March 8, 2007

Margaret Rutherford, Dame Commander

[AUTHOR'S NOTE: Last  month, I guest blogged at Ronni Bennett's Time Goes By, the indispensable blog for anyone who wants the real skinny on what it's  like to get older.

I could say Ronni is a Dame Commander but she's more of a mother hen keeping track of a growing brood of over 50 "elderbloggers", swatting away ageist snark  while still laying before us one perfectly composed post every day to enjoy with breakfast.

Her photo time line is a model of how family photos can be meaningfully enhanced with just a few lines of context.  As a movie buff, her TGB ElderMovie List is a fine resource when looking for a movie you can watch without embarrassment with your parents and with pleasure just by yourself.  So when she asked me to write something about aging, Margaret Rutherford immediately came to mind.]

  Montage Margaret Rutherford-1

Growing older has never really bothered me, perhaps because I was lucky in having wonderful role models of older women. Every May there is an alumnae parade at Smith College and the largest, loudest cheers go up for the oldest women in their 80s or 90s who march proudly under the banner of their graduating class. I’d be all right, I thought, if I could be one of them.

But it was seeing Margaret Rutherford for the first time that absolutely convinced me how delightful it could be to be like her. I was gobsmacked and totally enchanted when I first saw her play Miss Marple in the four “murder” films based on the Agatha Christie novels: Murder She Said, Murder at the Gallop, Murder Most Foul, and Murder Ahoy - every one of which deserves prominent placement on the TGB ElderMovie List

She was endearing, stout as an armchair and as comfortable too, a bicycle-riding, tea-making, pie-baking sleuth with an admiring male pal, cheerful in cape and hat, perfectly dressed no matter what the occasion, sensible to human frailties, fearless, smart as a whip and as funny as all get out. Who knew that being an old lady could be so much fun?

A force of nature, she could do things with her mouth, her tongue in cheek, that have never been equaled and will make you forswear even the idea of plastic surgery if it would rob you of the expressiveness of a ravishing, totally lovable old face like hers.

Born in a London suburb in 1892, nine years after her father murdered her grandfather with a chamber pot, Margaret Rutherford was an only child. Her mother died when she was 3 and she was brought up by a pair of guardian aunts.

Maybe the experience of living with a mentally ill father who was readmitted to Broadmoor, a British hospital for the criminally insane, when she was only 12, disposed her to a life in the theater. She wasn’t pretty, but she was funny and I think a late bloomer. She was 33 when she made her stage debut at the Old Vic in 1925 and 53 when she married a fellow actor Stringer Davis.

She really came into her own in her late 60s and 70s when she began to play Miss Marple. She worked with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, winning an Academy Award best supporting actress in The V.I.P.s. In her 70s, the Queen named her first an officer of the British Empire, later a Dame Commander.

And what a Dame Commander she was as Miss Marple, laying bare evil and overcoming it with goodness, everything made right.  And she did it by becoming and being her magnificent self all the time. Take one scene from Murder Ahoy:

MISS MARPLE: Are you implying that I am unhinged?


MISS MARPLE: Then what are you implying, pray?

DETECTIVE INSPECTOR CRADDOCK: Well, just that you are temporarily not yourself.

MISS MARPLE: Chief Inspector, I am always myself!

In one interview, she said,

"I hope I'm an individual. I suppose an eccentric is a super individual. Perhaps an eccentric is just off centre - ex-centric. But that contradicts a belief of mine that we've got to be centrifugal."

Centrifugal she was, radiating out from a deep core of self, to delight and gift the world.

Since I believe that the point of aging is to become more ourselves, our best selves, and to give our best selves away, I would make Margaret Rutherford a patron saint of aging.

She’s mine anyway.

Posted by Jill Fallon at March 8, 2007 5:07 PM | TrackBack | Permalink