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Actress Blasts Ageism

Doris Roberts may agree that "Everybody Loves Raymond," but the hit television show's Emmy Award-winning actress doesn't express the same sentiment toward the entertainment industry's views on ageism.

The 71-year-old Roberts put a verbal Gatling gun to the industry last week while in Washington, D.C. She appeared before the Senate Special Committee on Aging, searing the industry with words like "tyranny" and "bigotry." The TV mother in "Raymond" was speaking both of the film and TV businesses' hiring practices as well as its portrayal of the elderly on screen.

"Society considers me discardable, my opinions irrelevant, my needs comical and my tastes not worth attention in the marketplace," Roberts declared to the attentive lawmakers. "My peers and I are portrayed as dependent, helpless, unproductive and demanding rather than deserving. In reality, the majority of seniors are self-sufficient, middle-class consumers with more assets than most young couples and substantial time and talent to offer society. This is not just a sad situation, Mr. Chairman. This is a crime."

The chairman she was speaking to was Sen. John Breaux (D-La.), head of the senate panel, who earlier had introduced the session by saying, "Just as it is wrong to stereotype and discriminate against people because of their race, religion or gender, so, too, is it wrong to stereotype and discriminate against people simply because they are old. Only through raising awareness of the problem of ageism in the media can we begin to address the greater societal implications of an aging population."

Roberts went on to say, "Hollywood clearly is clueless when it comes to understanding today's seniors; blind to the advances in medicine and self-care and increases in personal income that have made us a force to be reckoned with and a market to be exploited," she said. "Twenty years ago, it was accurate to show a senior coming in for his checkup dragging his oxygen tank. Today, it would be more appropriate to depict him carrying his tennis racket, but the youthful gatekeepers of the entertainment industry haven't caught up with these changes—partially because they refuse to hire older writers who could craft story lines that reflect the reality of today's seniors."

The Writers Guild of America is aware of what Roberts speaks. The guild's studies over the past few years have consistently shown that older writers have problems receiving writing assignments, giving way to younger writers. A 1998 report showed that the older WGA members were being hit with a double whammy: as they saw fewer and fewer writing assignments, they also saw fade their right to vote on guild contracts and in WGA elections.

When does that begin happening to writers? The WGA reports show that work begins fading after the screenwriter moves into his or her 30s.

As for Roberts, her stand against ageism's tyranny isn't just a 2002 inspiration. Two years ago, she appeared in Hollywood with a panel on ageism. There she proved to be the most outspoken of eight panelists, saying, "I am an older person, but I sure as hell am not retired. I'm one of the few lucky ones who keep continuing to [get] work."

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