Saturday, April 15, 2017

Edie McClurg was never a teenager

When an actor or actress becomes famous in a certain type of role, it can be damn near impossible to imagine them as anything else.

Which is why I found it particularly strange to watch Carrie (for the first time) on Thursday night and see Edie McClurg ... as a teenager.

It wasn't so much that I couldn't imagine Edie McClurg playing a teenager, although I couldn't. It was that I couldn't believe Edie McClurg was still of the right age range to be cast as a teenager in 1976.

If you aren't familiar with the name Edie McClurg, you obviously didn't watch a lot of movies in the 1980s. But since that undoubtedly describes some of my readers (and I don't begrudge you being younger than I am, really I don't), here's this picture to help you:


That's McClurg in one of her most recognizable roles, as Grace, secretary/assistant to principal Ed Rooney (Jeffrey Jones) in the 80s classic Ferris Bueller's Day Off. McClurg is only 34 in this picture (she was born in 1951 and Bueller would have been filming in 1985 for a 1986 release), but she certainly plays a lot older in the movie -- or an older character type, anyway.

It's hard to believe that just ten years earlier she was considered young enough for the role of one of the title character's classmates in Carrie. She was playing someone younger than her, but that's pretty much the last time McClurg would do that. After this, she went straight into middle age.

But for your reference, here's how she looked in Carrie:


Doesn't look all that much like a teenager there, in part because she wasn't -- she was 24. But maybe she just never really looked like a teenager. And since Carrie was her first role, we can't really know for sure.

But part of the reason there's a disconnect is that she started getting typecast as the quirky, folksy type who always seemed to reveal a streak of naughtiness under her sweetly square exterior. With that voice and those chirpy mannerisms, she was ready to play 50 even when she was only 30. She went straight into "age indeterminate," a period that would probably still be going on today if she were still getting cast in movies (she's still working, but it's been primarily on TV and voice work for Disney and Pixar).

Anyway, it was funny to see.

As for the movie itself, which I had rented from the library before but never gotten around to putting in my DVD player, I liked it -- but less than I hoped I would. At the start I thought I would rank it as one of those 70s movies that benefited from the new freedoms of the era in which it was made, without being held back by some of the period's cheesy excesses that might intrinsically make it a product of its time. You know, something great like Halloween. Instead, outside of a particular few sequences -- like the frightening bullying of Carrie in the shower -- it was mostly not as technically accomplished as I hoped it would be, and does indeed revel in a musical score and other signature design details of its time. I expected to be a bit more disturbed by the finale than I was, which was not much at all. The shower scene is really the standout in terms of discomfiting, visceral horror.

I also enjoyed watching a young William Katt in this movie, five years before The Greatest American Hero would make him famous. Probably another case where I wouldn't have thought he was the right choice to play a teenager (he was also 24) only five years before he was the right choice to play the bumbling Ralph Hinkley in that beloved show. Maybe my problem is just that adults all were "age indeterminate" when I was a kid, meaning that everyone seemed about 38 years old to me.

Speaking of people who are too old for things ... the only real criticism I have about the plot of the movie is its inciting incident, Carrie having her first period in the shower. Now, I don't have any daughters and I've never been an expert on female biology, so I did in fact have to google this, but most girls get their first period around the age of 12, with a range going anywhere from 8 to 15, the extremes being particularly unusual cases I would think. Carrie is supposed to be a senior in high school, placing her at a minimum of 16 years old if she were really gifted, but more likely 17 or even 18 if it's the end of her senior year (which it is, as that's usually when they hold the prom). And I don't think there's any indication she's gifted. So even with a sheltered upbringing in which her religious zealot mother prevents her from understanding even the most basic elements of her anatomy, there would be almost no chance she'd only be getting her first period as a late teenager. I mean, ignorance doesn't delay biology, does it?

Edie McClurg, wise for her years, certainly could have filled her in.

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