Beyond Betty White: Three Other Amazing Older Women on TV

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!

by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong
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4 Comments Have Been Posted

My favorites all seem to be

My favorites all seem to be British - probably reflecting my preference in film and television shows. They include Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Julie Andrews, and Joan Plowright. I love them all! (and have certainly wished that some of them could have been a third grandmother for me at times)

How about Tyne Daly and

How about Tyne Daly and Sharon Gless? They're both close to 70 now (I think), and although Daly isn't in a regular TV role right now, she has played some terrific older women (Maxine on <em>Judging Amy</em>), and Gless was Michael's mother on <em>Queer as Folk</em>, and now another Michael's mother on <em>Burn Notice</em>.

In my heart they're always MaryBeth Lacey and Chris Cagney 'cause I'm a hundred years old. <a href=" a great joint interview they did with The Guardian a little over a year ago</a>.

And pasting the URL in case my HTML tags don't work:

Cloris Leachman. Still the

Cloris Leachman. Still the funniest thing on a show full of funny things, Raising Hope. She was great in the Mel Brooks movies. She has a record setting number of Emmys, can hold her own with the greatest variety show cast ever, the Muppets. Oh yeah and she was on Dancing with the Stars not to long ago for 17 episodes. Not bad for an 86 year old. If anybody could do a hilarioius episode of SNL I think it would be Cloris Leachman.

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