In The Stepford Wives (1975), desperate housewife Joanna Eberhart (Katharine Ross) discovers that there is a fate worse than being married to boring lawyer Walter (Peter Masterson) — a man with all the sexual magnetism of a rotting corpse. The climax of the film sees the doe-eyed Joanna finally uncover the dastardly scheme to replace the town’s flesh and blood women with compliant robots. Just to complete her humiliation, it turns out that the doppelgänger, Joanna Mk II, has been designed with bigger tits.
I haven’t read Ira Levin’s novel, so I don’t know whether those misogynist pigs of Stepford considered giving their fembots a “distressed” look — artificial ageing in the interests of authenticity. More likely they opted for a lifetime of the pouty lips, super-smooth brows and sinewy arms favoured by those other desperate housewives of Wisteria Lane. Yes, if Teri Hatcher, Marcia Cross, and the rest of the gang carry on for another five seasons they’ll probably look more youthful than they did in 2005. But is turning yourself into a desiccated, tank-top wearing MILF — albeit with more personality than a Stepford wife — really such a good look?
Last month Teri Hatcher took the bold step of publishing a series of makeup-free shots to prove that her Botoxing days are behind her. Her actions must have had syringe-wielding maniacs everywhere sucking their teeth at the sight of that naked, lined and — yes — veiny forehead. “Garbo laughs” was the startling slogan used to promote the comedy Ninotchka back in 1939; soon it will be headline news if a Hollywood actress over the age of 25 can actually frown.
Now, I’m not a fan of that 21st century spectator sport “spot the trout pout”. The tabloid obsession with highlighting the imperfections in every remotely famous woman who gets within a paparazzo’s sights would be laughable if it weren’t so pernicious. I just find it highly distracting and deeply depressing when an actor or actress’s performance becomes subordinate to their latest attempts to “freshen up” their looks.
I think I would have enjoyed Mickey Rourke’s Oscar-nominated performance in The Wrestler even more if he’d worn a mask throughout and not subjected me to the sight of his horribly mangled features. I’m well aware that the ex-pugilist got smacked in the kisser a few too many times during his years in the ring, but the attempts to undo the damage have been pretty ham-fisted. Jeff Bridges, another Adonis of ’80s cinema, is three years older than Rourke but has fared rather better. Under the straggly hair and grey beard he sported in Crazy Heart you knew it was still pretty boy Jeff.
Eye-watering surgeries and an addiction to collagen are one thing, but what about the stars who are already raising eyebrows amongst audiences for their inability to do just that? Call me unreasonable, but I don’t want to watch plastic dummies spitting lines out of their artificially plumped lips, while their foreheads remain shiny and completely immobilized. I want people who can convey fake emotions, with all the gusto that Jane Lynch brings to the role of deranged coach Sue Sylvester on Glee. Watching her face contorted with rage as she confronts her nemesis, Will Schuester, is a reminder of what acting used to look like.
Lynch recently picked up an Emmy, as did Edie Falco whose role in Nurse Jackie sees her performing the kind of facial contortions that would be impossible in a show like Cougar Town. Perhaps future awards ceremonies will institute a handicapping system, with separate categories for acting and “Botox acting”. That way, Courteney Cox, Christa Miller, and other graduates of the needle in the head school of emoting, will be able to compete on a level playing field. It seems fair to me.
Another winner at this year’s Emmys was Kyra Sedgwick, star of TNT’s quirky police drama, The Closer. I used to think Sedgwick was smarter than your average Hollywood airhead, but now I’m not so sure. In June 2007 the 45-year-old told Entertainment Weekly that she, too, would consider the kind of anti-ageing measures that are now common for actresses of her age. What disturbed me was her comment, “Because what is really the difference between putting makeup on and having stuff shot into your face?” Perhaps it was a joke, or the remark was quoted out of context, but from a viewer’s point of view I’d say there is all the difference in the world.
Katharine Ross has yet to turn up as a guest star on Desperate Housewives, but if she does she will probably be competing with Kathryn Joosten (Mrs McCluskey) for the title of “wrinkliest woman on Wisteria Lane”. Unlike reluctant Stepford resident Joanna, Ross has not remained frozen in time since her heyday as one of the most natural beauties in Hollywood. The star of Butch Cassidy and The Graduate is now 70 and has opted to grow old gracefully. Those of us who still can, should raise our eyebrows in wonder.