Betty White, Abe Vigoda

You may have seen the candy commercial in which two old folks are slammed into the mud during a pickup football game. Betty White and Abe Vigoda are the "old folks," which is supposed to be what happens to young people who don't keep up their sugar rush by eating candy bars. It's a funny ad, but (forgive my rudeness), I couldn't help thinking: "Good night, how old are they? They've looked the same age forever."

Ms. White, for the record, is 88, and Mr. Vigoda just turned 89. When I first saw them on television -- Ms. White as Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Mr. Vigoda as Detective Fish on Barney Miller (I didn't catch up with The Godfather until later) -- I was a much younger lad and they looked old and wizened to my eyes. Now that I'm middle-aged myself, they hardly seem to have aged at all. A few more lines and wrinkles, sure, like all of us as we age, but they sound hale and hearty.

Certain actors appear ageless, either because they're blessed by genetics or because they looked all grown-up when they first made an impression. Steve Martin, for example, didn't make his first movie until he was in his 30s (The Jerk); his prematurely white hair made him look even older. Now that he's 64, he looks younger than his age. Meryl Streep was in her late 20s when she made her movie debut, but in a long string of serious roles she often looked older than her age -- more mature, more dignified, more weight on her shoulders. She's turned 60, yet looks younger than ever, thanks in part to taking on some lighter, comedic characters.



Leonardo DiCaprio in 'Shutter Island'In contrast, Leonardo DiCaprio first came to attention when he was a teenager, and some people think he still looks like a little boy, which undermines the effectiveness of his performances, in their eyes. (I don't agree, but that's just my opinion.) Other actors in their 20s and 30s struggle to be taken seriously because they look like teenagers, which keeps them playing high schoolers far longer than they should. It seems that everyone wants to look younger, but not too young.

Of course looks aren't everything, but, fairly or not, appearances often dictate the course of an actor's career, curtailing the performing lifespan of incredible talent because they couldn't find satisfying work, while others have sustained careers because they look a certain way.

To the point (finally!): who's your favorite actor who never seems to have aged on screen, despite their advancing years? (Actors whose lives were cut short, like James Dean and River Phoenix, don't count.) I'm thinking Cary Grant to get things started. How about you?

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