Today, in honor of International Women’s Day, I want to recognize the women who have hung in there for decades on the small screen, playing (mostly) wives and mothers and then grandmothers to the ever-younger main characters. Who’s ready to start a Facebook campaign to get one of these women hosting Saturday Night Live?
Loretta Devine: The character actress, now 63, has become a recognizable face by simply working her tail off. Her IMDB page is epic, with 104 credits, and she continues to work regularly: She’s everywhere on TV, from the Chief’s Alzeheimer’s-stricken wife on Grey’s Anatomy (RIP, Adele) to a nun on Glee to a guest judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race to the massage parlor owner on The Client List. Yep, she plays a madam on Lifetime’s over-the-top Jennifer Love Hewitt drama, and even gets a love interest this season played by 49-year-old Michael Beach. Gotta love that Television for Women.
Elaine Stritch: At 88, she’s a few short years behind Betty White, and her career has spanned about the same amount of time. Like White, she appeared on some of TV’s earliest broadcasts: a family comedy called The Growing Paynes (you guessed it, the family’s name was the Paynes!) in 1948, and a raft of those variety-type shows from when people didn’t know what to do with TV yet besides name shows after products: Kraft Theatre, The Motorola Television Hour, Goodyear Playhouse. Though Stritch focused much of her career on theater, she appeared in TV guest spots throughout the decades, always memorable for her deadpan delivery and creaky voice. Only the great Stritch could stand up to Alec Baldwin as his intimidating mother on 30 Rock. And Stritchnever played the sexy-young-thing card: She has said she looked 40 when she was 20.
Katherine Helmond: She had her breakthrough role as the dim Jessica Tate on Soap, but she pretty much invented the role of the “cougar” — decades before we had that term — as Mona Robinson on the ’80s sitcom Who’s the Boss? Of course, Mona’s voracious sexual appetite was played for laughs, but you have to give Helmond credit: Her unapologetic sexiness sold the character, and the idea that Grandma had no reason to put the brakes on her personal life, a rarity on TV then and now. Now 83, Helmond has continued to work in guest roles on The Glades, Melissa and Joey, True Blood, and Harry’s Law.
This list is by no means exhaustive. Do you have any other favorites? Share with us in the comments!