Wished-for and Unwished-for Identities
Edited By Flocel Sabaté
“Maybe you’re too young to remember”: Baby Jane and the sin of acting against one’s age
Universitat de Lleida
1.The ageing actress and the ageist discourse
In the decades of the 1950s and 1960s, an unusual new heroine began to recur in many of the American films that were being released at the time. In Jodi Brooks’ words, this new heroine corresponded to “the figure of the aging actress undergoing a crisis as she confronts her demise as a public star”1. This was the case of Norma Desmond in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (1950), Margo Channing in Joseph Mankiewicz’s All about Eve (1950), as well as Jane and Blanche Hudson in the film that centres the attention of this article, Robert Aldrich’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), based on Henry Farrell’s novel published two years before under the same title. In most of these cases, the female protagonist of the film − an aging actress – dares challenge what Kathleen Woodward refers to as “the normative youth-old age system”2. As an aging performer, this heroine prepares her return to show business in spite of those who believe her appearance on the screen is no longer feasible, precisely owing to the ageist discourse that is assumed to pervade the star system. Having been praised as an enthralling object of the male gaze in the golden years of her youth, the aging actress then feels compelled to face the threat of invisibility on-screen as well as off-screen.
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