctorate. Hollywood would have done better to perhaps to cast Bancroft as his older sister, she was born in 1931 and only six years his senior. At least Katherine Ross, Hoffman’s fiancÃ?© in the film, was only 27 at the time.

“It’s a Wonderful Life” for Jimmy Stewart in 1946, in no small part because his George Bailey is married to Donna Reed’s hometown girl, who is 13 years younger than Stewart, who was 38 at the time Hollywood told this heart-warming Christmas tale. Gloria Grahame, who played that “other girl”, Violet Bick in the eleventh ranked AFI classic, was even younger than Reed; Violet was 23. As Clarence the Angel noted in the barroom scene at Nick’s Place, “Every time a bell rings, Hollywood casts a much younger actress with an older fella.”

One of the tagline’s for the legendary Hollywood western, 1952’s “High Noon”, which sits at 33 on the AFI list of the greatest films, was “the story of a man that was too proud to run”. Why would you want to run out of town if you were Gary Cooper, who at age 51 in 1952 had bagged himself a 23 year old bride in Grace Kelly? This came after he had jilted 27 year old Katy Jurado, obviously holding out for someone a bit younger.

It must have been hard for Hollywood to find actresses Cooper’s age, because he was also paired with Maria Schell in the “Hanging Tree” when she was 23 years his junior, and 24 year old Theresa Wright, as Mrs. Lou Gehrig in “Pride of the Yankees”. Who wouldn’t be proud to be able to show off your wife, who wasn’t yet born when you turned 17? Hollywood didn’t really care, as long as they could have Cooper recite their version of Gehrig’s farewell speech at the climax, which differed greatly from the real one.

It is hard to believe that any actor in Hollywood has “married” or “dated” younger than has Harrison Ford. The 64 year old Ford’s screen wives or girlfriends have included Virginia Madsen at 44 years old, Michelle Pfeiffer at 48, Anne Heche at 37, Julia Ormond at 51, and Kristin Scott Thomas at 46. Of course, in real life Ford has been romantically involved with Calista Flockhart, who at 40 is 24 years younger than he is.

Ford really outdid himself as “Indiana Jones”. His female co-stars were a combined 47 years younger than he was in the trilogy, but there is no truth to the rumor that the next installment of the franchise, due out in 2008, has tentatively been called “Indians Jones Meets a Woman his Own Age”.

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