From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
Thirty-five. Not long ago, it was an age that loomed before women, especially in Hollywood, like a fraying rope bridge, with nothing but the pastures of middle age on the far side and a chasm of rejection below. Before she ended her life at 36, Marilyn Monroe had reconciled herself to a future playing "character" roles. Garbo went into permanent seclusion at about the same age. Lana Turner, 63, was dumped by MGM at 36. Ava Gardner, now 60, put it bluntly: "There comes a time when you've simply got to face the fact that you're an old broad."

No longer. These days, age adds depth to glamour. "Broad" is as outmoded as seamed stockings, unless used as an adjective to describe the opportunities that leading ladies in their 30s and 40s now enjoy. And leading they are. Consider: Jane Fonda, Barbra Streisand, Faye Dunaway, Ann-Margret, Stefanie Powers, Raquel Welch, Julie Christie, Linda Evans, Lee Remick, Rita Moreno, Ursula Andress, Jill St. John, Julie Andrews, Joan Collins, Ali MacGraw—all 40 or over. And then: Dolly Parton, Jaclyn Smith, Sally Field, Cher, Liza Minnelli, Goldie Hawn, Bette Midler, Carly Simon, Veronica Hamel, Lauren Hutton, Diana Ross, Jill Clayburgh—all have celebrated their 35th birthday. When Rita Hayworth posed kneeling on a bed en déshabillé to make the 1941 poster that every Gl hung over his bunk, she was 22. Just add a decade and you have the age of Lynda Carter, who's re-creating Hayworth and her luscious poster in a forthcoming CBS biopic.

"Who ever thought my best success would come at 40?" marvels Dynasty's Linda Evans. Actually, it isn't so surprising. The feminist movement loosened the barriers by redefining women's roles, and the fitness-and-health boom blurred those roles by trimming and reshaping bodies according to a new, more vigorous ideal of beauty. At the same time, the bulging baby-boom generation has begun to trust people over 30 (it was that or distrust themselves). "Adolescence," says 39-year-old Lauren Hutton, one of the most popular high-fashion models to legitimize the grown-up look, "has been extended to 35." Adds Thorn Birds executive producer David Wolper: "An older woman can be both a sex object and a mother image at the same time. There's something very appealing about that."

"Beauty is as beauty does," argues singer-dancer Lola Falana, 40. And look what beauty is doing. "Models used to say of each other at 21 or 22, 'She has only four or five good years left,' " says Ann Veltri, a booking agent at New York's Elite Model Management Corporation. "Now careers can last longer and you can be 'the Elegant Woman.' " The average age of TWA stewardesses—sorry, flight attendants—is 33, compared to 23-24 in the '60s. Even Rockettes may keep kicking up to four years longer than they did in the '50s, when most hung up their tights at 25.

But the most dramatic shift is on the screen. "When I first came to Hollywood," recalls Dynasty's Joan Collins, who turns 50 in May (she admits to 46), "the standard of beauty was a girl 17 to 25. Now I read about Burt Reynolds saying Rachel Ward [of The Thorn Birds] is so beautiful he can't believe she's only in her mid-20s." Says Duke Vincent, supervising producer of Dynasty: "The '60s were a youth-oriented time, and TV reflected that. Now we're catching up as a nation, and looking around at older women and saying, 'My God, they're gorgeous!' "

The women couldn't agree more. "I'm in my prime," exults Collins. "Age is just an attitude." Ursula Andress, who, at 47, spends her days frolicking with her 2½-year-old son, Dimitri, swears, "I never feel like I'm 35." For Linda Evans, "This is the best time of my life, and not just because of Dynasty. People say when you pass 35 the good-looking part of life is over. I don't think that's true. To be 18 is lovely, but I'm glad I traveled past it. There's so much more to learn and experience."

Success, for instance. Sweet as it is, it has a price: an arduous schedule and high stress. "If you're a woman, you have to be on the set an hour earlier than the men, for makeup," says Stefanie Powers, 40, adding that for all women's progress, the double standard lingers on. "You have to get lots of rest. Fatigue may be acceptable in a man's face, but it's not in a woman's."

For today's female superstars, maturity brings perspective, and with it reasonable ways to cope. Tobacco and alcohol are not high on their lists, except for an occasional glass of wine. Drugs are out. "Nothing will age you faster than coke, diet pills and downers," observes Jill St. John, 42.

Each has a different method for winding down. Joan Collins flops in bed in front of the TV with a box of biscuits and a stack of magazines before going to sleep. Diana Ross, 39, roller-skates around midtown Manhattan. Linda Gray has been running on the beach by her Malibu home since she separated from husband Ed Thrasher.

Lola Falana, 40, who belts out some 200 nightclub shows a year, gets tough with herself. "I handle stress by picking up paper and pencil and asking myself the bluntest questions I can think of," she says. "If I don't know the answers, I go to any extent to find them—God, books, whatever. Then I can wake up with order in my life. Because order is serenity, and serenity—beauty."

Ahh, but if serenity is flabby...well, it's not likely with this group. "Exercise is like brushing my teeth," declares AN MacGraw, 44. "If I miss a day, it makes me crazy." Wherever The Winds of War carry her, MacGraw, who does dance and stretch exercises under a hot morning shower, packs tapes by Los Angeles fitness guru Ron Fletcher. Lauren Hutton also totes a tape—Jane Fonda's Workout. When she's at her Maui retreat, Carol Burnett strokes 15 laps in her pool "to get the heart beating faster." Otherwise, she meditates and salutes the sun with yoga, which "a cold-free friend tipped me off to. I started to breathe correctly for the first time."

Linda Evans didn't lift a finger, let alone a dumbbell, until she was 22, when she started weight training; six years later she had stellar classmates, St. John and Andress, and a notoriously demanding teacher, her first husband, John Derek. St. John says she had just wrapped the James Bond movie Diamonds Are Forever in 1971 when John joked, "We can see you take care of your body. Would you like to join Derek's Gym?" Says Jill, "It was exhausting. Everything was in series of 300. We would do 300 deep knee bends with 25-pound sandbags around our necks."

Little wonder that Andress wound up loathing exercise. "It's excellent for you," she says, "but boring. I get all the exercise I need just living. I never walk, I always run. Every day is too short for me." There is one form of exercise that Ursula hasn't given up; she believes sex helps people look well. Agrees Hutton: "Practice makes perfect."

One overriding feature of this glamorous elite is that the stars are nice to themselves. With the calories they burn off working out, they're able to carry over that kindness to the kitchen.

"I diet by cutting down on quantities," says Evans (5'8", 121 pounds). "I don't like to deprive myself." Collins (5'6", 120) also eats "anything I want—but not too much." And so does Carol Burnett (5'6¾", 112)—"so I don't feel like a martyr." The superstar staples are chicken, fish and salads. Most don't need to eat "health" foods to feel healthy. While St. John (5'6", 118 pounds) searches for poultry that is "without those hormones" and fish that is not tainted with mercury, she considers herself a mealtime moderate. "If you go overboard," she explains, "you can't eat anything."

By contrast, Linda Gray (5'8", 127) about 20 years ago adopted the attitude, "If God made it, eat it; if man made it, forget it. I didn't consider myself a faddist at all," she adds. "It was just that natural things tasted better." She got started because her husband had a "nervous stomach" and was told by a doctor he would have to take "little white pills the rest of his life." Linda started reading the late nutritionist-writer Adelle Davis and embarked on "a magical search for something better." She eliminated white flours and sugar, made her own breads, stews, soups and salad dressings, and grew her own vegetables.

Gray has since eased up a bit ("I don't think red meat is that detrimental to you, frankly"), but still pours seven-grain cereal and hot water into a thermos at night and adds a sliced banana or raisins before taking it with her to the Dallas set in the morning. She sips herb teas "because they're fun."

Desserts, of course, are more fun—unless, like Evans, you have no sweet tooth. "My housekeeper has taken up cake decorating, and there are cakes all over the kitchen," she reports, "but they don't tempt me at all." She does confess to a weakness for pizza—a challenge, since her current beau, George Santo Pietro, owns three Italian restaurants around Los Angeles that are fragrant with "wonderful aromas." Lucky Ursula doesn't have to resist anything. "I never diet, I love to eat—Italian food, bread and butter, cheese. Oooo! I can't get out of the store," she says, "without grabbing a bar of chocolate and eating it in the checkout line. I cheat all the time."

Looking fabulous is not left entirely to Mother Nature. For example, Evans, St. John and Gray readily admit to tinkering with their hair color. But when it comes to makeup, most stars believe that less is more. Gray, a firm believer in facials and cleansers, is typical: just a little mascara ("I love my eyes"—they're hazel), some lip gloss and blusher. Stefanie Powers, a friend relates, "never wears makeup when she's not working, and I never saw so many freckles in my life." Falana's staples are Vaseline, peanut oil and baby oil—"not all that perfumed stuff." Collins is one of the few traditionalists. "Makeup protects the skin," she asserts. "It becomes destructive when it's not removed properly. I always wear makeup, except on Sunday when I give my skin a rest."

Collins' predilection became a conviction when she arrived in Los Angeles from her native England at age 19. "A friend took me to the pool at the Beverly Hills Hotel," she explains, "and showed me all the people around it with their faces shriveling in the sun." Andress is typically unconcerned. "I have a talk with God," she winks, "and say, 'Keep on being kind.' "

But if nature isn't always perfectly kind, do the stars have a talk with the plastic surgeon? Joan Collins denies reports that she once had her fabulous features lifted ("If I had I wouldn't tell you, but I haven't"). Only Carol Burnett fesses up. Burnett had dental surgery to correct her bite in the fall of 1981: "It was just four millimeters, but now when it rains I can feel it on my chin."

Joan Crawford, says Dynasty producer Vincent, used to refuse to step foot on a sound stage unless the temperature was a precise 67 degrees. She feared that warmer air would make her face sag. Today's TV heroines needn't go to such lengths, partly because the small picture is so much less revealing than the giant screen. Yet a little professional help is rarely refused. Richard L. Rawlings, Dynasty's veteran cinematographer, covers his stage lights with spun-glass diffusers "to soften the light and eliminate harshness." He does this for the entire cast. For Collins and Evans he will do a bit more. He lights Linda from a high angle to bring out her cheekbones. "Joan," he remarks, "thinks her left side is better. She doesn't demand it, but if she is doing, say, a telephone scene, she will specify that she be photographed looking camera left."

Acting has always involved the creation of illusions, but off camera these women aren't trying to stop the clock. They are enjoying each tick and tock, even if the minutes seem to be coming faster. "I believe in burning the candle at both ends," Collins says. "But things may fail as you get older, so I take more care than I did 10 years ago." Aging—that once-taboo word in Hollywood—holds no fear for Evans. "I like lines," she says. "Laugh lines are wonderful. They show your joy in life."

  • Contributors:
  • David Wallace.