Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
Martha's age—52 in Edward Albee's play—is a sore point that her husband alludes to with cruel pleasure. Elizabeth Taylor won an Oscar for her performance as Martha in Mike Nichols' 1966 film adaptation. She was 34.
"I won't be looked at in this merciless glare!" cries Blanche DuBois, who gravitates toward dim lights to obscure her age. Vivien Leigh was 38 when she played Stella's older sister in the 1951 film version of "A Streetcar Named Desire." In Tennesee Williams' play, Blanche is 30.
In Billy Wilder's "Sunset Boulevard" (1950), she's a forgotten star of silent movies who makes a pathetic attempt at a comeback far too late in life. Norma Desmond is 50, as was Gloria Swanson when she played the role. That's the same age that Halle Berry is today.
Miss Jean Brodie
In "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" (1969), the title character's claim that she's in her "prime" becomes a running joke, since she's obviously past it. In Muriel Spark's novel, Jean Brodie is 40. When Maggie Smith played her in the movie, she was 35, the current age of Jessica Alba.
Rosie in "The African Queen"
Rose Sayer (Katharine Hepburn) pours out the liquor after steamboat captain Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart) gets drunk and calls her "a skinny old maid." Hepburn was 44 during the filming of John Houston's 1951 classic. Four years later, at 48, she starred as an equally memorable spinster in "Summertime."
"Now I suddenly feel as if I've taken all my clothes off," says the fading actress played by Bette Davis in "All About Eve" (1950) when she accidentally lets it slip that she recently turned 40. Davis was 42, the age Penelope Cruz is today.
Eleanor Iselin in “The Manchurian Candidate”
Angela Lansbury is the diabolical middle-aged mom of a brainwashed Korean War veteran in this 1962 Cold War thriller. She was 36 when the movie was made. Lawrence Harvey, who costarred as her son, was 33.
Bobbie in “Carnal Knowledge”
The character is hardly old, but Ann-Margret portrays Bobbie as an overaged sex kitten desperate to get married before it's too late. During production of Mike Nichols' 1971 film, the Swedish-born actress was 29, the current age of Ellen Page.
Blanche in “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?”
This 1962 hit spawned the "psycho-biddy" sub-genre, horror movies about old women in peril. Joan Crawford was 58—that's 11 years younger than Susan Sarandon is today—when she played Blanche, the wheelchair-bound victim of her demented sister (Bette Davis), a ravaged former child star once known as Baby Jane. Davis was 54.
Ruth Popper in “The Last Picture Show”
"She's 40 years old!" says a shocked Jacey Farrow (Cybill Sheperd) when her mother (Ellen Burstyn) mentions that one of Jacey's classmates is having an affair with the coach's wife—played by Cloris Leachman, then 45—in this 1971 drama. "So am I, honey," replies Jacey's mom. "It's an itchy age."
She's a sexy older woman, but the operative word is "older." Anne Bancroft was 36 when she played Mrs. Robinson, the jaded, 40ish family friend who seduces Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) in Mike Nichols' 1967 groundbreaker, "The Graduate." Hoffman was 30.
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Norma Desmond, Blanche DuBois and Mrs. Robinson were actually a lot younger than they seemed back in the day
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